NEXT JULY by Sally Barnes
Yabba, yabba, burble, burble. I try to focus on the speaker, thin, balding, leaning over me like the tower of Pisa, with elbows. He could be speaking Russian. Perhaps he is. We are in a faculty building, something to do with languages, I think. Somewhere in this Georgian terrace is my husband, the professor. The confessor. For once he’s actually talking to people his own age.
Draining the last pale bubbles from my glass – not champagne, something thin and cheap, not that it matters – I try to catch the eye of the waiter. Again. He seems not to notice me.
‘Excuse me’. Smiling vaguely at my companion, I strike out into the crowd, bumping into shoulders, swaying into one person after another, bobbing like spilt cargo on an ocean swell. The waiter stands holding his shining bottle, like a lighthouse. A lifesaver. I lurch into him and he steadies my elbow with his free hand.
‘Thanks’, I say. He has nice brown eyes. All four of them. I look down at my feet. ‘High heels. Too high.’
I watch as he fills my glass halfway and then hesitates.
‘I’m thirty tonight.’
‘Happy Birthday, madam.’ He gives me an odd look and turns away. Is he deaf? I could have sworn I’d said ‘thirsty’.
It is noisy in here, despite the grandeur. Looking up at the ceiling, the plasterwork swirls and fiery chandeliers splinter into a million exploding stars. Big mistake, big. I have to steady myself against a Grecian column, Doric, Doric, hang on, Dora, until the room stops spinning.
I begin to hum. ‘Have you heard? It’s in the stars, next July we collide with Mars’. Frank and Bing and Grace, they all knew a thing or two about marriage.
I stay, leaning against my pillar, smiling and nodding to faces I think I ought to recognize. Never been good at names and faces. Never been good at parties. ‘Well, did you ever? What a swell party this is.’ Gulping the grape, swellegant, elegant. Party, party, parting of the ways; should have done, long ago. It’s ridiculous. I am di-ric-u-lous. I am in-eeb, inebriated, a victim of in-eeb-riety. Wonder going to be sick. The toilets are far, far way, as far away as Mars. ‘Next July, we collide with..’
‘For God’s sake, Ruth, where are your shoes?’
‘Well, did you ever? It’s my hub, bub, the hub of my life. What a swell party this is.’