The Endless Idiot*
Light finding its way in like a jackroller. My husband not in bed to gripe about the gulls. Screeching bloody murder as usual.
A pot of coffee with milk and sugar. The sun! My to-do list. Landscapers, florist, caterers. Fetch my boy.
Lyle prepping in the kitchen. Decisions about canapés. I unbox the meat. Behind me, chop, chop, chop.
Wheels on our gravel drive. A song from another life. I’m smoking on a rattle-trap motel bed. The carpet seeps by the window. The door is stopped by the chain link. Let me the fuck in.
The decorator goes over last-minute changes. Bud vases instead of single stem. Natural linen over pearl. It will marry well with the brass votives.
Every summer we have some version of this conversation, and yet she’s flummoxed. After a minute, she recovers, and is on the phone.
Anthuriums, orchids, miscanthus, cocksfoot, pampas grass.
“Where’s Dad?” first words from my only home from Spring term. Not one inch taller, nary a filament of facial hair. His manners as stunted as his growth, apparently. I kiss him. The ferry horn blows.
One, two, three, four. I whistle at my luck as the screen unlocks. I’m the foe unworthy of rudimentary duplicity. I open, click, scroll. Maybe not so rudimentary after all.
I put on my trainers for a run to the lighthouse. Bunnies loll about the huckleberry shrubs.
The roads clogged with rental bikes and SUVs.
A honk from a beat-up Saab. It’s the birthday girl and tonight’s guest of honor, Betsy Stewart. See you later!
A girl in a terrycloth romper on rollerblades. At the intersection she stops and waves.
There’s two of them kneeling next to me. The romper girl and a friend. She’s so sorry, she didn’t mean to run into me, am I okay, should they call someone.
Just not the cops, I quip. Lol, the romper girl says. L – O – L. My left arm is scraped, but otherwise I am fine. These things take time to hurt, I want to say, but they are children, and know nothing.
Outside Annette’s with a meatloaf sandwich and a lemonade. On his person. That’s where his real phone would be, unless. Unless. Unless. Unless.
Hovering near Lyle in the kitchen, my boy’s crush veering from sweet to statutory. Lyle fetches an ice pack for my purpling arm. A text from Betsy chirps like a good-natured scamp.
A canopy of lights in the garden. Offstage with cold fried chicken and old fashions. My son making me laugh, just like his father used to. The boy’s tongue sharpest for the most storied classmates.
But there’s fear behind it, and I wonder if he’s being bullied again. He’s small like me. You won’t be able to eat like this forever, my mother warned. She was wrong about that, as with other things.
My smallness has always been a liability. Scratch that. There’s an advantage to being underestimated. Yet I learned too late an attraction to small bodies may be a portent.
Always so covetous with his possessions. His home office, his bookshelves, his closet, his dresser drawers.
The glove compartment of his Audi, where no one would have reason to look through a car manual with apps these days, and my Volvo wouldn’t start again, and the key for the Audi didn’t work, and I
couldn’t figure it out. Three more years to figure out what to do. My only exits. Lyle offers weed. Thanks LL, I say, a joke from our Binghamton days. Lyle the Liar, because, unlike me, he never could keep his stories straight.
Lyle shoots me a look. He knows tonight counts, and though he’d flee to the guest cottage, he stays. I take a long, slow hit and pass it back to him. Lyle the Loyal.
Out of the shower and into an Issey Miyake with a drawcord neckline. It’s far out for this preppy crew, with their Lilly Pulitzers and Nantucket Reds. On this strut of land frittering in the Atlantic, it’s forever 1985.
Servers flank the tent’s perimeter.
Heath and Reed Arnett, Paul Torres, Elaine and Charlie Decroux, Merrill Doyle.
First drinks poured; first lines delivered. An unforeseen meeting in the city. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that hasn’t happened a thousand times before.
More guests from our early years. Swimming at Jetties Beach, cruising on someone’s boat. Salty windswept hair, salved, Noxzema skin. The ones not here divorced or dead or dead to me.
Fleetwood Mac agitprop. Diatribes against a new housing development. Chatter over a firing at the yacht club. A skipper sailing off with the spoils.
A cauldron of bats ballyhoos the night.
Betsy Stewart, our seventies-something doyenne and dear friend, enters to cheers. Lobster Pissaladière dispatched, Louis Roederer served.
Over lunch last summer, a conversation about bodies of water. Anything that can be washed out, explained Betsy, proprietor of Stewart Enterprises, structural moving and masonry specialists, can be washed back in.
On the other hand. Her client’s home on Sankaty’s degenerate bluff. Footings installed on the new site by the golf course. Close to us.
Kiss kiss. Your arm, Betsy says. Was there trouble last night? Brandy Snifter avec Xanax. A hoist from Lyle to my new old Volvo. No, no. No trouble.
Town Crier Angus Smith talking my ear off. I mention one time my father is from Toronto, and it’s O Canada from here to eternity.
How am I still hearing about the Battle of York?
Make a wish!
Some dance in the garden, some mill about. Some wander off alone. A few clutch their partners, as if for dear life.
According to Betsy, Angus Smith’s a flagrant cheat at Bridge, which makes me laugh.
A check in with Lyle to promise we’re only simulations. An old joke from the mess we were in. Picking up the pieces of whatever racket he was running. Picking me up outside Mark Twain Motor Inn.
Merrill Doyle waxing on about the Land Council. She used to be funny, funnier than even my husband, but now she’s as tedious as cancer after beating it.
Joe King, a friend of Betsy’s from before our time, recounts the long walks he takes when he can’t sleep. Around the golf course late at night.
My boy and his friends on the lawn. There are three of them, sitting in a circle, passing what could be a cigarette, but who am I kidding. The boys are brothers from next door, and the girl –
Is that her? Betsy asks, pulling at her shawl. She means Sadie, my boy’s bff since grade school.
An interlude courtesy of Vera Davis. With her polymath bona fides, you’d think everyone wouldn’t be hung up on her youth and beauty, but you’d be wrong. A departing pledge for dinner and drinks.
On the lawn the boys video themselves. They jump and mug for the camera, while the girl sits apart, side-eyeing the stars.
In the glove compartment of his Audi. At Comstock Farm, with the trees showering neon hues. Or at least that’s what it looked like, close-ups of little Sadie on a dappled gray pony.
No, I answer Betsy. She’s not Sadie, but I do know her. It’s the romper girl. Lol. Come, Betsy says, help me escape.
One question before she goes. What can she tell me about Joe King?
The first ones here, the last ones gone.
A kerfuffle over cockeyed parking. Lyle directing traffic. Hollers from children on the lawn, by the bluff, over the wide blue sea. A wonderful party, good night. Good night!
* From Carson McCullers’ “When We Are Lost.” “While Time, the endless idiot, runs screaming round the world.”
Marcelle Heath is the author of IS THAT ALL THERE IS?, which will be published by Awst Press in September, 2022. She curates an interview series, Apparel for Authors, about writers and what they wear (@apparelforauthors on Instagram), and lives with her family in Portland, Oregon. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @marcellepdx.
Image: David Mancini/Unsplash