Most Likely to Hex Your Ex
I felt like a trinket walking under the sour orange sky. Small and breakable, staring blankly at a tire swing defying gravity across the lane, rocking freely, well before the wind kicked in. I squinted. It continued to rock for no reason, at least none my eyes could see. In my gut, it felt like a pendulum regulating the heavy night air, a pull toward something. A light goes dark in the window of the adjacent home and I feel like I'm being watched. I shuffled along to avoid looking like a creep, stumbling over the sidewalk and the couple whisky gingers I had before I came. Salt hangs heavy in the air of this coastal town. The weight will buckle you if you let it. Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit worn down, weathered, but tonight was a pick-me-up. All dressed up and somewhere to actually go. Liquid courage helps but I’m still feeling those new-kid-at-school jitters. Nervous about the awkward glances. Not knowing if I'll know the best way to read the room, or what the room even looks like. It took me months to find a clique after moving schools again before the sixth grade (but my mother's willingness to drive us to the mall for dipping dots and and the clearance rack at Deb Shop obviously helped). Tonight, is just a dinner party. If it's a bust, I could always just dip out, I tell myself. I don't owe anyone, anything. I keep telling myself that ...
The house was a few miles off the main drag. That's where I first saw Her. She was winding her way through the grocery aisles in bohemian layers that you couldn't tell where they started or began, leaving a trail of musk behind her. Not the Young Living essential oils variety either. Her aroma was dank even when I kept my distance. I didn't think she noticed me behind the aisle across from her until I felt her, staring. She most certainly could not have known my name and yet, somehow, she knew me. I could feel it as I followed my eyes down the length of her coat, sharp around the edges with pools of inky curls running down her back. This is the same woman who, without ever having a conversation with me (that I'm aware of) managed to get a dinner party invite to my doorstep. Either I'm mad or it had to be a mistake, or both? I pulled out the invitation to double-check the address as it appeared, with stark gold embossing on emerald green paper, without postage, in my mailbox last week:
You are cordially invited to join me for a night of everyday decadence.
I reapply my lipstick for no good reason. Just nerves. I am just about a block away and an hour behind a party I wasn’t sure I belonged at. How did I manage to get an invite from this mystery woman on the hill? I should have probably had a LaCroix on the walk over to get my head right for this. I'm not sure what I'm about to walk into. Was I even dressed right for everyday decadence? I checked the time through my cracked screen and glanced down at my bare legs, pink from being exposed to the night air, held up by a pair of over-worn black chunky heels. The heels I wore the night I left my purse in the back of the Uber. The same ones that carried me to and through my first pitch meeting. The ones that kept me out too late and unaccounted for with him.
Approaching the north entrance of the residence, tucked in a bit behind a row of moody trees, the humidity was dragging me so I pinched my hand a bit to perk up. There it was, gawking. The house had eyes that peeked above the overgrown bushes. Two gaping windows presenting a backlit world of I don't know what. A night of possibilities hung up like curtains. I'm sure I was smirking as I walked in and my brain split open into equal parts "make a good entrance" and "already planning my exit."
I waltzed into what felt like a Ryan Murphy production, high-brow seedy and a bit familiar but never actually known. Sounds of strangers stretched across the night sky. Glasses clanking. Feet full of good and bad intentions. ASMR tingles and all. I almost didn't notice someone scurry by me until I felt him brush past my side and heard the door behind me. Okay, maybe I'm a little stoned, but I think he knows me. That felt intentional. Also, I think I have indigestion from the fish I haven't ate yet. Whole fish means it has a face, right? Fuck, I really don't want to eat the face. What could possible convince me to come here and consume the face of a halibut? Mouth gaping, eyes glazed but still very much intact. How far would I go to impress someone I wanted to know? I've never even talked to her before and I already knew the answer. I was buzzing earlier during my shift. Scrambling from table to table to hand off gin and tonics and fill up baskets of endless fries, with a gut rot I couldn't shake. Now I was actually here. WTF. Is this real life? I reach for the closest glass on a tray of reds.
The room was an obscenely long table, filled with people I didn't know. This was my nightmare.
And then I saw her.
Her hands, delicate and dark, held a gold-rimmed serving tray. On it, a seared fish with dead eyes. Shudder.
Salty, glossy and crooked in the same manner that she composed herself. Garish adornments of charms and with an extra coating of lipstick. I wonder if it's cheap? I want it either way. She was Betsey Johnson from the Upside Down, basically glowing compared to the guests around here, radiating the rest of the room a forgettable gray.
I swear, I feel her staring into my soul and I'm straight frozen. For the first time in my life, unable to make out words. Actually. I couldn't talk. The night felt like it was closing in on me and now I couldn't hear myself talk--and seemingly no one else could either. I went to sit down quickly in front of the fish face, but I took one look it and the table full of faces engulfed in my existence and I dodged. I could hear her beckon me, but I backed out. This lack of follow-through, this inability to seize a moment when it counts, reminds me of a dream I had in quarantine, where I biffed every opportunity I could have made for myself sitting across the dinner table from Quentin Tarantino. I watch him, wired and wonderful, and I shit the bed. Failed to ask him anything about his films or his regrets. I just couldn't get the words out. In my dreams, I was also a series of too much and not enough. One of the few dreams I have hung onto from the solitude of spring coming back to haunt me. And now here I was, at this house on the hill, absolutely transfixed by a complete stranger and I had nothing to say at all. I couldn't.
I escaped out of the back door where the smokers were and managed to bum a Marlboro without disrupting their conversation. I looked up as I lit it. Country dark, just a sliver of moon, a moon that I acknowledged and then neglected for my phone like I always do. Mindless scrolling on my screen to fill the time. Before I knew what I'd done, I caught myself swiping through today's Stories. Autopilot even in unknown places, on borrowed time I would never get back. Checking myself, I put the phone back in my purse and polished off my wine. I needed to get out of here, stat so I head toward the driveway. I walk past a couple men with red cheeks and tucked in shirts as they summoned their cars. Are they modern day warlocks or do they just own Teslas? One of them grips a paper cup like he came to the party holding it. I look back to get a second glance.