New Year’s eve at Nietzsche’s – eternal recurrence, right? Same as every year, a party with a life of its own. Even that time Nietzsche was in Morocco everybody came to his house anyway, parking on the lawn, getting wasted in their cars and honking their horns at midnight.
Same slowly revolving cast of characters, too, with few significant additions or subtractions. These days there’s more champagne and wine than beer and peppermint schnapps, not to mention fewer drugs, but still that ever present blue haze hangs, fuzzing the boundary between the years – so are we teenagers acting like grown ups, or grown ups acting like teenagers , who knows? Probably both.
Everybody’s here or has been or will be – even the people who left town are back visiting family. Of course I don’t see Virginia not around when I walk in. It’s like clockwork, either she’s gone by the time I get somewhere or she arrives right after I take off – good timing was never our strong suit – but it’s just as well. We broke up at New Year’s – what? can it be? – five years ago, but I still can’t say I’ve learned to enjoy the sight of her walking off with another guy. If she’s out of here already, the lucky one must have been quite the catch, that law school lad home for the holidays, perhaps? Have fun, kids!
And then there’s Heather – for some time she’s been the major attraction, my belle of the ball, but lately she’s turned away, gracefully deflecting my attention – there was even that messed up moment last month when she told me that we know each other too well, but isn’t it that we know each other well enough, as well as we want to, anyway. I mean, yeah, granted, only a dead man could fail to be turned on by Heather, but right now, as I watch her dancing, I can’t help thinking I’ve seen all these moves before.
No doubt that’s sour grapes on my part. She’s the one who first pulled away, subtly pointing me toward other women, pimping me you might say, like last year when she offhandedly happened to mention out that Kathy was clearly on one of her “vacations” from high school honey Bobby, those periodic breaks they’d take from their long running relationship when they’d both sleep around like two college kids on spring break before, inevitably, getting back together.
It wasn’t hard to position myself as Kathy’s next destination by simple proximity, and we certainly lived it up until our expiration date. I’m still not sure how the whole thing worked – it didn’t seem like there was actually a fixed time frame or anything. Although liberated woman Kathy would never admit it, I think our sudden parting was very closely coincident with the moment Bobby crooked his little finger her way again.
It still stings because, even though Kathy’s far from the person I’d like to spend my life with (i.e. Virginia), I wouldn’t have minded enjoying her pneumatic charms a little longer, and now she and Bobby are standing there, whispering conspiratorially, smirking at me and everyone else here that either of them has slept with, which is probably the majority.
And as I look around I start to think that the older you get the smaller the world becomes, the possibilities of life constricting until the whole thing’s just about the size of that grave you’re about to collapse into – then I laugh at my own morbidity.
“What’s so funny?” Heather asks, dancing by, acting like she’s just noticed me.
“Oh, you know.”
“Yeah,” she says, and I think she does. “Hey, check out Maria.”
And, yes, there’s Maria, an absolute knockout, and it’s like I’ve never seen her before – how could I have overlooked her? – so sunny and dimpled and smiling that she almost seems inconsequential, but tonight there’s a gravity about her that could never emanate from anything merely pretty, and it occurs to me that in a way we’ve always overlooked her, just Nietzsche’s kid sister, tag along, a bit of a pest really, couldn’t even get a date for the prom until her brother set her up with Zag, the biggest loser in the crowd, who couldn’t get a date either – but clearly she’s left any trace of that kid behind long ago.
“Looking good, isn’t she?” says Heather.
Finally after Nietzsche and I graduated some cherry picking basketball player made a play for her, and they even supposedly got engaged, but I notice he’s nowhere to be seen tonight.
“Trouble in paradise, I hear,” Heather whispers. “Oh, that dress!”
Maria turns toward us and, true enough, that dress, cut like a sundress, but with a yoke of golden brocade halfway up the shoulders and scalloping and squaring and starbursting across her breasts, setting off her fine white neck and smooth arms, with a wink of decolletage and a hemline fluttering over those velvet-muscled dancer’s thighs, the whole effect healthy and honestly attractive rather than, well, slutty like Ungie and the bad girl posse tittering next to her in their miniskirts and endlessly adjusted tube tops.
Right on cue Maria looks up at me and smiles. I take a step toward her, will-less as a sleepwalker, when I’m startled by Heather’s brusque laughter.
“What?” she mocks. “Oh, man, you are just too easy.”
Then the glass shatters.
You know what it’s like – after the initial bang makes everybody jump, there’s a silence as they catch up to what’s happened – and then there’s nervous relief, cheers and applause and lame jokes, but really, the whole mood changes, the normal flow of things as broken as the glass.
But I’m still staring – the noise came from the bottom of the stairs where there’s a table set up, with a white table cloth and an enormous cut glass punch bowl, surrounded by real glass glasses, the whole thing presided over by – my goodness – Virginia, not at all abashed, even as grumbling Nietzsche starts fussing over the larger pieces, as she continues to mix up a potent looking concoction from a mismatched collection of bottles, at last delicately coaxing just a few drops from the smallest one.
She meets my eyes deliberately, her full lips pursing. “Come on,” she says. “You first, if you’ve got the guts,” frankly contemptuous, which is odd, because, even in the midst of our many misunderstandings back when, she was never more than sweetly sad, frustrated at times, naturally enough, by my misguided and tenacious passion, but never, ever cruel, even though, God knows, she had enough reasons and chances to be so.
She offers the glass like a challenge and I take it, our fingers meeting with a spark, static electricity no doubt, and I lift it to my lips – the contents feel hot, scalding like coffee, but also burning with strong alcohol – hesitating after my first sip with its cloying, milky texture, but Virginia boldly reaches across and tilts up the bottom, and I’m forced to gulp down the rest, the part that doesn’t drip down my chin anyway, my whole body instantly growing feverish, then cold and clammy, the empty glass falling from my nerveless grasp as soon as Virginia takes her hand away.
It shatters on the floor too, but the novelty’s already worn off, and everybody just lines up for their own shot, only Nietzsche sighs, broom in hand, hoping, I’m sure, that this glass breaking business doesn’t become a craze, the way food fighting did a couple of years ago. I’m elbowed aside and stagger back a few steps, dizzy, already wasted, hypnotized at the sight of the glittering glass fragments being swept into the dust pan, her shards and my shards mixing together there, for once indistinguishable.