All rights reserved, 2004
I’m tilted back on a dining room chair, having a smoke on my break and just listening to the music. Two legs on the floor and two up the way I always do, leaning against the wall next to the long table with all the food on it.
In comes this dish, she’s about seventeen and all gussied up for the party. You know, all duked out in a two-hundred dollar dress and high heels—the spiky kind that wobble a little bit when they’re walking and give them that sexy, vulnerable look. I wonder if they do it on purpose just to drive guys crazy.
She’s real tan and the dress is one of those pale yellow deals flared out below the waist—which incidentally hers is so tiny that if she’d let you, you could span your two hands almost all the way around. And across the top it’s practically skin-tight with no straps to hold it up. The bonus, for me at least, is she’s naked from there up. The only thing holding up that dress is her, get it? She’s got these green eyes, and skin like a Georgia peach, and she’s wearing a plain silver necklace with earrings to match and lots of bright red lipstick. Her hair is a honey-blonde color, parted in the middle and pulled back tight until it reaches two little combs, one on each side. After that it jumps out in bunches of curls behind each ear. A real Ginger Rogers look, if you’ve ever seen any old Fred Astaire pictures.
Well anyway, she comes floating through the archway past the coffee with her arms out like she just let go of somebody’s hand. And she’s smiling to herself. Maybe some prep-school blade just whispered in her ear out in the ballroom, which is the big room right next to the one I’m sitting in, which is a sort of serving hall where we hang out between taking turns carrying silver trays in loaded up with highbrow goodies to pass around. Little liver patties that actually taste good, mushrooms with bacon wrapped around it, little tiny half-moons of pastry with cheese or meat inside, some kind of ridiculous little hot dogs that you could put two or three in your mouth at the same time, and of course for anybody who’s on weight watchers, the usual olives black and green, celery stalks, carrot sticks, pieces of raw broccoli and cauliflower and a glass dish in the middle of the tray full of pink-colored dip to slurp them around in.
Needless to say before the night’s over I taste everything. We all do. I bet I know what she picks. It won’t be the pastry stuff, not with that waist. Anyhow, I’m still scoping her out head to toe—I mean, who wouldn’t, right? And instead of passing straight through to the can, I see she’s heading across to where I am, still sitting there leaning up against the wall with my foot on the rung.
“Are you a busboy?”
I knew it. Her voice is like honey. Soft and low, with just the faintest trace of something husky trying to break through. I can see her breathing in and out now and there’s tiny beads of sweat—perspiration I mean, on her forehead and over her shoulders. She must have been hard into the dancing. If anything, it only makes her look better. My chair comes down with a thump and I hear something snap. But I’m looking at her.
“No, Miss. I’m one of the waiters.”
Now that she’s close I catch a whiff of her perfume, and I think I’m going to die on the spot because all mixed up with the perspiration the perfume smells even better than just plain perfume alone. Woolworths would bottle that stuff if they had any brains.
“I think you broke it.” she says.
She’s looking at the chair, which is behind me. I thought I heard something funny when it came down so now I turn around and pick it up. It’s one of those spindly kind and doesn’t weigh anything to speak of. One of the legs is split.
“Oh. It does look sort of cracked, doesn’t it? I hope it’s not a good one.” She’s looking at me like I just said I think the earth is flat. And she’s not the only one sweating because now I’m starting too, only not for the same reason as her.
“Uh….did you want to ask me something, miss?”
“Not now,” she says. “I hope you know that chair is a valuable antique.” And she turns on her heel and spikes out of the room.
I’m still there holding the busted chair and I can feel my face starting to turn three colors. I figure my best move is to straighten up the leg the way it was and fix the tablecloth over it so it looks like it’s just sitting against the table.
Two minutes later I’m standing there by the shrimp with my hands behind my back waiter-style, sort of rocking back and forth with my best innocent-bystander expression, when here she comes again. Only now she’s got a battleaxe with her. I mean a real warlord. Pearls down to here and a long, smooth evening gown that matches her hair, which is lighter than red but not quite blonde, if you know that color. She’s about as old as my father, maybe a little younger. Miss Strapless is pointing.
“He’s the one! He was sitting on it, Aunt. Perched up on two legs the way they always do. I actually saw him break it. And they’re not supposed to, are they . . . .be sitting down while they’re on duty, I mean? Are they? . . . . Aunt Caroline?”
But the battleaxe is not listening. She’s homed in on me and she’s wearing a little polite smile.
“May I see the article of furniture my niece is referring to, young man?” Article of furniture my niece is referring to? What the hell!
Smile or no smile I get a feeling this is it. Like a dog wagging his tail just before he digs his fangs through your hand. And just when I was counting on this job to carry me over the summer until school starts.
Still blushing like anything I pull the chair out from under the table and set it down in front of her where it promptly falls over. I mean how can a four-legged chair stand up on three legs?
‘Aunt’ looks at the chair, then glances up at me—looks at the chair again, then back at me—longer this time, kind of studying. She’s peering at me hard, like she’s trying to make up her mind.
“Are you . . . .are you John Crawford’s son?”
Oh no! She’s not just going to fire me, she’s going to telephone my old man. That’s the only thing I need now.
But something is changing. In her eyes. They’re deep and soft, like she’s remembering something that's buried away, something from a long time ago maybe, in another life. I see that expression sometimes when the old man is watching thirties movies on TV.
“Yes’m,” I say, still convinced that it’s over, and just waiting for the cleaver to fall.
Suddenly my bow tie is choking me, my shoes are too tight, and I want to pull down my crotch something awful. Miss Self-Satisfied is savoring every minute. Good to the last drop, right? And Aunty is still searching around my face with that funny little smile. It’s going to give her great pleasure. But then she floors me with,
“You would be . . . .let me see, almost eighteen now.”
By now I’m too petrified to do anything but nod. I manage to stammer, “September coming, Ma’am.”
“Yes. You were a September . . . .”
All of a sudden her face is as red as anything. She pulls a hanky out of her sleeve, looks at Miss Priss for a minute and says, “Goodness, Emily! Why are you bothering this young man? That chair is not an antique. Do you think it would be here in the serving hall if it were? It’s just a reproduction. Tomorrow morning I’ll give it to Evans and he’ll repair it as good as new. Come back to our guests now, and let this young man do what he was hired to do. Come along, now.”
You could of knocked me over with the proverbial feather. I think my mouth must be hanging open because I know where I took that chair from and I’m dead certain she does too.
She takes Miss Brat by the hand and heads back toward the big room where music is pouring out again. It’s a dreamy, slow number and the patent leather set is starting to glide around the floor again. When they reach the archway Miss Emily High-and-Mighty practically breaks her neck looking back at me but Aunty steers her back on course.
“I’m sure there are quite a few eligible young men you haven’t danced with yet, my dear.” As sweet as you please.
A couple of minutes later I’m getting my tray ready and I look up to see Aunt standing in the archway, just staring at me. I stop what I’m doing because she looks like she wants to say something. But after a minute or two she just pulls a handkerchief out of her sleeve, dabs around her eyes a little and turns away.
I hope it means I’m not canned.
All rights reserved, 2004