Extended story “An Unforgettable Night”
“Those who dream during the day know many things that elude those who dream only at night.” The printed words ring in my head, their black letters dancing on the yellowed page. The Collected Works of Edgar Allen Poe by Geo.G Muller, my first New Year’s gift given to me by my father in honor of my recent promotion. My mother always said that Poe was her favorite writer, the one who truly captivated her imagination. After her death last year, I think my father wanted her to be with me while I was growing up. But, like everything that women like, I despise it.
Some book of stories by a long-dead poet, collected by a long-dead historian, printed by some long-dead printer. Page after page of depressing wailing of beautiful dead women. No wonder my mother loved it, she always liked to imagine herself as Ophelia gracefully drowning in a Pre-Raphaelite painting. God, she would love to be a victim for all time, exposed for the pity of the world.
Why did he give me this absurd book? But what can I expect, my parents were the perfect couple in heaven, both shallow, ignorant, superficial creatures. I really shouldn’t have thought that this fool would give me anything else. He will be my mother’s passive-aggressive partner in crime even after her death, ensuring that she will blame me for my afterlife. I’m sure whatever hellscape she’s currently in – or perhaps in the rules, given her track record – she sees me throwing her book out the car window.
It has nothing to do with my life, not now, not when everything is going so well for me. Unlike those around me, I don’t play the poor victim 24/7, and I’m not going to start now, not at such a peak moment in my life. I am not her, not him, not my colleagues and not “friends” – the senior international journalist of the Monroe Times. To me. Not them. To me.
I can travel anywhere in the world; Interview warlords, bombing victims and dictators as a high-ranking member of the world’s most prestigious publication. All these unfortunate little victims, constantly whining about their lives, will now be mine to write about. Their unbearable tears will shed through my letters as I praise their courage in the face of adversity. One lesson my mother taught me was how to pretend, how to pose as a consoling interviewer, how to hold back tears, how to put your hand over your heart and shake your head in sadness. In fact, I played the role so well that I was awarded for it: Phyllis M. Crane Media Division. And rest assured, I gave a touching speech about the power of human connection and the fight against injustice, as well as all kinds of headlines that are sure to draw applause.
I have shaken hands with all the best people, making connections that have undoubtedly propelled me through the ranks. I drank champagne and told jokes from my childhood, ate caviar and described in touching detail how my grandmother’s death inspired me to become a journalist. Of course, I never met my grandmother, but they didn’t need to know that. They just wanted to nod and frown and pat me on the back for what I’ve done so far – in memory of my grandmother, of course. They were too superficial to imagine anything else. As the others.
But now the awards ceremony was over and I was on my way to a party where my “friends” and I would have lunch, drinks, and toasts to my luck. I use the word “friends”, of course, lightly, since I feel neither real kinship nor real camaraderie with them. They are just as superficial as everyone else, they do not have a truly formed inner life. But they are quite tolerable, and a free dinner is a free dinner.
And so, when my Uber pulls up to a decent little Brownstone, I do not fall into complete despair. It will be a fitting end to my night before I can go home and dream about my trophy and promotion for hours. Before I can get out of the car, the front door swings open and the head of my colleague Erin, a fellow journalist, pops out.
She is quite annoying with her constantly annoying smile, her playful nature. She reminds me of my mother always making the perfect face. She also looks like her, with huge eyes and pinned up black hair, not a single strand falls out of her head. I’m put off by her physical perfection, and, I confess, from time to time I’ve happily imagined myself throwing a drink on her cashmere sweaters. Although, obviously, I resisted. It would completely ruin my reputation.
And so, just like my mother, I make a kind face and get out of the car, good-naturedly waving her annoyingly shaking head. Next to her is her husband Richard, a slightly attractive man in his thirties, with gray hair and a constant air of superiority. He is a professor of philosophy at Columbia University and will never let you forget that. There is no smile on his face, only his constant thoughtful scowl, which he believes makes him a consummate intellectual.
But like a good little guest, I keep my mouth shut and smile as they hug me and let me in. Their house is magnificent, decorated in a Parisian style with maximalist chic. Something I would buy for myself, maybe with my new promotion money. Of course, neither Erin nor Richard bought into this. Erin’s wealthy socialite parents passed it on to her, like everything else Erin has. But I remain silent as I am led into the exquisitely furnished dining room, where plates, glasses, and silverware are arranged.
As I sit down, I exchange pleasantries with the couple as they make the expected compliments for my promotion. I see a glimpse of Erin’s grimace, but it disappears so quickly that I think I’m imagining it. I silently wonder if she’s upset about being passed over for a promotion, but her gleeful appearance keeps such thoughts at bay.
“For Octavia,” Erin smiles as she stands up and raises her glass of wine. “You deserve this more than anyone I know and I’m glad to see you succeed on this new journey.”
Her smile grows wider, and her voice seems especially strained, which was not there before. Richard says nothing in her direction, only smiles in the light of the toast. This evening it seems especially tense, more than unusual. Erin starts to sit back down but gets up again, her drink splashing slightly as she does so.
“And one more thing.” Her laugh borders on shrillness, and her eyes seem glazed, she must have been drinking before I arrived. I did not notice. She’s starting to look like a mess. How embarrassing.
“Octavia, you came in early every day, left late every night, did all the tasks and wrote to all the stores and did everything that needed to be done. I mean, God, you grabbed everything, I almost didn’t have a chance to do anything.
She lightly laughs at this statement and shakes her head like it’s just a funny little joke. Richard continues to do nothing without even looking up. I keep eating like it’s some other toast. Besides, I don’t want the food to get cold.
“Do you know what you need to do to be successful? I think I should ask you,” she laughs, waving her arms at me. “You just get everything, don’t you, but not me, no, not me. Erin doesn’t get anything, Erin doesn’t get promotions, Erin doesn’t get awards.”
She started talking about herself in the third person, so I know she’s completely out of her mind by this point. Her speech becomes slurred and her movements jerky. I’m not sure that her behavior is only related to alcohol, because how could she drink so much earlier without me noticing?
I do not answer her whining speech, only smile indulgently; I hope this annoys her. It’s all pretty funny, to be honest, I never thought she had so many emotions. She always seemed to be those stock characters who are eternally happy at all times, no matter the circumstances. Guess I was wrong. How strange to be.
Her funny little tirade continues as all semblance of a joke disappears. Richard finally does something, tries to grab her arm and pull her down, but she holds him back. I feel my eyebrows rise in surprise when I notice that her usual wedding ring is not on her finger. This display of marital strife reminds me of my parents. The perfect little couple isn’t so perfect after all. What nostalgia.
“No! You can’t tell me what I can or can’t do. Not last time, Richard! I can tell Octavia whatever I want, can’t I? Can’t I, Octavia? It’s all in good fun!”
Now Richard tries to push her back into the chair, but she breaks out of his arms every time, ignoring his pleas not to bring the subject up now. She looks crazy, like one of those freaks you struggle to ignore on the subway.
And she just goes on, her words are incomprehensible when she points at me. I understand that she’s upset that I got the promotion and not her. The fact that she even cherished the idea of a promotion is a serious misconception given the work she does, or lack of it. All she does is waltz around the office and annoy people, especially me. She always seemed to me like a little fly, buzzing through life without thinking. That’s how most people are. Mindless little creatures mindlessly running about their business.
But her scream tells me she has something in her head. I’ve never considered this possibility before and it’s a pleasant surprise. By now, her very boring husband is dragging her out of the room, ruining the moment for her. Grabbing some garlic bread, I leave Brownstone and walk down the path, waiting for a cab.
What a night to remember. Promotion, reward, free dinner, family drama, jealousy of a colleague. I wonder what else the night has in store for me, maybe I’ll have an accident on the way home. If I were alive, I could use this as a pretty good weepy story at my job, as my own triumph over circumstances. I can almost feel my mother laughing. She would love to pull something like that. I bet my boss will love it too, I bet I’ll get another raise. What a busy night!
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