“I TELL YOU WHAT,” Monroe Hall said. “Let’s throw a party.”
“They won’t come,” Alicia said, and walked on past him toward the stairs.
Monroe had been standing about in the upstairs west wing hall, not thinking of much of anything, when his wife emerged from the music room with a triangle in her hand. Seeing her, the party thought had just popped into his head, fully formed, and now it was as though a big happy party was what he’d been wanting forever. Forever. “Why not?” he called after her. “What do you mean, they won’t come?”
She turned back to give him one of the patient looks he detested so. “You know why not,” she said.
“Who won’t come?” he demanded. “What about our friends?”
“We don’t have any friends, darling,” she said. “Not any more.”
“Somebody has to stand by me!”
“I’m standing by you, dearest,” she said, this time with the sad smile that was only marginally less detestable than the patient look. “I’m afraid that will have to do.”
“We used to throw parties,” he said, feeling very forlorn and put-upon. Nearby, the clock room erupted into a hundred cuckoos proclaiming the hour—ten (A.M., though the cuckoos didn’t know quite that much)—and Monroe and his wife automatically moved on down the hall.
“Of course we used to throw parties,” she agreed, raising her voice a bit above the cuckoos. “You were an important and successful and rich man,” she explained, as the cuckoo chorus raggedly wound itself down. “People wanted to be seen with you, to have the world think of them as your friend.”
“That’s who I’m talking about,” Monroe said. “Those people. We’ll invite them. You’ll do clever wording on the note, something about how the little unpleasantness is over and we can all get back to our lives again, and—Why are you shaking your head?”
“They won’t come,” she said, “and you know it.”
“But I’m still important and successful,” he insisted. “And I’m still rich, come to that, though I admit I can’t quite flaunt it the way I used to. But I’m still who I was.”
“Oh, darling, no, you’re not,” she said, with the little sympathetic headshake and cluck that was also on the detestable list. “What you are now, Monroe,” she told him, “is notorious. What you are now is a pariah.”
“Oh!” he cried, terribly hurt. “That you’d say that!”
“No party, dear,” she said. “We can watch movies on the television.”
“What about the lawyers?” he demanded. “They made enough off me, God knows. What if I invited them?”
“They’d be happy to come,” she said.
He smiled. “See?”
“For three hundred and fifty dollars an hour.”
“Oh, damn!” he cried, and actually stamped his foot. A soft man of middle height, middle age, and middling condition, his jowls rippled when he stamped his foot, which he didn’t realize and which his wife was too kindhearted to tell him, unfortunately, because it made him look like a turkey, and if he’d known that, he might have stopped doing it. But he didn’t know about his comical jowls, so he did stamp his foot, and cried out, “I can’t do anything! I can’t leave the country, I can’t even leave the state. I can’t go into the office—”
“You don’t have an office any more, dear,” she said.
“That’s why I can’t go into it.”
“If you did go to the headquarters of SomniTech, Monroe,” she told him, “the remaining employees there, the ones who lost their retirement benefits, might very well string you up.”
“For God’s sake!” he cried. “Why can’t they all just get over it? What did I do? The same thing everybody else did!”
“Well, a little more so,” she suggested.
“A matter of degree.” Monroe shrugged it all away. “Listen, what about the fellas? You know, the old bunch from the shop? They can’t high-hat me, they were indicted, too.”
“If you will recall, Monroe,” she said, with the detestable patient look, “the judge was very forceful on that topic. You and the boys are not to associate with one another any more.”
“Associate!” he cried, as though he’d never had any such idea in his mind. “I don’t want to associate. How can a fellow play golf? I want to play golf! You can’t play golf by yourself, then what is it? Just you and these sticks and the ball, and you hit and walk and hit and walk and it’s boring, Alicia, it’s the most boring thing on earth, golf, if you’re just doing it by yourself. The whole point of golf is hearty laughter with your chums. And where are my chums?”
“Not in jail,” she pointed out, “and neither are you, and you can all consider yourselves extremely lucky.”
“Bosh,” he said. “That wasn’t luck, that was money. Give a whole lot of money to the lawyers, stand back, let them work out the deal. So they worked out the deal. But how long do I have to—Pariah! How long does that go on? It is like being in jail, Alicia!”
“Not quite,” she said, with the detestable sad smile. “Not quite, Monroe, though I do understand. I too would like a little fun in my life. Would you like to go for a drive?”
“Where?” he demanded. “If I leave the compound, you never know when some reporter’s going to pop out from behind a tree with those smart-alecky questions. Or even a disgruntled stockholder, some of them are still out there, too, with their horsewhips.”
“Around the compound, then,” she said. “We could take that Healey Silverstone, that’s such a fun car to drive.”
“I don’t feel like it,” he said, and stuck out his lower lip. What he was feeling, in fact, was sulky. Since he’d been born rich into a family that had been a long time rich, he’d never known the need to suppress his feelings, so he pouted completely and might even have stamped his foot again, except he sensed that a kind of lumpish stillness might better illustrate the sulk he’d fallen into.
“Well, I think it’s a good idea,” she said. “Zip around in the Healey. Wind in our hair.”
“I don’t like the cars as much any more,” he said.
“Because you had to let Chester go,” she suggested.
“We all knew he was an ex-convict,” Monroe reminded her. “He was one of my good deeds, one of my many good deeds that no longer counts any more. But, no. I have to pretend I’ve given the cars away and do all that foundation rigmarole so they won’t be lost in the settlement, and fire the only person who ever really understood the cars and could make them just tick right along. I loved it when he drove me. I don’t want to drive me. I’m afraid of banging them into things.”
“I’ll drive you,” she offered.
“I’m afraid of you banging them into things.”
“Nonsense,” she said. “I’ve never banged a car into anything in my life.”
“Famous last words.”
“I’m going for a drive,” she decided, “with you or without you. In the Healey. I love that car.”
“Associate,” Monroe said, pursuing his own thoughts. “There’s that ‘associate’ word again. I can’t associate with Chester because he’s an ex-convict, surprise, surprise, so now I don’t even get to enjoy the cars any more.”
“No,” he said, remembering he was sulking, and again stuck out his lower lip.
“Well, in that case,” she said, with a smile, “I might even drive off the compound. Nobody bothers me. Here, put this away, would you?” she said, and handed him the triangle. “I won’t practice with it, after all. That’s how bored I was, Monroe. But a quick spin in the Healey is a much better idea than ting-ting-ting, sing Johnny One-Note. I’ll be back for lunch.” And off she went, down the hall toward the stairs and the great world outside.
Because Monroe was rich, Alicia, who was his first wife, looked like a second wife, so, even when sulking, he watched her walk with a great deal of pleasure. One of the few pleasures left to him, Alicia. He knew he was lucky she’d stuck by him, when all the other rats deserted like … well, the ship thing.
She was gone. He was alone in the hallway, with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Can’t even have a party.
God, he told himself, I wish something would happen.