"Well," he thinks aloud to himself. "This certainly is interesting."
He had always felt alone in a large world, separated from others by an excess of space, both real and imagined. As time had worn on, he felt as if he was shrinking. As a child, the glare of those around him penetrated his thoughts. He believed that they would whisper behind his back; that he was constantly on parade for their amusement. Now, an adult, he was not looked upon. He was no more thought about than were the birds and insects that pestered the happy picnicking families. He felt reduced to a mild annoyance, and was greatly relieved by it. Eventually, he thought, he would fade away completely, and then he would really feel free.
He sits, glancing through a magazine, reading the headline too quickly and staring into the pictures for too long. He has been drinking again, and the words jutted back and forth too quickly for him now. It wasn't his way of escaping so much as it was his way to become enveloped more deeply. He is lost in the pictures.
It wasn't that he had anything to hide from the world. He was simply uncomfortable; uncomfortable in his skin, uncomfortable in his clothes, uncomfortable opening his mouth and letting his thoughts spill out. He does open up if the opportunity arises, but the results of such out pours have proven to be mixed enough to make him cautious. He does not lack self confidence, it is not an issue of being self-conscious, but the thoughts of others are mysterious to him, and imparting any piece of himself to them often leaves him feeling even more alienated.
Tonight, he attends another dinner party. Their occurrence is as predictable as his consistent inability to connect with the other guests. He was invited because it is polite, but no one would feel too bad if he had an excuse not to attend; he had no such excuse. The people there are certainly personable, and he should have no trouble finding common ground amongst them, but their conversations bore him, and he can't find it in himself to contribute. He doesn't know what about them he finds dull, but it grates upon him somewhere deeply inside his mind.
"I have no idea who these people are," he says to himself, staring at candid photos with poorly written captions. "Even if I did, why would I care about their weight gain?" He makes certain that no one can hear him.
The liquor loosens him, but it also thins his blood; blood that was already crying out for mercy. There was a constant pain in his arm, all the way from his shoulder to his fingers, where he can feel the pressure in his veins rise and fall. He goes to sleep terrified at night that he won't wake up; that his heart will finally revolt and leave him there alone. He attends the parties because of this same fear. At least, he thought, if he should die then, someone will notice. He hopes someone will notice, anyway.
It was time to leave now. He was driven and delivered to the front door, dressed up in his casual suit, with a liquid offering he hoped to personally ingest a fair amount of. It is expensive, but not lavishly so. Like him, it treads somewhere in the middle, and while he likes it, no one else has any particularly strong feelings toward it. He usually gets his wish.
Standing in front of a large door, he imagined what was happening on the other side. All the menial small talk and milling about. The ladies gossip and the men boast and, somewhere inside, there is a couch which knows him more intimately than any of the attendees. He stood and stared at the door, motionless. While he debates the relative merits of knocking on it and simply running away into the night, he noticed it begin to move. He had been spotted, and was now being drawn inside. He was still undecided.
Inside, it was much how he expected, with the exception of some more garish decorations than he had anticipated. The colors were vomitous and flamboyant, but it was their excess that was most unforgivable. He could not look his drowsy red eyes in any direction without being assaulted by them, so he looked only downward at the hardwood floors that were occasionally patched with familiar Persian rugs. Eventually he found his way to his normal spot, and, glass in hand, he tried to relax and settle in.
He forgot how the sound echoes around in his head in the large ballroom that the party primarily takes place in. Normally, this wasn't something that would even be noticeable, but the liquor makes him sensitive, and suddenly there is a flurry of cricket-like noise. The scattered groups chatter senselessly around him, and he can't make out a word of it. Then, he was disturbed by a louder noise that comes from directly to his left. She was standing there, the only other thing that compels him to attend these parties. The light behind her illuminated her form in a way that filled him with awe, and he scrambled to cover the fact that he did not hear what she said.
"You look lovely tonight," he says, hoping it's an acceptable response. She has done her hair differently, and her dress is like none that he had ever seen her wear, but there is a familiar quality to the proceedings that filled him with confidence. He likes her, but she's too young. She likes him, but he's too quiet and reserved. It is a relationship of unfulfilled desires that is likely to stay unfulfilled, but something about the awkward hope makes them both happy.
"You're so silly," she says. He has no idea what she means.
He wished that she would stay with him. He wished that she would ask him to leave and that they would be alone somewhere. It hasn't happened yet. She was already gone. He watched as she disappeared into a sea of black tuxedos and elegant dresses. He disappeared into himself, once more. He leaned back and stared upward toward the chandeliered ceiling and watched the light refract through the crystal. Suddenly he was jostled awake.
“What time is it? How long was I asleep?”
He speaks to no one. The people are still around him, but no longer in the same order. Everything feels strange and out of sorts. He can’t put his finger on it.
“It must not have been long.”
He rubbed his eyes and continued to look around. As he focused, he began to realize that something was very wrong. He recognized no one. He may not have been close to anyone before, but he at least knew who they were. He had, in his mind, a dossier of every person who would have been at that party, with few exceptions. He could not now accept that he was surrounded by strangers. He felt more sober than before, but without the customary hangover and dry mouth that accompanied it. His drink was still in his hand, and he finished it as quickly as he possibly could.
Before he can decide on a course of action, a woman approaches him. “I’m sorry to have run off like that, but these parties require a certain level of social decorum, you know.” He stared at her, with confusion in his eyes, trying desperately to recognize her. “If it were up to me, I’d probably plop right down and sit here with you all night.” He was no fool. She acted as if she were the woman that he admired, the woman that he longed for; but he has never met this woman. "What was she trying to accomplish?" He thought. "What is this game?" She sighed, and looks at him disappointed.
“You usually have something clever to say. I do so enjoy your flirting. It’s practically the highlight of these gatherings.”
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’ve got a lot on my mind right this second.”
He didn’t know what sort of game they were playing, but he was too dizzy and confused to begin throwing around accusations, so he simply went along with it. He stood up, and nearly stumbled trying to find his balance. He was resolved to freshen up his drink. Regardless of whatever was going on, alcohol was always his friend. It may have been trying to kill him, but it had never deceived him about that fact. The whiskey was soft, sweet, and a pleasant against his throat, and pressed against his lips, he felt a sense of revitalization and then a continued throbbing pain.
He had a better view of the room now, and as he moved his head from right to left, ending with where he had started, he reaffirmed his earlier conclusions. There was no one here that he could identify, and it made him uncomfortable in a way that made him long for his earlier sense of discomfort. For a while, he could not move. He became a statue of indecision, as his intoxicated mind contemplated his next motion. He decided to make a phone call and return home early, or, at least he thought it must be early still.
He walked into the kitchen to use the phone, and while he dialed the phone, he glanced at the clock on the wall. He couldn't believe it. It was mere minutes after he had arrived. It seemed as if he didn’t fall asleep so much as he blinked. The phone rang, but no one answered. Given the time, it’s possible his driver was not yet back home to answer the phone. By the twentieth ring, he had given up. He would simply have to wait. He doesn’t like this one bit.
Returning to his comfortable spot, he notices that the imposter who had spoken to him earlier was still lingering about. This woman is equally beautiful, and young, and clearly an inappropriate match for him, but she was not the right inappropriate match. She was not the one that he had wasted years thinking about. Where he would normally feel bad about himself, he now felt anger at this stranger for intruding into his life.
“Tell me what’s going on here.” He says, in a low but serious and authoritative manner. He hoped to convey his distaste for what was happening, so that he would not be toyed with any longer.
“I’m sorry; I just thought it would be nice to spend more time with you. Jeez, what’s going on with you tonight?”
“You know very well what I’m talking about. I don’t know you. I don’t know anyone in this room.”
“Well, you’re just so quiet. How can you know anyone if you never talk to them?”
He was becoming frustrated now. He was not normally given to anger, but some combination of the events he was now experiencing had filled him with a self-righteous rage. He was too old to be played tricks upon, and he never liked to be the butt of the joke.
“You fuckers think you can dick with me because I keep to myself? Fuck you. I don’t need this.”
She was silent. He saw something in her face that he didn’t expect; she was hurt. She was deeply and immensely hurt. He only noticed this for a brief moment, as he found himself storming out of the building, grabbing the bottle he had brought with him on his way out. The awkward parade to the door was filled with confused looks and whispers that reminded him of his past, and once again filled him with indignant vitriol. Outside, he didn’t know what he was doing, but he couldn’t stop walking.
He imagined he could find his way back home, but it would take at least a couple of hours, where the drive had only been about 20 minutes. Still, he had no where else to go. Everyone he knew was supposed to be at that party, now replaced with a gaggle of pretenders. He began his trek, with a modest amount of speed, but the darkness and the trees begin to frighten him and he moved faster. He saw the shadows moving and heard rustling. The path back home was long and dark, and he was having second thoughts about the whole thing. He had not drunk enough to be fearless; indeed, he never seems to be able to.
Suddenly, he was struck by the reflection of the moon against a nearby lake. The light filled the entire area, illuminating it amongst the surrounding darkness. It seemed, to him, harmless, innocuous; a safe haven. The water barely moved on the surface of the lake, proving to be a perfect mirror for the sky. As he approaches it, he looked up toward the constellations, brightly glowing in the night. He doesn’t take the time to admire them much anymore, and he lamented the fact that he was never able to learn their names. “It’s much too difficult to remember the imaginary lines between them,” he says to himself, “and whatever they’re supposed to represent.” He saw a ripple upon the lake and moved toward it.
There was a thud of thick glass against dirt, but he doesn’t hear it, too engrossed by what he saw. He no longer felt safe; now he felt terrified. He stared down upon his own visage, and to his horror, he was not himself. His age was about right, and all the basic facts stayed true, but his features were not his. His hair and his eyes were not the ones that had stared back at him in maudlin disgust everyday. He had neither the affection nor the hatred for this figure that he carried for himself, and he was afraid.
He remembered nothing else from that moment on. His body collapsed, and the speckled blur of yellow and black passed him quickly, but it gave him adequate time to accept his fate. Something had happened at that party. Someone had played a cruel trick upon him, but it had not been the other party guests. His hand no longer throbbed. He had finally really disappeared.
“Well,” he thinks silently to himself. “This certainly is interesting.”