Amid root canal agonies and a spontaneously combusting telephone, the party also brought an inspiring if unlikely new friend
Everyone I know is tense about New Years Eve. The superstition is that if the evening itself is appalling, thats how the next year is going to be. We need to be in the company of people we love, or at least like, and with strangers who might become friends. With this in mind, some years ago I decided to host a party.
On the morning of the big night, I woke up to find that the left side of my face had swollen up. My cheek looked like a red leather boxing glove. An emergency dentist gave me some antibiotics and murmured the words root canal treatment, which he said I could look forward to in the new year.
Two friends arrived in the afternoon to help me prepare. One of them stimulated samosas and the other brewed a big pot of soup that she insisted was related to vichyssoise. It looked like gray, slimy gruel. My wish to host a party in the style of The Great Gatsby, in which men and girls came and ran like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars, was fading.
Guests began to arrive. The atmosphere was friendly. Everywhere I seemed were men and women engaged in lively conversation. Some of them were even dancing while corks popped and glasses smashed. Then, as we moved closer to midnight, a bad fairy came to the ball. She was a friend of a friend and everyone was a little scared of her. I would call her Henrietta, but she was mostly known as Henry. It was well known that Henry was very hostile to all women, for reasons best known to herself. She had icy-blonde hair and was wearing a white halterneck dress.
Henry sidled up to me. Six-foot tall in her heels, she lifted a thumb and prodded my swollen cheek. Shame its not Halloween, she said. Henry began to say things that were undermining and mean in a vague sort of way, in a little girls voice. Her real voice was quite deep and authoritative. I told myself it was just her ironic humour.
She waved to her boyfriend who had offered to pass around a plate of samosas. He was Swedish and I knew he was anxious about taking Henry to his wooden house on the archipelago. He had rented it out for the winter but had texted the tenants to see if they would leave a week early. His smartphone maintained buzzing in the pocket of his jacket presumably his furious tenants. Meanwhile, penniless poets were opening the champagne bottles I was saving for midnight and the alcoholic who came to every party had fallen over.
Henrys boyfriend told me he was translating a volume from Swedish into English. Will you work on the translation in your wooden home on the archipelago? I asked.
Well, he was sweating, it looks like the tenants are refusing to leave early. Henry had now taken off her shoes and was strolling barefoot towards him. Her smile was sultry and spiteful at the same time. I could see it truly turned him on, but then he hollered and fell the samosas on the floor.
A plume of smoke was billowing out of his jacket pocket. It took a while to work out what as going on, but it became clear his telephone had caught flame. Everyone started to pull off his jacket. My best friend ran with it into the garden and hurled it on the grass. There was a debate about what to do next. Someone said to pour water over it. A guest advised we use baking soda instead. I received some and we sprinkled it over the smouldering telephone. It was a minute to midnight so we left it and ran inside to sing Auld Lang Syne.
Henry held hands with her boyfriend who now was stripped of his coat and singed shirt, but OK. He looked like an American marine in his white vest. We kissed and hugged each other( avoiding Henry) and drank to the new year.
Later on, I walked up to my bedroom. I was in agony. Root canal therapy. Another year had begun.
There was a knock on the door and in walked Henry carrying my cat in her arms. She said she was concerned about it playing near the stupid smartphone in the garden. She sat on the bed and we talked for a long time.
We became friends. She died a few years ago and I miss her, but it would be true to say that she was the inspiration for the sort of complicated woman , not especially likeable at first but with many fronts to disguise her own sadness( a little bit like Jay Gatsby ), who live in in some of my fiction.
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