by Brian Conlon
Even though the frog-shaped orange sculpture was obviously glued together, that was the intention of the artist. It is not clear that the sculpture ever existed as a whole without the glue. The artist may have crafted each piece independently and then glued them together in order to make it appear as if it was once a seamless sculpture that had been smashed. Some art critics value destruction over creation. The sculptor may have known this and intentionally created the impression that the work had been destroyed and then put back together, when, in fact, it may have been a creation made of several small creations and glue. It is rare to find an art critic who values glue.
The ambiguity of the frog was always a point of pride for Seth’s girlfriend, Harmon Daisy. Harmon’s birth name was Cherry. Her parents had a surplus of red children’s clothes they purchased at an outlet store at a discount the day after Valentine’s Day, prior to Cherry’s conception, and did not want them to go to waste. Cherry changed her name to Harmon at age ten, when none of the red clothes fit any more and her parents had lapsed into calling her “Chair,” which did not have the same pleasing effect as calling a child always dressed in red “Cherry.” Her parents allowed Cherry to choose her new name so long as they approved. After vetoing Spider Lily, Barbie, Stouffers and Pushingup, her father suggested Harmon and she agreed, after choosing to play trumpet in fourth grade.
Harmon had been Seth’s girlfriend since high school, or at least that is what they had decided to tell people. In truth, in high school Seth was desperately in love with Suzie Strasenburgh, and professed his love on May 24th of their junior year. Suzie, for her part, thought Seth was making fun of her interest in obscene romance novels (an interest he was not aware of). She laughed him off in the hallway before rushing to the bathroom to cry into the recycled cloth toweling that hung low from the dispenser. The mark of her makeup can still be faintly seen at Warren G. Harding High (WGHHS). Seth was perplexed by his love’s reaction, but neglected to follow up for fear that she would crush him once again. Suzie never really had any feelings for Seth anyway, but the fact that a good friend of hers would poke fun at her for her secret obsession was unbearable.
The night after Seth humiliated her, Suzie started to throw away her obscene novels, but ended up reading one particularly grotesque fiction about a princess with a proclivity for sea turtles and silt. One passage read:
“Princess Softmeadow had never seen such a perfectly shaped turtle before. She decided to lie in the smooth, refined silt and await its approach. The turtle looked to its side slowly and then the other side, until seeing the nubile body of the young princess rolling in the silt, spreading it all over her body and underneath her bright pink one-piece bathing suit. The turtle saw her point to him wantingly. He slowly retracted his head into his shell and then back out again to see if she was still tempting him.”
In short, Seth’s high school love was unrequited. He was so devastated by Suzie’s reaction that he swore off attractive girls his senior year. Seth made a point of avoiding Suzie Strasenburgh and Terry Thorton and Stephanie Hands and even Tom Gorman, whose mouth was too feminine, not to mention his eye lashes. Instead, Seth opted to hang out with his male friends, a motley crew of unattractive young adults. There was Barry Miller, who fought far too hard to “bring back” the pork pie hat in order to offset the fact that he was balding somehow from left to right. There was Kevin Entlshtick, who had plastic surgery to remove a wart on his forehead the day after he graduated from high school. There was Devin Scourts, who spit into a bottle all the time to make people think he was chewing tobacco. And finally, there was Seth’s best friend, Mandel Sten, who was not particularly repulsive, but carried himself as though he was, so all the girls (and guys too) assumed there had to be something physically wrong with him.
It was during this senior year that Harmon first took an interest in Seth. Seth was by no means the most attractive teenager. His ears were too long for his face and his lower lip was perpetually chapped to the point that it was never one solid color. His mother had subtly placed two sticks of ChapStick in his Christmas stocking every year since he was thirteen. He used the ChapStick every so often on a cold day or after eating an orange, but he somehow had yet to use one whole stick and had a stockpile of 25 in his closet, right beneath the acne medication he never had occasion to use. This lack of acne, combined with the fact that Seth was surrounded with unattractive friends, may have saved Seth’s overall appearance.
Harmon, for her part, had a series of romantic missteps in high school, including a brief tryst with Barry Miller sophomore year. She even gave him a fully-clothed lap dance, donning his pork pie hat on his sixteenth birthday. In retrospect, this was the most tragic event of Barry’s life, for it convinced him that he could, in fact, bring back the pork pie hat. Whenever asked by his friends, family and coworkers about his affinity for the hat, he would always cite that 10th grade lap dance as evidence that the hat could, and did, attract women. What Barry never cited was that the 10th grade encounter was the last time a woman wore his pork pie hat, save for the stripper at Kevin’s bachelor party who intuitively discovered the best way into Barry’s heart and wallet. The reenactment cost Barry $50 and whatever pride he could muster after eight beers.
After her experience with Barry, Harmon moved on to a variety of middle-of-the-road guys, including: the third-string quarterback on the JV football team, the second chair trumpeter in the jazz band, the guy who got a 99% on his world history final and the captain of the chess club. The chess club captain, Johnny Stuguts, actually had a better arm than the third-string quarterback, but his lisp made the team laugh when he called out the plays. Coach Roberson briefly considered keeping Johnny on as a trick play specialist, but was unable to think of any trick plays involving a lisp, so he cut him. Johnny was devastated by the Coach’s decision and vowed never to play football again. His competitive nature led him towards less vocal pursuits such as golf, bowling, and chess. Though he was a successful golfer and an average bowler, he was the most well-spoken chess player WGHHS had ever seen. Harmon bought Johnny a book entitled How to Control Your Lisp and Retain Your Character for his birthday when they were dating. Johnny was none-too-pleased with the book, though he did read the first paragraph:
If you’re reading this book you have made the first crucial step in ridding yourself of your lisp or the lisp of a loved one. We all know that lisping can be embarrassing, distracting and just annoying to those around you. We’ve all experienced the finger-pointing, the snickering and the “What was that?” moments. I am here to tell you that you can change it all, you can turn it all around, you can speak like a normal human being in only minutes a day. This book will provide you with customized exercises for your tongue and your spirit that will eliminate the physical and psychological lisping you have suffered through every day of your life.
Johnny quickly decided that Harmon was not the girl for him. Harmon was depressed for three weeks, stopped shaving her legs, spurned all her female friends for their insincerity and began to spend time with Barry, Seth, Kevin, Devin and Mandel. She gained the coveted sixth spot in the group unintentionally. To start the second quarter, Mr. Spanzo decided to divide his English class into groups of three in order to read Great Expectations in two and a half weeks. The plan was for each member to read two chapters a night and summarize the chapters for the other two members in class the following day. At the end there would be a group test with short answer questions in which each member had to write at least one sentence per question. Barry, Kevin and Devin grouped together right away to defend against Mandel and Seth pairing, which they invariably did, and cherry-picking one of them, thus leaving the other two in the lurch. Mandel and Seth awkwardly looked around for a partner, as Harmon, wearing a brown skirt that purposely exposed her bristly ankles, sat staring straight ahead, ignoring the bustle of the students eagerly excluding or desperately attempting not to be excluded. Her dim brown eyes focused on a dark-green spot of emptiness on the chalk-board. Stephanie Hands was noticeably single, having been scorned by her three slightly less attractive friends. She batted her eyelashes in Seth’s direction, but he averted his eyes and noticed Harmon. He tapped her on the shoulder and said, “You want to be in our group?” She shook her shoulders and motioned approval, “So long as you move your desks around mine, I’m not moving.”
Thus began the relationship which led to the dinner party. The reason for the dinner party was simple: it had been eight years since they had graduated high school. The story of Seth and Harmon, as conceived by Harmon, edited and approved by Seth, spread quickly through the ranks of their high school friends and was accepted universally.
It just so happened that the invitees to the party fell into three discrete categories: close high school friends, their significant others (who varied in relation to Seth and Harmon, but to break down these relationships further would “ruin the elegance of the theory”), and Josh Stanton. Besides being a category onto himself, Josh also happened to be the only one at the dinner party who knew the truth about the origins of Seth and Harmon’s relationship.
Josh Stanton went to college with Seth and worked with Harmon at the “Digital Picture Frame Helpline.” It was merely a part-time job for both Harmon and Josh, as the Helpline was only available Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and holidays. The Helpline was developed by a former chemist who was bothered by the fact that there was no universal help for a certain type of product, only brands of products. He found that he would universally be advised to purchase some other product the company made in order to fix the problem he was having with the original product. An unbiased helpline was needed and the chemist thought there was no better place to start than the burgeoning field of digital picture frames. He started with one phone and progressed to two, hit a lull, reduced back to one, and then settled back into two once word spread that the Helpline was unbiased and effective. Josh and Harmon knew little about digital picture frames, but the chemist supplied them with manuals from every major brand searchable in digital format and made Josh and Harmon read the manuals in their entirety before he allowed them to answer a single phone call. It was not a terribly difficult job, as most of the callers were over sixty and had questions that were answered in the first page of the manual, or were of the following nature: “How do you open it to put the picture in?”
So there was Josh Stanton, Seth, Harmon, Mandel Sten and his girlfriend Stacey Ralp, Devin Scourts and his second wife Margot, and Suzie Strasenburgh and her cat.
The first couple to arrive was Josh and his taco dip. Josh had been known for his famous taco dip since college and Seth even sent him a reminder e-mail the night before: “DON’T FORGET THE DIP, josh,” read the email. For the party, Josh decided to try out a pair of prescription eye glasses he had found in his apartment the day after his brother had last visited. Josh knew the prescription would be not quite right, but he was one of the few people who actually got a mild kick out of headaches. “It’s like your brain emphatically reminding you, I’m still here!” he once said on an unsuccessful date.
“Nice glasses Josh,” said Harmon.
“And you remembered the dip,” chimed in Seth.
“Get a room,” Josh said sarcastically. He then noticed that Seth and Harmon did not really understand. “I meant you and the dip.”
Seth and Harmon decided to hold hands temporarily, out of some type of “we both didn’t get it” lover’s connection.
“When’d you get those glasses?” Seth asked.
“Recently, they might be my brother’s. Remember James? He visited us a few times, bought beer that one time.”
“That’s right, I called him Jimmy after a few drinks and he threatened me.”
“He wasn’t serious . . . at least, he didn’t follow through.”
“You can set the dip on the table next to the chips,” Harmon said. “There’s no need for heating it, right?”
“No need is right. It depends on your taste.”
“It’s better cold, we’ve been through this, remember last time Harm.”
“Well, no I don’t. Have you seen our sculpture?”
“The orange frog? No, hadn’t seen it.”
Josh removed the cellophane from the dip, grabbed a handful of chips and began dipping for all he was worth. He temporarily stopped to wipe his hands on his jeans and walk towards the orange sculpture on the book shelf in the corner.
“When did you break it?” Josh asked, just before the doorbell rang.
“Me, personally? Hold on.” Harmon went to the door thankful she did not have to explain the frog to Josh.
Josh did not truly care about the sculpture and decided to return to the snack table, where Seth was sneaking a few scoops. As the door opened, Seth stealthily crunched the tortilla chip as quietly as he could. Josh dipped two chips at once, ate them in rapid unstealth succession and grinned at Seth. Through the door walked a beautiful twenty-six-year-old brunette with her hair tied back in a ponytail. She wore a green hooded-sweatshirt and held a slightly overweight gray, black and burnt sienna stripped cat. Upon entrance, Suzie apologized, “No hugs until Arnie is comfortable enough to go exploring.”
The cat immediately fled its owner’s grasp in search of searching, leaving Suzie with no other option than to hug Harmon, awkwardly brushing Harmon’s hair less forcefully than she had stroked Arnie a few seconds earlier.
“Is this her?” cracked Josh.
“Her, what? I never told you who was coming.” Seth used the same tone he had in high school when Devin asked him, “What do you think of Suzie Strasenburgh?”
Suzie opened her arms while Seth swallowed a bit of spiced ground beef and walked towards her. He held her, and she him, for a borderline inappropriate amount of time. It did not occur to Suzie that their hug was too long, for she was, by nature, and perhaps conscious intent, affectionate beyond her actual intentions. That is, she had the uncanny ability of making people feel they meant much more to her than they actually did. Seth, for his part, was still immensely attracted to Suzie and was not going to give up the hug prematurely.
Suzie exchanged pleasantries with the hosts, using such phrases as “It’s been too long” and “You guys look great.” Josh awaited a formal introduction impatiently, finally clearing his throat to get Harmon’s attention. Unfortunately for Josh, the throat-clearing led to an all-out coughing fit, which was brought on by some combination of a moderate cat allergy, and a strangely shaped piece of onion. Josh walked towards the far corner of the room so as to avoid the humiliation of coughing in front of such an attractive stranger.
“Are you alright?” Suzie asked and was echoed by the hosts.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Josh choked out, letting out two more bellowing coughs, before contorting his face to suppress the last of it.
“I don’t believe we’ve met, I’m Josh,” he croaked as he walked towards the snack table.
Suzie extended her hand and bowed to Josh, as if she were in an Austen novel. Josh was unclear on what to do, as his 19th century writer of choice was Gogol, who did not offer any relevant advice on how to react in such situations. He decided to mirror her posture. This made a strange impression on the hosts, an impression so strange that Gogol may have actually approved.
“You should try some dip, I made it you know.”
“Thanks, I think I’ll hold off. You know Arnie gets upset sometimes if I eat crunchy foods. There is something about the noise.”
“That’s strange,” Seth said hoping to break up the Josh-Suzie conversation.
“So you let your cat boss you around? I’ve heard of being pussy-whipped, but this is ridiculous.” Josh was very pleased with his joke and Suzie only made it worse by laughing out loud, winking at him, and grabbing a chip. Seth rolled his eyes and patted Josh on the back, while Harmon giggled involuntarily, “On that note, does anybody want a drink?”
“I’ll have a glass of warm milk and Arnie will take a rum and coke.”
“I’ll have what Arnie’s having,” said Josh.
“Now that the cat is out of the bag, I guess we can reveal that we don’t have any warm milk,” said Seth.
“Comedians, one and all,” said Harmon, somehow more sarcastically than she intended. “Four rum and cokes coming up. You can distribute them as you see fit, but I’m getting one,” she recovered the tone she was previously hoping to exude: jovial hostess.
“If you have any extra bowls, I’m sure Arnie would appreciate a little water. He gets dehydrated sometimes in new environments. The vet says it might be psychological, but I’m not convinced.”
“What are the other theories?” Seth asked.
“Well, I personally think it has to do with his habit of licking walls, especially those he has never encountered, see…” Suzie pointed to her cat who had his back to the humans and was licking the wall slowly, as if he was searching for a certain taste that could not be ascertained unless three seconds was allowed to pass between licks.
“Seems like a sound theory,” said Josh.
“Well it’s not a string theory,” said Harmon as she returned with the drinks, quite pleased that she was able to make a joke that conceivably worked on multiple levels.
At the moment Seth, Suzie, and Josh were taking their drinks off the tray, the doorbell rang. This created a rather awkward scene: Seth taking his drink away from his lips and rushing towards the door, Harmon hastily removing her drink and taking the tray back into the kitchen, Suzie sipping and glancing at her cat, and Josh successfully restraining himself from saying, “Who’s that?”. Whereas if the doorbell had not rung at that precise moment they very likely would have been able to make some sort of benevolent small talk associated with the strength of the drinks, the type of rum or cola used, or the interesting origins of the serving tray. All this was lost forever as Seth let in his best friend Mandel and his girlfriend Stacey.
Mandel was dressed in a poorly stitched powder blue dress shirt, untucked into a pair of khaki pants he had owned since high school, while Stacey wore a frill-less navy-blue blouse and jeans that flattered her thighs, but somehow made her calves look invisible. As a couple they seemed to have coordinated their outfits so as to appear completely unremarkable.
Stacey had never met anyone at the party and would have preferred to stay at home, but Mandel insisted that he accompany her, because “everyone else’s girlfriend is coming.” Upon surveying the room and finding a woman in a hoodie clearly not tied to a man in glasses, and a bowl of taco dip clearly not tied to a cat clearly not tied to a house, and a house with some apparent connection with a woman in a purple blouse and jeans, she quickly understood that she would have the upper-hand in whatever their next disagreement might be. Mandel offered his hand to Seth and they shook hands at the precise moment Mandel said, “Seth, this is Stacey.”
“A pleasure . . . I’ve heard so much about you. I can’t believe you two have been together six months and we’ve never met.”
“Eight months actually, it’s nice to meet you finally.” She looked at Mandel, as if he had been keeping her away intentionally.
Mandel was introduced to Josh and everyone was introduced to Stacey. Stacey clung to Mandel’s arm.
“Can I get you two something to drink?” asked Harmon.
“Ah, Harmon, nice to see you,” said Mandel, and then awkwardly kissed her on the cheek. When they had seen each other in high school or on breaks from college, Mandel and Harmon had never exchanged pleasantries so formally. But, since graduation, Mandel has made a conscious effort to appear “grown up” in social situations, and his father always kissed female acquaintances on the cheek.
“I’m Stacey,” said Stacey.
“Nice to meet you, so . . . drinks?” asked Harmon again.
“We’d better not,” said Mandel.
“Come on now Mandel. I’ve never known you to turn down a free drink,” said Seth.
“No, no thanks, I don’t drink and Mandel’s driving,” said Stacey, glaring at Mandel.
“Why don’t you drive?” asked Josh.
“Stay the night,” said Suzie.
“I don’t drive,” said Stacey quietly.
“Stay the night,” said Suzie.
“You can’t drive, or you don’t want to drive?” asked Josh.
“Come on, do you want coffee? I think we have some juice. . .” said Harmon.
“One drink never hurt anybody,” said Seth.
“Have some dip, I made it you know,” said Josh to Stacey only.
“You know I would Seth, but I’m driving and you know what that means, one drink is one drink too many,” said Mandel.
“Is that what that means?” said Suzie.
“I don’t really want to spoil my appetite,” said Stacey.
“We have water,” said Harmon.
“Really?” said Josh. Suzie laughed, took a chip, dipped it in the bowl and then placed it in her mouth so as to avoid crunching. She was able to control herself for one whole second. Arnie ceased licking momentarily and looked over with disdain.
“It’s good. You sure you don’t want some?” asked Suzie, facing Mandel.
“Well, maybe a few scoops,” said Mandel, freeing himself from Stacey.
“You really don’t want anything to drink?” asked Harmon, while she sipped her rum and coke.
“I’m sure I’ll have something with dinner, and Man will too,” said Stacey.
“I’m sure Man will,” said Seth, causing Mandel to stop chewing and smirk at Seth.
“Can I pour myself another drink?” asked Josh.
“Sure, it’s in the kitchen,” said Harmon, nearly having given up on being a model hostess.
“Suzie, you want one too?” asked Josh.
Suzie looked at her glass, which was about a quarter full, looked up at Seth, made what appeared to be meaningful eye contact and responded, “Sure, why not? It’s a young night.”
“Is that your cat? It’s so . . . round,” said Stacey to Harmon.
“No, no, that’s Suzie’s. His name is Arnie and I think he might be quite sensitive about that type of thing,” said Harmon.
“He’s very comfortable with his body,” said Suzie, swilling down the last of her drink.
“How can you tell?” asked Harmon.
“Something in the way he moves,” sang Mandel.
“Exactly,” laughed Suzie.
Josh returned from the kitchen with two full glasses of rum and coke, smiling as he handed one to Suzie.
“I wish he would have reused her glass,” said Harmon to Seth under her breath.
“So, Mandel, what have you been up to, besides snagging this lovely creature?” asked Suzie, as she placed her first drink down, started her second, and placed her hand around Stacey’s waist.
“Well, I just finished my masters last year. The job market hasn’t been great. Took a job with the census bureau, writing pamphlets,” said Mandel.
“Oh, well that’s interesting,” said Suzie, removing her hand from Stacey’s waist, having noticed Stacey’s unease.
“No, it’s not,” said Mandel.
“He sits around the house, mostly,” said Stacey and smiled at Seth.
“And what do you do?” asked Josh.
“I write for ‘Bored so Buy,’ freelance,” said Stacey.
“Bored so Buy?” asked Harmon.
“Yeah, you know the catalogues on all the planes and trains,” said Mandel, looking longingly at the drinks scattered about and then at Arnie, who was licking the walls. He was momentarily entranced by the methodical cat and nearly started to walk towards him.
“Oh wow, yeah,” said Suzie.
“What have you written?” asked Seth, looking at Mandel, revealing in his eyes the insincerity his voice did not betray. The look broke Mandel’s trance.
“I’ve done a few pillow ones, a couple protein bars. The real money is in the electronics. I don’t have the jargon down yet, it takes a while,” said Stacey, thoughtfully.
“Excellent,” said Seth grabbing Harmon by the hip and pulling her towards him gently.
“I’m gonna go check on Arnie,” said Suzie and walked towards her cat. She knelt down and began to stroke Arnie as he continued to lick the wall and pay her no attention. Everyone else in the room, however, was paying Suzie great attention as they all turned to watch her and Arnie. Just as Josh had thought of something to say to break the silence, the doorbell rang.
Harmon grabbed Seth by the arm and the two walked over to open the door. “Devin and Margot, so nice of you to join us,” said Seth.
“We’re not so late,” said Devin as he stepped through the doorway and hugged Harmon.
Margot and Devin both seemed slightly overdressed. This was, in fact, why they were late. Devin tried to convince Margot that his torn jeans and tight black t-shirt were sufficiently stylish for Seth’s gathering.
Margot disagreed and insisted, “I don’t care how your friends dress, when we go out together you will look like my husband.”
“Show me a picture of what your husband looks like,” said Devin.
“He’s about 5’7” real strange looking nose, skinny arms, but always well-dressed.”
“Sounds like an interesting guy, you’ll have to introduce me sometime.”
“Put on something decent.”
Devin put on a pair of black dress slacks and a gray checkered sweater vest over a black dress shirt. “That’s too much,” said Margot, “Now, I’ll have to change.”
“Fine, change, we’re going to be late, hurry.”
“I think I’ll wear my blue dress, the one with the stars, or maybe the green shirt with the insert and those high boots, what do you think?”
“Wear the dress with the boots.”
“Fine, the dress it is then.”
Margot and Devin were ushered into the front room and joined the crowd around the chips and taco dip. Josh was off in the kitchen again mixing two more drinks.
“Now, do you two want a drink? I think we’ll probably eat shortly,” said Harmon.
“Do you have any wine?” asked Margot, “I’m Margot, by the by.”
“Oh yes, everyone, this is my wife Margot, she’s wearing a dress. Isn’t it lovely? I’ll have a beer,” said Devin. “Seth, Mandel, you guys look like you could use another drink,” he said, as he lead the two friends back towards the kitchen. The three crossed paths with Josh as he returned to the living room, drinks in hand.
“I love the dress,” said Suzie, “I almost dressed up, but Arnie wasn’t having it.”
“Is this Arnie?” asked Margot, turning her head towards Josh. “Well, you just tell Arnie, a beautiful girl like you should be able to look lovely if she wants and, who is he to say no?”
Arnie recognized his name and the disapproving tone. He turned away from the wall, shot a terrifying glance at Margot, and began sharpening his claws on the carpet. He held up his front left paw, licked it to make sure it was sufficiently sharp and then returned to the wall. There was so much more licking to be done.
“What? Oh, no, Arnie’s my cat,” said Suzie, patting Margot on the shoulder.
“I’m Josh. I would have encouraged her to wear a dress,” he said.
Suzie smiled and slapped Josh’s chest with a limp wrist.
“Right, so . . . were you serious about the cat affecting your outfit?” asked Margot.
“You tell me,” said Suzie stroking the right shoulder strap of Margot’s dress, “Nice,” she said.
I’m going to sit down over there,” said Stacey, and then moved to the soft leather chair in the corner of the room, furthest from Arnie, and not very close to anyone else.
“So, wine, I’ll be right back,” said Harmon.
Meanwhile, Devin and Seth were giving Mandel a hard time about not having at least one drink, and Devin and Mandel were giving Seth a hard time about inviting Suzie Strasenburgh, and Seth and Mandel were giving Devin a hard time about his sweater vest.
“How could you leave me out there with them?” Harmon wanted to say upon entering the kitchen, but instead, said the following, “Is this where all the cool kids are hanging out?”
“Yes, it is, leave us alone,” thought all three men, but none said anything. They simply laughed and started back into the living room.
“Dinner should be ready shortly,” Harmon said as they left her alone in the kitchen.
For dinner Harmon had prepared two pans of her famous lasagna, and a large and well-peppered green salad. She had sliced three loaves of Cana’s Bakery’s fresh Italian bread, taken two sticks of butter out of the refrigerator and hand grated a block of parmesan cheese. All in all, Harmon was pleased with how the meal came out and even began whistling as she took the pans of lasagna out of the oven. “You’ve come a long way baby,” she thought.
The guests assembled around Seth and Harmon’s dining room table meant to seat six. Seth and Harmon briefly considered splitting up the party into two groups of four, where one group would sit in the dining room, while the other would be in the kitchen, but could not agree on who would sit where, and, above all, thought it would be awkward to dictate where people sat.
“What if Suzie and Josh hit it off, for instance, and we had them forcibly separated?” asked Harmon
“They’re not going to hit it off,” said Seth.
“How do you know?”
“I know both of them. They’re not going to hit it off.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
“One table, we’ll have one table.”
“Good, wouldn’t want to keep the two of them apart.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
As it so happened, Josh and Suzie were not so much “hitting it off” as they were “drinking it up.” By the time they sat down to eat, Josh was on rum and coke number six, while Suzie was just starting her fifth drink. No one else at the party had had more than two.
“Why is it, why is it that we encourage over-drinking in this society, but not overeating?” asked Suzie.
“I don’t know, why is it?” responded Stacey.
“You go out to the bar and some guy drinks ten beers and he’s a big man,” she stroked Josh’s arm with her right hand and patted Seth on the shoulder with her left, “he’s a good drinker, what will power, what fortitude . . . but if I sit here and eat half a pan of lasagna I’m some sort of shellfish glutton, you know?”
“Selfish, maybe, I don’t think there are any clams in the lasagna,” said Mandel.
“You know what I mean,” said Suzie and turned to Seth, “He knows what I mean.”
“He does,” said Seth, consoling Suzie.
“Eat all the lasagna you want, no one is judging you here,” said Harmon, glaring at Seth.
“Oh, I love to eat Harm, I’m so hungry too, oh, this looks amazing,” said Suzie.
Everyone else said something to the same effect, but they all said it at the same time, so all Harmon could hear was, “Yeah, it looks bread great really hard set-up fresh lasagna bake silverware yourself.” She was nonetheless grateful. Harmon served everyone a healthy cube of lasagna and let them help themselves to everything else. People ate quietly at first stuffing their faces and cleaning off the sauce from their lower lips with the occasional grunt, or praise for Harmon.
“This tastes like your mom’s lasagna, is it her recipe?” Mandel asked Seth.
“No, no, this is all Harmon,” said Seth.
“I’ve never even had his mom’s lasagna,” said Harmon.
“Oh, you must, you must, it’s fantastic,” said Suzie.
“Hold up, you’ve been dating since high school and you haven’t tried Mrs. Gregory’s lasagna?” asked Devin.
“She doesn’t cook much anymore,” said Seth.
And then, and then, Josh said something he shouldn’t have. He said something that made the room unravel. Something that made the dinner bell crack and the frog sculpture hop onto Arnie’s back and start cleaning his ears with its tongue. In short, Josh said something so momentous, so unnerving, that it would be altogether inappropriate not to include it in the very next line.
“They haven’t been dating since high school.”
“Of course we have, what are you saying?” said Harmon, blushing and searching the room for challengers.
Margot raised her eyebrows and made eye contact with Stacey, saying nothing, but clearly indicating, “This might be getting interesting, you and I are the only ones with nothing at stake. Let’s enjoy this.” Stacey’s smirk assured Margot that they were on the same page.
Devin and Mandel sat up in their chairs and exchanged glances of a different sort. Mandel scrunched his face and Devin rolled his eyes slightly, subtly demonstrating to each other that they were not going to back Seth blindly and, would, instead, keep an open mind and see where all this was going.
“Yeah, yeah, that’s what I heard that since senior year, but you guys were real sly about it, didn’t want people to know for some reason. Why was that?” said Suzie placing her hand on Seth’s shoulder again.
“You know how it is, neither of us were into that sort of drama, you know, didn’t go to dances that type of thing, so we . . . you know we hung out, people knew that. That was enough,” said Seth.
“I hate to be the one to point out the empire has no cloves, but come on now,” said Josh.
Seth and Harmon looked at each other, embarrassed, but still united in the belief that they could overcome Josh and maintain their image.
“Does anyone know what that means? Have another drink buddy,” said Seth. Stacey, Mandel and Devin laughed.
“I think I will, I will, but you know the truth,” said Josh.
“I’ll go with you, I could use another one,” said Devin.
While Josh and Devin made their way into the kitchen to get themselves another drink, Stacey and Margot excused themselves to freshen up, leaving Seth, Harmon, Mandel and Suzie at the table eating awkwardly and looking at Arnie, who was under the table waiting for some cheese to drop.
“If I’ve learned anything from the Sunday newspaper, it’s that cats love lasagna,” said Harmon.
“That’s a myth, but Arnie does love it. I think it’s the layers; it reminds him of tuna casserole. I make that sometimes,” said Suzie.
“You should bring it next time,” said Mandel as he slipped Arnie a piece of burnt pasta, stripped of cheese and meat. Arnie made an ordeal out of chewing it, manipulating the lasagna with his tongue to the left and then the right side of his mouth, then crunching loudly with his front teeth, causing part of it to fall on the ground. Arnie did not to try to pick it up. Walls are one thing, floors are quite another.
In the kitchen, Devin was interrogating Josh.
“So, how did Harmon and Seth meet?” asked Devin.
“High school, right? You should know that. You pouring, or should I?” asked Josh.
“I’ll pour, but you just said…”
“I said they weren’t dating, but they went to high school right?”
“Yeah, so how do you know? You didn’t even know them back then, did you?”
“Nah, didn’t know you either, not till right now . . . but I’ll drink with ya if that’s alright.”
“Fine, just fine. Cheers.”
“Hold on, one thing before we go back in there with all that society crap. What’ll you say you tell your old drinking buddy what you meant out there?”
“Oh that, about them dating, well I mean I know they didn’t start dating till our sophomore year. You know I went to school with Seth. Nice guy, my roommate that year,” said Josh.
“Seth’s a great guy yeah,” said Devin.
“So yeah, he was real depressed though, you know over some girl from high school. As far as I could tell he never even dated her, just like you know he thought she was special for some reason. But I mean, it had been what, three, four years, come on now,” said Josh.
“You don’t say,” said Devin.
“Yeah, real depressed, I mean he’d go out and drink, but you had to give him like some ridiculous reason to go . . . he was such a downer sometimes. So we, like our friends, we got him to go to this city-wide college speed dating thing. A real joke, I guess it was more of a joke than anything. We tricked him somehow, something about concert tickets,” said Josh, taking a long sip of his drink.
“So what’s this got to do with Harmon?”
“She was there buddy, she was his first date! They laughed for like the entire 8 minutes, distracted me. I was with some really hot blonde from a state school, don’t even remember her name, but I blew it. Here’s to the blonde!” said Josh.
“To the blonde,” laughed Devin, “We’ll have to do a shot later.”
“You’re on,” said Josh, as they walked back to the table.
As Stacey and Margot began walking the short distance back from the bathroom adjacent to the living room, Margot suddenly stopped, “What’s your take on all this?” she whispered to Stacey.
“I mean it’s sort of weird they’d be dating in high school and Mandel wouldn’t know it. But they seem pretty weird, so I don’t know,” said Stacey.
“Oh they’re weird for sure. See that sculpture in the corner? But I don’t buy it, I know those guys are all pretty oblique with each other, but they’d know right?”
“I think so. You really think they work out together?”
“Who? No, let’s get back. We’ll make this happen, it’ll be a fun little game,” said Margot as they returned to the table.
Well you two are certainly hitting it off,” said Mandel.
“Like two peas in a pod, didn’t take long, not even eight minutes, I’d say,” said Devin looking at Seth. Josh laughed.
“We’re getting along, yes,” said Stacey.
“Good to hear,” said Mandel.
Suzie tapped Josh on the shoulder, “Bread, please,” she said. Josh dutifully reached across the table and grabbed the wicker basket, reached in and picked out the biggest piece of bread he could find. He handed it to Suzie and said, “M’lady.” She took the loaf from him and began sopping up the sauce which was all that remained on her plate after she had devoured her second helping of lasagna. Seth noticed all this and tried to act as though he did not notice any of it.
“So, I’d like to hear this story, when in high school did you guys start dating? You seem like such a lovely couple,” said Margot.
“Yeah, I think we’d all like to know the inside story of Seth and Harmon,” said Devin grinning uncontrollably.
“Thanks, Margot. Senior year, honey . . . yeah, it was sort of gradual, you know we’d hang out with the guys and then, you know, all of a sudden the guys just slipped away and it’d be just the two of us,” said Seth.
“But, I mean, you and I were hanging out all the time, I just don’t know how you had time for her,” said Mandel.
“That was the genius of it. You know if Seth said he had work to do or family stuff, he was usually with me I’ll bet,” said Harmon, grabbing Seth’s hand and squeezing it.
“Must have never done work or family stuff,” said Devin.
“Just about,” said Seth.
“I know we sort of lost touch senior year,” said Suzie with a touch of genuine nostalgia.
“What is this fancy?” said Josh.
“It’s nothing, just a few peppers, some fresh dark lettuce…” said Harmon, hoping the subject had changed.
“Fantasy, made-up, like never happened,” said Josh.
“What do you mean?” asked Stacey, looking at Margot for approval.
“Yeah, let’s have this out. What are you saying?” said Mandel.
“Let’s hear it,” said Devin.
“Come on now, he’s obviously had a drink or two too many, let’s not press the man. Josh didn’t even go to school with us, how would he know how our relationship worked?” said Seth.
This last-ditch attempt to silence Josh had the opposite effect Seth had intended. The five neutral parties in the room were now entirely on the side of the inebriated stranger and would not rest until Josh was able to say his peace. Seth and Harmon both realized this, but hoped that Josh would somehow botch the story or leave doubt in the minds of their friends. Just one inconsistency, just one stumble, and they could step in and explain away the ravings of this mere acquaintance.
“Right, what’s your problem Seth? Nothing to be ashamed of,” said Josh.
“Sorry Josh, go ahead,” said Seth.
“Be careful Josh, you’ve got to work with this one,” said Suzie, pointing to Harmon. Harmon took a big sip of water and then shakily stuffed a forkful of lasagna into her mouth. Arnie approached Harmon and rubbed his head against her bare calves. Harmon reached her hand down and scratched the top of Arnie’s head, her hand curled so that her trimmed fingernails could still reach sufficiently deep into his scalp to relief any possible itch. Arnie was pleasantly surprised with the effort.
“So, yeah . . . like, whatever, back in college Seth was a bit of a moper, especially sophomore year. He was always complaining about this girl from high school that didn’t work out. I don’t know, you guys know more than me about that than me, but a bunch of us thought it’d be funny and good for him, you know, to get it off his mind,” said Josh.
“Does this story end at a strip club?” asked Suzie. Everyone laughed, even Seth and Harmon.
“No, nothing like that, we’re too classy for that,” said Josh, looking at Suzie. “No, so, innocent enough, we take him to a speed dating thing. I mean it was like a college one, not just some random fifty-year-olds,” said Josh.
Seth and Harmon knew the jig was up, but somehow just sat waiting for the noose to tighten. “What girl was he depressed about?” thought Harmon. “I wonder what would happen if I tested our smoke detector right now, would anyone notice?” thought Seth.
Mandel, Suzie, Stacey and Margot were all on the edge of their seats, wondering what all this had to do with Harmon and whether any of it was true. Arnie was content with his head being scratched vigorously.
“Yeah, I mean we brought him there as a joke, but for his own good you know. And, and it worked out . . .” Josh stretched out his arms towards Harmon, as if he were preparing himself to hold a giant watermelon, “Harmon, here, was his first date.”
The combination of Josh’s conviction and Seth and Harmon’s blank stares led everyone to believe that not only was this true in substance, but it was somehow indicative of a deeper truth, the truth spoken only by drunk men or pregnant women. Indignity filled the air and caused Arnie to cough. Mandel, especially, wondered why his best friend since seventh grade had lied to him outright about such an important part of his life. What else was Seth hiding from him?
“Why’d you not tell us this? It’s such a cute story,” said Margot.
“Not tell you? Not tell you? Why didn’t you tell me?” asked Mandel.
“Good secret, Mandel didn’t even know, and you guys were like, you know pretty close back in the day,” said Devin.
“We are,” said Seth.
“We were, I thought, we were,” said Mandel.
“Relax honey, it’s alright. You know now, it’s a fun little story,” said Stacey.
“Fun, right, that’s my thinking,” said Josh. “If I had a story like that, I’d be telling it all over the place.”
“Clearly,” said Harmon.
“Come on Man, it is a little embarrassing, you know. What does it matter when we started dating? I mean you knew we were together,” said Seth.
“It’s not the most flattering thing in the world, having to speed date at the age of 19,” said Harmon.
“When I visited you freshman year, you didn’t say anything about her,” said Mandel, thinking aloud and not addressing anyone.
“So now I’m interested. Who was this girl from high school you liked? Wasn’t Stephanie Hands, was it? She was so pretty. I’d understand, but I never saw the two of you together,” said Suzie.
“Is she serious right now? Who could it be? Oh, I wonder who it might be,” said Devin.
“Yeah, I really don’t know that, you’re on your own,” said Josh, slapping Suzie on the shoulder.
“It’s you! Are you kidding me?” said Mandel. “He loved you in high school, even told you so. I witnessed it. You destroyed him.”
“Wait, wait, you liked her?” said Harmon to Seth. “You never told me that.”
“This is getting so good!” thought Stacey and Margot, but they did not dare say it.
“Let’s talk about this later honey,” said Seth to Harmon.
“You were serious? You were being serious?” said Suzie, not looking at, but clearly addressing Seth.
“What? Of course . . . you thought it was some kind of a joke?” said Seth.
“I . . . well . . . yeah, I thought you were . . . I thought you were making fun of me,” said Suzie, her left hand searching fruitlessly for Arnie who was still under Harmon’s spell.
“For what? That’s as sincere as I’ve ever been,” said Seth.
“What did you just say?” said Harmon looking at Seth.
“I’m sorry Harm . . . I didn’t mean it. I mean I was sincere then, but I love you now. We’re practically married,” said Seth.
“Practically is not the same as married,” said Devin just for kicks.
“Making fun of you for what?” asked Stacey.
“Yeah, I really don’t understand what he could have been making fun of you for,” said Mandel. “I was there, it was pretty pathetic. His voice cracked. Even someone as disingenuous as my friend here, could not have put that on.”
“Thanks,” said Seth.
Suzie reached down again, this time with her right hand, still no Arnie. “Arnie, Arnie, here boy,” said Suzie looking under the table. Arnie did not budge.
“He’s with me,” said Harmon. “Now let’s have it out. How could he have been making fun of little Miss. Touch and Feel.”
“Amazing!” thought Stacey and Margot.
“I, well, I’m not the one who gave Barry a lap dance,” said Suzie.
“Really? I was sixteen” said Harmon.
“Weren’t you dating that guy Johnny from the Chess team then too,” said Suzie.
“No, actually, no, I wasn’t, not that it’s any of your business. After you rejected our boy Seth here,” she patted Seth on the shoulder, “didn’t you make out with Tom Gorman and Max Ethans at the Junior Ball?”
“No, lies, lies, who told you that?” asked Suzie.
“I heard that too,” said Devin.
Josh got up from the table, stumbled over to the couch and began polishing off the remains of his taco dip.
“Me too,” said Mandel.
“I kissed Tom, yeah, he was my date. That was like a hundred years ago,” said Suzie. She then got up and walked into the living room.
“Oh no, you’re not getting away that easily. Why’d you think he was making fun of you?” said Harmon as she followed Suzie out into the living room. Everyone, except Seth, followed Harmon not wanting to miss an instant. Having his head scratching disturbed, Arnie returned to an unexplored area of wall at the end of the living room closest to the entryway. Seth remained in the dining room staring blankly at the empty chairs.
“I think it’s best if I just leave, you know it’s getting late, Arnie…” said Suzie.
“Don’t give me that Arnie shtick, you’re too drunk to drive, you’re staying here until you sober up, so you might as well be out with it,” said Harmon.
“That’s a pretty sculpture you’ve got there,” said Suzie, picking up the frog sculpture and examining it.
“Put that down,” said Josh, “It’s worthless . . . and orange.”
“Looks like someone broke it and put it back together,” said Mandel, making sure his voice was loud enough for Seth to hear. “Is there some story behind that you’re hiding from us?”
Seth got up from his seat at the kitchen table and walked slowly towards Suzie. “Suzie, please put down the sculpture. It’s Harmon’s, she’s had it since college.”
“College, or high school?” asked Mandel.
“So what’s the deal? Did you break it already, or is that how you got it?” asked Suzie, retaining possession of the sculpture, challenging anyone who might want to take it from her.
“Forget that thing. Why would you think Seth was making fun of you?” asked Devin.
“Come on now Suzie, how bad can it be?” asked Seth as he walked towards her. He was now right in front of her and the look in his eyes was the same as that day nine years ago when he barred his adolescent soul. “Give me the sculpture,” he said.
Unlike nine years ago, Suzie recognized the sincerity in his eyes and met them with eyes equally as sincere, but with a certain smirk which evidenced a deep and profound embarrassment. She handed Seth the sculpture and then fell limp into his arms.
“Drop her, drop her,” said Harmon.
Seth tried to stand Suzie up, but she held on as if she could no longer stand without his support. “I can’t just let her fall,” said Seth.
“Let her fall, let her fall,” said Harmon, not so much angry as insistent.
“Yeah, let her go Seth,” said Josh, who got up from the couch and stumbled towards Seth and Suzie. “Come on just let her go man.” He started swatting at Seth’s hands and grabbing at Suzie’s shoulders. “Just lean her towards me, I’m steady,” he said. As Seth started to lean, Josh took one step back, then quickly forward to balance himself. This forward step forced his body into Seth and Suzie, causing Suzie to wobble and the sculpture to slip from Seth’s hands. If he had dropped Suzie, perhaps he could have recovered the sculpture, but, as it stood, Suzie was still in his arms and the sculpture was scattered in bits all across the floor, the glue evident on the orange ceramic.
After the crash, the room fell silent. Arnie looked down to see a piece of broken orange ceramic next to his feet. He lowered his head down, sniffed the piece, and then licked it slowly. The ceramic stuck to his tongue, which he held out, thinking ingesting something so hard and sharp might be a bad idea.
“Your cat, your cat, Suzie, your cat,” said Seth.
“What, what, where’s Arnie?” said Suzie snapping out of her haze and letting go of Seth.
“He’s got part of the sculpture on his tongue,” said Margot.
“Anyone know the procedure here?” asked Devin.
“No clue, buddy,” said Josh, crunching another chip.
“Warm water,” said Harmon deliberately. “It’ll break it loose.”
Suzie snatched up Arnie and held him over the sink. Arnie initially would not face it, so Suzie took the sprayer extension and sprayed it directly at her cat’s tongue. Arnie was horrified. He squirmed in her arms and bounded out of the kitchen towards Harmon. Harmon scooped him up and walked him back towards the sink. “Get out of the way,” she told Suzie. Suzie stepped aside, mouthing, “He’s my cat,” inaudibly. Arnie twitched in her arms and thought, “Here we go again.” Harmon held Arnie in one hand against her chest, while simultaneously running her other hand through the warm water. She dabbed his tongue and the ceramic with her dripping hand, feeling the edges of the ceramic until the instant she felt the piece move. She lifted it off his tongue, scratched his head, and set him free. Arnie did not bolt, but remained at Harmon’s side.
Everyone at the party watched this episode in stunned silence.
“I think it’s time we called it a night folks,” said Harmon.
“You heard the lady, everybody out,” said Seth, “Mandel, can you give a ride to Suzie, Arnie and Josh?”
“No problem, my friend, give me a call in the morning. We need to talk,” said Mandel.
“You got it Man, thanks again,” said Seth.
Suzie grabbed Arnie from his resting place on Harmon’s feet, “Thanks so much, for everything. I’m really . . . I’m just sorry,” she said to Harmon, waving her hand in a display of gratitude, but not touching her. Arnie looked longingly into the eyes of his savior, as Harmon held up the glimmering piece of ceramic and winked at the cat.
Harmon and Seth were left to piece together the sculpture, which they did, piece by piece, with some Elmer’s’ glue Seth had left over from high school. The ambiguity of the sculpture was ruined. It was now obviously glued together from random broken pieces, but the general shape was retained and the smell of cat saliva made it an even better conversation piece.