Monday, February 16, 2009

A New Short Story From Gretchen DeStefano

Punchbowl Kiss

She went to the party anyway, despite her better judgment. The couple in the neighboring townhome invited her a week back doing their best to sway her reply with promise of, “a laidback atmosphere, good food and drink, and a few other singles,”... like herself. The “s” word sprung on her like a cat with claws; a reminder of her isolated life in a spotless townhouse working from her home computer day in and out living an unremarkable 35 year-old’s existence. Feeling the pressure of their good-natured invitation, Pamela conceded and rode in the mid-section of Jill and Terry’s mini-van. She listened to their explanation of their choice in vehicles, referring to their want of filling it with many giggly, sticky faces in the near future.

The large oak door opened upon their arrival with a lovely hostess full of hugs and kisses. She was packaged like a cherry chocolate in rich browns all cinched in at her waist with a delicious red bow. Soft jazz rhythms moved with their pace as Pamela towed the line through the long corridor to the dining room. The long narrow room’s expanse was marked with an antique mahogany table filled with platters, plates, and three tiered stands of savories and sweets. A bit of comfort wedged her in as the room projected dim light from a low crystal chandelier and white flickering candles. Party guests bustled and bumped filling their white china plates with small hills of food. As coats were taken, she scoped out a corner chair in the darkest nook of the room which she silently claimed as her spot for the evening. This was as social as she’d gotten for months and the best she could do.

Jill and Terry introduced her as their friend and neighbor to the incoming droves. Flurries of names and titles went passed her like the wind. They waved her after them to a room across the hall with cream colored loungers topped with black licorice throws. Pamela made a gesture to indicate she’d be there in a minute as her neighbors were ushered in by a very large man with a jovial laugh. Nervously smoothing her black satin skirt that stuck to her black hose, she moved around the grazing hub to her marked destination. Feeling clumsy in her new simple black pumps, Pamela reached for the arm of the high-back dining room chair simultaneously as a wooly bearded man turned to exit. A splash of cool, sticky juice fell onto her forearm dotting the sangria colored blouse she wore. Apologies were made as he dabbed at her nervously, shredding the white paper napkin against the frail silk. She gave a reassuring nod and smile sending him on his way sheepishly.

Pamela practically fell into the chair, more self-conscious now, with her newly obtained polka-dot pattern on her right sleeve. She felt better now, a bit safer from the jolly herd and eased into her wallflower position she knew so well. She scanned the room watching the ebb and flow of bodies like an amateur ballroom dance. Funny, she thought, how the dim lights made everyone look so appealing, making their flaws seem like intentional muted beauty. A glimpse of relief doused her thinking her own flaws must be muted too, as she ran a finger lightly over the deep ridge of tough skin traveling from the corner of her right eye to the corner of her mouth. It shadowed the right side of her face like a crescent moon never relinquishing to the sunrise. The scar was the constant reminder of past abuses and hatred masquerading as love and affection. This is what made Pamela accustomed to taking in other’s moments while her own lie buried deep within the rutted skin.

Shifting herself to obtain a better view of the far side of the room, Pamela was suddenly aware of the true villain of her stiffly drying blouse. An enormous punchbowl center pieced a square side table just a few feet from where she sat. The glass bowl was etched with simple flowers and deep grooves that caught the candlelight giving the impression it was on fire. Deep red liquid was heavy on the bottom diffusing upward into various shades of pink and peach. Raspberries floated through its middle suspended in a perfect circle of an ice ring which bobbed as thirsty imbibers ladled through its depths. She was mesmerized by it. So many shades of color poured into a small sparkling cup seemed to add glow to the ones partaking.

Pamela knew she’d have to take the risk and move from her safe perch to get a better look at this simple magic. She moved stiffly, transfixed on her destination. She stood directly in front of the shimmering elixir, as most others had moved on to other rooms. She wondered at the mix of hues and put her hands on the etched bowl. The deeply carved grooves acted as a prism for the low lighting sending a spray of rainbow pattern onto the white tablecloth on which it sat. Again, Pamela ran her finger down the mark on her face wishing it too could reflect the light from an outward source.

Regaining knowledge of her surroundings, she turned to take up her bystander’s post. A gentle tap on her shoulder was felt and Pamela assumed Jill and Terry were doing a check on her social well-being. Turning with a faint smile and a sigh, she saw a sparkling cup of punch held by a man with a closely shaven beard and dark silver streaked hair. She had not noticed him before and saw he too had small dark circles dotting the right sleeve of his crisp white shirt. He offered the small cup but she stood, not engaging. He quickly explained he had noticed her across the room and pointed to the only other lone chair in a diagonal corner.
“I saw you going back to your chair, but you had forgotten your punch,” he offered the cup again, cautiously smiling.

Somehow, after the initial awkwardness Pamela felt, their conversation flowed. Paul, as he introduced himself, disarmed her with his gentle speech and interest in her responses. They sipped countless glimmering cups of punch as he refilled each one when they neared emptying. Maybe hours had passed, maybe only minutes, but soon the hallway shook and rattled with sounds of coats sorted and kisses goodbye. She knew, soon, the lights would glare and she would be revealed as damaged. Still, her anxiety seemed at bay; maybe lying under the sloshing beverage filling her stomach.

Paul ladled the last bit of the thick, deep punch from the bowl’s bottom, now peppered with the floating fruit’s seeds. Pamela raised it to her lips for the last sip, ready to dash as she watched the chandelier for her exit cue. Paul gently took the cup out of her hand and placed it on the now stained white tablecloth. Then, he kissed her. A sugary fruit laced kiss, light and tender as he traced the grooved scar along her face. Pamela realized a long trapped moment of her own was escaping under the tough skin and felt a bit of light radiating her face. This punchbowl kiss released a bit of her bitter heart.

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