Here you go. Enjoy! ~ GHC
* * *
Just as soon as Terri finished powdering her nose, she searched for Mrs. Glunger to offer last minute help with the party arrangements and realized immediately that Lila was so heavily intoxicated that when she walked, she resembled a rubber-legged cue ball with lacquered red hair. Lila’s lipstick had melted – possibly from the 100 proof Smirnoff she’d been sucking on all day – and had made acquaintance not only with the region directly beneath her lower lip but had become quite friendly with her chin as well. Terri was shocked to see that Mrs. Glunger’s entire lower face was Coty Passion Rose Red.
As soon as Lila spoke – some indistinguishable jumble of endearments – Terri took control of the situation. In order to save Lila the embarrassment of having her guests see her in such a compromised condition, Terri steered Lila back into the kitchen.
“Mrs. Glunger, you’re looking a bit flushed. Have you made all this food by yourself?”
Lila muttered something and swung around. Spying her half-empty glass on the countertop, she leaned forward and lost her balance. She promptly smeared her lipstick further when her face met the kitchen tiles. With that uncanny ability that drunks sometimes have of coming out of what seems like certain death or injury completely unscathed, Mrs. Glunger sat up and shook her head.
“I must have lost my balance, Terri. I’m feeling a little woozy.”
This was Terri’s break. “I think you’d better lay down for just a bit, Mrs. Glunger, until you feel better. Linda Jean and I will take good care of everything. We’ll check on you in just a bit and make sure you’re okay. Let me help you to your room.”
With this Terri firmly led Lila up the back staircase and down the hallway. She flipped on the overhead light and helped Lila off with her shoe – she’d lost the other on the way up. Terri settled Lila on her side in bed, thoughtfully facing her to the outside, and placed the wastebasket within easy reach just in case Mrs. Glunger got a case of the urps. No need in having her wander around by herself in her condition, Terri thought. She pulled the covers up and gave Lila an affectionate pat on the hand. As she turned off the light, she made sure to hold the latch in by twisting the knob as she closed the door. Lila was already fast asleep or passed out -- whichever way you wanted to put it – and Terri didn’t want to get her stirred up again.
In the meantime, Linda Jean was greeting guests as they arrived. Mr. Jennings dropped Mrs. Jennings off at the door and returned home, thankful for a few hours without his wife’s helpful reminders of honey-do’s. He planned to go out to the fridge in the garage and dig out those two beers he’d been hiding since his last fishing trip. He’d been waiting for a couple of hours with Dorothy gone where he could sit back and pretend to be a man. Dorothy handed her massive wrap to Linda Jean and placed the gift she’d brought on the table in the front room.
“Why, Lila’s outdone herself. The Japanese lanterns outside and the crepe paper streamers – everything is just lovely!”
“Thank you. I’m sure Lila would be pleased to hear you say that,” Linda responded. “Why don’t you go on into the dining area and help yourself to the hors d'oeuvres? Lila made those herself, too.”
Dorothy lowered her double chin and glanced around the room as if she was looking for the source of a particularly foul odor. “Where are Lydia and Lila? You’d think they’d be at the door to greet their guests.”
Linda Jean allowed Dorothy’s wrap to drop onto the floor.
“Oh, excuse me, Mrs. Jennings.”
Mrs. Jennings lunged for the ancient fur piece. “Please be careful with that, Linda Jean. It belonged to my mother.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s delicate. You can’t be too careful with something as old as that,” Linda Jean purred.
Dorothy made a noise that sounded like a cross between a cough and a choke. Her head whipped around as she looked at Linda Jean. She continued to eye the young woman while her mind scrambled to determine if the comment had been intended as a direct insult.
“Please be careful with it.”
“I will, Mrs. Jennings. I’ll treat it like it was my own.” If it belonged to me, I’d burn the mangy, moth-eaten piece of crap.
Dorothy moved on to inspect the buffet. She was delighted to be the first guest to see the spread laid out. It was always her goal to be the first guest to arrive at these parties. Now she’d be able to make snide remarks about how poor Lila’s display skills were, or how few pigs-in-a-blanket there had actually been to begin with, or how little punch and “No wonder they ran out so soon.”
Silvia Landry was the next church lady to be dropped off at the door by a husband who was thrilled to have an evening free. Mr. Landry actually peeled rubber as he started down the Glunger’s long circular driveway. Silvia was one of those eternally trim women who often sighed in mock despair and complained that she just couldn’t keep weight on. The truth of it was that she rarely ate more than a mouthful of anything, she drank like a fish, and existed by and large on Pell Mell non-filtered cigarettes, bridge, and gossip. The only love of her life had been a repugnant pied French bulldog named Fifi. While bulldogs as a breed are a matter of personal preference, what made Fifi so repulsive was her corpulence. She weighed over 45 pounds when the normal weight of a French bulldog was 22 to 28 pounds. Instead of loose flaps, Fifi’s skin wrapped so tightly around her body that she resembled not so much a fat dog as a medicine ball filled to capacity and in danger of bursting at any time. Fifi was a playful puppy but her stubby legs were soon overwhelmed by her massive weight, and she was unable to walk by the time she was two years old.
Sylvia had Mr. Landry make a little wagon in his woodshop so she could take Fifi outside to relieve herself. This was an intricate procedure in place whereby as soon as Fifi whined to go outside, Sylvia donned a pair of oversized black rubber chemist’s gloves – which made look like an anorexic mad scientist of sorts. She wheeled the wagon outside into the yard. Then she shoved Fifi to the rear of the wagon so the dog’s hindquarters hung over the side, and waited for the dog to finish. When Fifi seemed ready to go inside, Sylvia actually wiped the dog’s nether region with Scott toilet paper and left the whole mess in place as “compost.” Mr. Landry had long since learned to search out pockets of white paper wadded compost before he mowed the lawn after one unfortunate incident which is best left to the imagination.
Linda Jean smirked when she greeted Sylvia at the door.
“Looks like your hubby’s got someplace to get to in a hurry, Mrs. Landry.”
Sylvia’s face darkened. “That’s mighty presumptuous of you, young lady. Where are Mrs. Glunger and Lydia?”
“Lydia had to run to Big Star to get some last minute things and Mrs. Glunger had a little accident. She’s resting right now. I imagine she’ll be down later. Allow me to take your sweater so you can go on into the dining area and get something to eat. You look famished.”
Sylvia’s mouth gaped open at Linda’s candid observation. “Your mother would be ashamed if she knew the things you do,” she hissed under her breath. Sylvia set Lydia’s gift on the large table and turned to walk away.
“Well, your mother would be ashamed if she knew the things you do,” Linda Jean retorted. Sylvia tossed her head and walked through the hall toward the dining room.
Terri joined her friend at the front door. “I heard what you two were saying. Good for you, LJ. That woman is atrocious. Lila’s passed out dead asleep. I think she’s already had her party.”
“It’s a damned shame too, after she’s been sober all these years. These biddies need taking down a notch or two.”
“Here comes Mr. Glunger now. I’m glad he’s back.”
“Me, too. For awhile, I thought all three of the Glungers had checked out on us and we were going to be left to fend for ourselves.” Linda lit a cigarette and offered one to Terri.
“No, thanks. You know I can’t smoke in front of these witches. My parents would have a fit if they knew. Wouldn’t that be a sight with all these nasty women snooping into everything – not just the medicine cabinet and refrigerator, but the dresser drawers and closets too!”
“Yes, they’d make the Glungers out to be Mr. And Mrs. Capone, with a machine gun in every closet and a slot machine in the basement.”
Terri invited Diana Scherr and Nancy Marx inside. They had carpooled to Lydia’s party in Nancy’s dull orange Ford Pinto. Although the Pinto was a sorry excuse for an automobile, at a time when few women drove and fewer still owned their own vehicles, Nancy’s wheels bestowed a rare autonomy and unique standing among her peers that was unusual at the time.
While Claudia Jennings and Sylvia Landry were part of the old guard, Diana and Nancy were the young Turks of the phone tree. While they appreciated the efficiency of the party line, they realized it was doomed to obsolescence and favored a more modern form of female terrorism, the lunch club. A core group of members would invite an unsuspecting woman to join their esteemed group for lunch. The new woman, thrilled to be selected by the “in-crowd” and eager to please, would end up divulging her family’s innermost secrets over a three-martini ladies luncheon. The lunch club devoured women at the rate of approximately one a month, and rarely retained one of the ladies as a permanent member.
Diana handed her offering to Terri and leaned in to give her a weak hug.
“How is married life treating you, dear?” She pointedly scrutinized Terri’s abdomen. “Are you two planning to start a family soon?” She smiled, just broad enough to seem genuine but not so wide that it made her eyes crinkle. God forbid Diana should get wrinkles. No smile was worth that price.
“Just fine, Mrs. Scherr. I’ll put your present on the gift table. Please see yourself into the dining room and help yourself to the hors d'oeuvres.” Terri returned the subdued smile and excused herself.
“I’ll be right back, LJ.”
Nancy strode to the gift table and poked around at the other presents before adding her own to the stack. She lifted the large box and checked its weight, then set it down. She picked Linda’s gift up and shook it. Without embarrassment, she opened each unsealed gift card and read its message before ambling to the dining room.
Linda whistled. She’s a real piece of work, that one.
Soon the guests came through the door in waves. Linda faithfully accepted their gifts and sent them to congregate in the dining room. Thirty minutes after the party was due to begin, the dining room was overflowing with Christian ladies of every shape and size. They hovered over warming plates of crispy fried peg-legs and tooth-pick-skewered pigs-in-a-blanket like jackals preparing for a kill. They munched on crudete’ dipped in French onion dip, and sipped sherbet punch out of Lila’s best leaded crystal punch glasses as they sized one another up.
Lila had proudly set out the fine linen napkins that her own grandmother had woven from flax spun, stretched, boiled and bleached before being woven into the incredible fine-textured cloth – all while she cared for her fourteen children and kept her Victorian household in order. Party guests daintily dabbed the corners of theri painted mouth with one of these napkins, not caring if the crimson or fuschia stain could be removed. All across the room critical remarks could be heard. Where was the hostess? Where was the guest of honor? Where was the host, for God’s sake? Isn’t it sickening that Lydia married a nigger? I can’t believe Carey and Lila had the nerve to give her a bridal shower.
* * *
Carey parked behind Eric’s Cadillac and together, he and Lucy dashed up the back steps unseen by the guests in the dining room or those arriving by the front entrance. Mr. Glunger caught Terri’s attention and asked how things were going.
“Well, we’ve been basically sending the guests to the dining room to fend for themselves. Mrs. Glunger fell in the kitchen and I put her to bed. I imagine she’s out for the night, sir, and Lydia and Eric aren’t back yet.”
“Thank you, sweetheart. The troops have arrived. You just go out there and get something to eat. Don’t let those old piranhas gobble you up. Bite ‘em back if you have to.” Carey squeezed Terri’s shoulder.
He strode to the front door and joined Linda Jean.
“I hear you’ve been holding down the fort. Back-up has arrived, young lady. Get yourself something to eat and enjoy yourself. You’ve done a great job.”
Linda Jean grinned. “You couldn’t have paid me not to do it, Mr. G. It was great.”
The chatter of feminine voices in the dining room ceased as Lucy Brown strode in the door.
* * *
Lucy Brown was a distant descendant of the Neurs, a group of cattle keeping tribes located on the western side of the Nile in the Sudan. These tribes were known for their exquisite physiques and great stature – the women were often more than six feet tall, while the men topped seven. She was statuesque, nearly six feet tall, and required even more real estate due to her girth. Her teeth were even and straight. They were strikingly brilliant when contrasted against her ebony skin. True to her genes, Lucy had a distinct underbite that lent an air of menace whenever she set her jaw in disdain.
Lucy’s jaw was set as she stared down these fine Christian women.
She placed her hands on her hips. “Um, um, would you take a look at this?” she said to no one in particular. Lucy clucked her tongue and moved toward the peg legs.
“Excuse me, lady. Thank you.” She elbowed her way in behind the table and began to re-arrange the food. Dorothy Jennings reached for the tongs. Lucy snatched them before Dorothy could pick them up.
“Oh, lady, you don’t want these tongs. That scrawny woman over there sneezed on ‘em right before you got here. Hard tellin’ what kind of disease she’s got, if you know what I mean. Might have consumption or something, wormy as she is.”
Dorothy glanced in horror at Sylvia Landry. Sylvia sneezed into her handkerchief and dabbed at her nose. Dorothy snuck a quick look at Lucy’s face before sidling away from the hot food area. Lucy chuckled to herself. She was pretty sure she saw the fat woman shudder.
* * *
Lydia parked the Impala in the back garage. Eric carried the small bag into the kitchen and Lucy set the sherbet in the freezer.
“Come on, buddy. It’s show time.”
Lucy led Eric into the dining room. It had been surprisingly quiet for such a large gaggle of women before they entered. When Lydia called out, “Hello, ladies, and thank you for coming to my party,” the only sound heard for a full five seconds was the burbling of the punch fountain and the fork that fell off Mrs. Landry’s plate when she turned around and saw Eric. Eric thought his heart would surely burst through the front of his white shirt and roll across the floor. He wondered if his body would remain standing or slump over right away. Linda Jean put both her hands over her mouth, afraid she would laugh out loud and spoil the moment. Terri wondered if the Glunger’s family history of mental illness had peaked to a final mad fruition in this one generation. Lucy Brown stood behind the peg leg tray, tongs raised defiantly as if daring anyone to say a negative word. The whole caucus of women jumped in one startled movement as Carey pounded out the first chord of the Happy Birthday Song on the family piano.
Only Eric, Lucy, Carey and Lydia’s friends sang the first two lines. A few stunned ladies here and there weakly joined in, and by “Happy birthday to you,” only a dozen voices were heard.
Carey mugged “And many more” like Al Jolson, to Lydia’s delight. She applauded her father’s playing and curtsied to show her appreciation.
Carey turned his attention to the room. “Ladies, it’s rare to see this large of a turnout of such fine, upstanding citizens unless there’s free food available in abundance – oh wait, there is!”
The comment was reacted to with a few nervous titters and giggles.
Carey then bumbled over to the punch bowl. “I wonder who paid for all this grub? Oh wait, it’s me!” and he turned his pants pockets inside out and feigned a horrified face.
He was rewarded with a few more giggles and some chuckles this time.
“I’d like to welcome you to my home. I’m sure you all know how to act. No biting, clawing or scratching. Without further ado, I’m escaping to my den. Good evening, ladies.”
Lydia led the group in a round of applause.
“Thank you, Daddy, for this wonderful party.”
Carey walked to his daughter’s side, leaned down and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be back, girl. If you need me, you know where to find me.” He turned to Eric and extended his hand. “Good to see you, Eric. I’m charging you with staying by my daughter’s side until I return. You capice?”
Eric beamed. “I’m beginning to understand, Mr. Glunger. I’ll take good care of her.”
Lucy arrived with a tray of drinks. “Would you like a cup of punch, sir?” She grinned at Carey.
“Not unless it contains two ounces of good Irish whiskey.” Carey saluted Lucy. “
You’re in charge, my friend,” and he slipped away.
* * *
Lydia announced that everyone should make their way to the main room where there was more comfortable seating. The gift table took up nearly one wall of the room. All the gifts from the church ladies were wrapped in white or silver paper. Many of their presents were festooned with wedding bells, or white doves, or nested hearts. All of the gifts from Lydia’s friends were wrapped in colorful paper and ribbon.
The presents were severely segregated along the lines of color, with all the white and silver presents on one end of the table and the colored gifts on the opposite end.
Lucy circulated from room to room, first with a tray of drinks, next with a platter of snacks. She listened keenly to the ladies’ conversations noting who said what about whom. When she offered Mrs. Jennings a cup of punch she commented, “So you’re Mrs. Jennings!” Lucy chuckled as she walked away. Dorothy Jennings was so shocked she could only stand and stare with her generous jowls dropped.
Linda Jean decided the party needed some music and put some records on the stereo. Terri slipped upstairs from time to time to check on Lila, who was still unconscious. The tension in the house was making Terri nervous, and she decided to excuse herself and sit outside on the patio. At last she was able to smoke a cigarette in peace without fear of the news getting back to her parents, who were on a two-week vacation in Acapulco that Terri’s father won in a raffle down at the Moose club.
* * *
Lucy offered Mrs. Landry a clean ashtray. As she began to move away, Sylvia heard the maid mutter under her breath, “That big woman sure was right. This one looks like she has tuberculosis. Coughs just like it, too.” Mrs. Landry sputtered and took a deep long drag on her Pell Mell which triggered a choking fit that attracted an unusual amount of attention from the other ladies. One or two moved away from where Sylvia was standing and another lady covered her nose and mouth with a hand-embroidered handkerchief. Sylvia could only keep coughing and pray she didn’t bring up phlegm this time.
The birthday girl’s personally invited guests were outnumbered by the party line guests. The young people stood in clusters whose numbers ebbed and flowed as the young men and women moved from group to group, laughing and talking about their lives. LJ, Lydia and Eric made their rounds, giggling over the oddity of standing in the midst of all these cackling old ladies outside the church’s dark, oppressive gothic walls. Lydia was kissed and wished a happy birthday so many times that her powdered blush had worn away but she didn’t care. She gave Eric a good squeeze every now and then, and he kissed the top of her head or hugged her back.
On the other hand the church women were breaking into smaller clumps and eyeing each other suspiciously. Confusion reigned. If you were to walk past the church ladies, you might catch snatches of conversation:
“Are the Careys so cheap that they combined the girl’s birthday and wedding reception?”
“Is this is wedding reception or a bridal shower or a birthday party?”
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”
“Someone said Dorothy Jennings ate over forty peg-legs!”
“Where the hell is Lila?”
“I heard she had a fall. I think she’s just embarrassed to show her face.”
“Did you hear that Sylvia Landry got tuberculosis from her dog?”
* * *
Each of the older women had received a snow white party invitation embellished with embossed silver hearts personally addressed and mailed by Mr. Glunger’s secretary which read:
You are cordially invited
To a reception held for
Given by her parents
Carey Allen and Lila Reece Glunger
To be held
Seven O’Clock P.M.
Saturday September 28th
At the Carey Allen Glunger Home
Diane Scherr turned to Nancy Marx and hissed, “Did you bring your invitation? Doesn’t it say this is a bridal shower? I’m sure it says this is to be a bridal shower. I brought the little slut a damned toaster oven!”
Nancy dug in her petite woven basket purse. “Here it is. Well, no, it doesn’t come right out and say it’s a bridal shower. I just assumed because it’s white and it has silver hearts… Hell, I bought her a blender!”
Lucy shoved a platter of sweets between the two women. “Would y’all like something sweet?” When both declined, Lucy moved on but murmured, Y’all look like you could use a drink!”
* * *