There wasn’t a question of going or not going. Sally was committed to her career. The social end of it, no matter how heinous, was just a part of the job. Anyone in advertising knew the deal.
The dilemma for Sally was that every time someone bought her a drink, she drank it. So, year after year, things ended up happening at every Christmas party that Sally ended up cringing over the next morning.
She had blasted her way through the Karaoke tunes in 2010 and had to relive them on the video that the agency had documented and shown the following Monday. She ended up getting more shrill with every song that she belted out and every margarita she sucked down. She became some kind of lunatic throwing herself up there again and again whether the other singer wanted her or not and from the look on the face of her partner, unless it was a guy in the video, it was most certainly a not. She also managed to have sex in a bathroom stall with Marty Filman, who thankfully did not work on the same floor as her.
At the 2011 party Sally slurped down lemon-drop vodka shots. She spent most of the night talking to one of the partners of the agency, Kevin. He was always hitting on the assistants. It had happened to her one night. She was trying to finish up a proposal for her boss when Kevin appeared out of nowhere stroking his handle-bar mustache. Who was this freak? A silent movie villain? She could see crumbs lodged in it and gray hair.
“Sally,” he whispered leaning over her desk with the nauseous stench of Old Spice reeking out of his pores. “I heard your boyfriend’s name was Kevin, also.”
Sally gnawed at her lower lip and nodded.
“Well just think,” he continued. “You won’t have to worry about shouting out the wrong name when we do it, because, baby, you’ll know which Kevin your screaming out for, when you let me take you down.” Then he grabbed her hand and licked her index finger.
Sally had grimaced and looked beyond him hoping to find someone else on their floor to save her, trying not to vomit.
“Think about it,” he’d said.
And what had she done like an asshole at the 2011 Christmas party?
Kevin had saddled up to her, bought her shot after shot, and next thing Sally knew she was looking up at that crusty moustache from the missionary position in her apartment.
And now here it was. December 2012. Sally talked to herself in the mirror as she got ready to go that night. “Just tell people you’re trying to lose weight and liquor has calories.” She slipped the spaghetti strap shimmering blue dress over her shoulders, pulled it down, pivoted and patted her non-existent ass. “No, they always say I’m too thin as it is.” Leaning forward, she checked to make sure that no makeup had been smudged in the dressing process. And God, her shoes were killer – the same color as the dress. They screamed sex. She pushed a strand of perfectly curled blond hair behind her ear, pulled it out again, messed it just so, and pulled it up in the back. She pursed her lips like a girl from the Jersey Shore who never got the memo that fake tans and angle shots were obsolete. “Angle shots are never out of style,” she said, tossing her breasts around in her dress.
The mirror, coated with a sheen of hairspray, told her daily that the years didn’t stop for those who settled, or for anyone else. She’d already told her boyfriend, Kevin that he wasn’t invited to these functions. It was strictly for employees, which was bullshit. She knew she was always hoping for some action. Kevin liked to rent movies and order pizzas on the weekend. Sally wanted to go out and show off what she had while she had it. But she needed Kevin as a so-called boyfriend for back-up. This is why Sally settled and then explored, sticking her flag into as many men as possible whenever she was drunk, though fully aware of her intentions.
“Tonight’s the night. Why the hell not?” Sally kissed her dirty mirror.
She’d always been desirable. Her looks had gotten her good grades, torn up speeding tickets, most guys she wanted and many she didn’t, and a few years ago, this job. Of course her genetics could had gone in a different direction, the way they did with her sister; overweight, thin hair, bad teeth. Over the years, hundreds of people had screeched, You’re twins? You don’t look like each other at all! Sally knew it was true, but what could she do? Besides, her sister had married the only guy in the world who was immune to Sally’s charms; she knew this for a fact, because she’d tried once.
She went down the hall to get her coat, and that’s when she saw her roommate’s bottle of antibiotics on the table. Of course! She could tell people she was on medication and not allowed to drink! She read the name on the label: Tindamax and said it out loud until it flowed naturally.
Sally arrived at 8:00 and the first offer came at 8:06. Morris from shipping. Gross! What made him think he had a chance with her? Sure, there was that moment they shared in the supply closet once, but she’d been bored and he had a flask of whiskey.
“I wish,” she laughed, feigning regret, “but I’m on antibiotics and not allowed to drink. Doctor’s orders! Can’t mix Tindamax and alcohol!”
Morris nodded slowly and stepped back. He screwed the top back on the flask and stuffed it in his pocket. With a smile, she breezed past him. Worked like a charm! It was better than a charm…more like a taser. At last, they’d leave her alone and she could enjoy herself!
From one circle to another, she greeted friends and co-workers. To her surprise, no one even bothered to ask to buy her a drink; what was even more strange was, none of the men seemed interested in her come-ons… there were no playful smiles, politically incorrect comments about her dress – nothing. Puzzled, she went to the bathroom to check herself out.
The reflection that greeted her was its usual perfection. If anything, she looked better than she’d expected, because the lights were dim and soft. She turned this way and that, and could find nothing wrong. What the hell!
“You would think that I’d have known earlier about some sort of freeze out,” she said to the mirror and sighed. She lowered the front of her dress. “No scarlet letter either.” Oh, hell. She could still nail her boss, Kevin. She was dying here. She needed someone’s attention, even if he was a cretin.
She stepped up her game; boisterous joking, seductive motions, raised eyebrows, and at one point she even pulled out her clip so that her hair tumbled down like some waterfall. Everyone around her looked her way, but no one was focused on her. What the hell was going on?
When she saw Kevin, she went over, smirking. “Wow! Look at you. You shaved your mustache.”
He nodded, glanced at his drink, didn’t meet her eyes. “So, you’ve got something you want to tell me about last year?” he asked.
“Not except buy me one of those lemon shots again, Kevin,” she smiled and rubbed up against him. She whispered in his ear. “It was hot last year. How about another go at it. We need some more practice.” She laughed and thought to hell with going sober.
“Good…good,” he said, and turned away from her. “As long as everything’s fine.”
Are you kidding me, she thought. What am I? A fucking zombie?
She dragged some money out of her purse and went to the bar.
“A shot of Cuervo,” she shouted at the bartender.
“Should you be drinking that?” asked Morris, who was standing with a group on her right. “I mean, your taking pills and all,” he added.
Even this fuckwad was abiding by some Mormon rulebook. Wow! Sally rolled her eyes and lifted her shotglass in his direction. “Here’s to you, homeboy.” The burn rolled sweetly down her throat. She wandered around a few more times, but there was no action this year.
The rest of the party was a blur. The whole tone was subdued; there were no bursts of laughter, no high spirited joking. It was as if everyone had gotten bad news, but her. By 10:00 she’d had enough, and went home.
“Have a good time at the party?” her roommate greeted her when she came in.
“No.” Sally dropped her purse on the chair by the door.
“Great dress,” her roommate said. “I can’t believe you’re home so early! What’s the matter, no men were there?”
“Plenty of men. I just wasn’t interested.”
“Ha.” Her roommate went back to the book she was reading. “That’s a first.”
Sally went into her room, pulled off her dress, and tossed it in the closet – she would never wear it again, it was horrible, no one had liked it. The shoes got kicked off, also in disgrace. She peeled off her black stockings and lacy bra, put on a night shirt and robe, and went back into the living room. “How come you’re home?” she asked her roommate.
“I’m sick, remember?” Her roommate gestured at the pills that were now sitting on the table next to her.
“Oh yeah, the Tindamax.” Sally sat and reached for the remote. “What’s wrong, anyway? You’re not coughing or anything.”
When her roommate didn’t answer, Sally looked over at her. “I mean, you’re okay, right?”
“As okay as you can be with an STD, I guess,” her roommate shrugged. “These assholes. They always tell you you’re the only one. What a goddamn joke.”
Sally stared at the TV screen, but saw nothing.
This month’s contributors to Exquisite Quartet:
Timothy Gager is the author of eight books of poetry and fiction. He lives on www.timothygager.com.
Robin Stratton has been a writing coach in the Boston area for almost 20 years. She is the author of The Revision Process, A Guide for Those Months or Years Between Your First Draft and Your Last, and two chapbooks, Dealing with Men and Interference from an Unwitting Species. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she’s been published in Word Riot, 63 Channels, Antithesis Common, Poor Richards Almanac(k), Blink-Ink, Pig in a Poke, Chick Flicks, Up the Staircase, Shoots and Vines and many others. Her novel, On Air, was published by Blue Mustang Press in 2011 and nominated for an Indie Excellence Book Award. A second novel, Of Zen and Men, is now available from Big Table Publishing Company. She’d love to have you visit her at robinstratton.com.
Dena Rash Guzman is a poet and editor living on a farm outside Portland, Oregon. www.denarashguzman.com.
Meg Tuite’s writing has appeared in numerous journals. She has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize. She is fiction editor of Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press, author of Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, Disparate Pathos (2012) Monkey Puzzle Press, Reverberations (2012) Deadly Chaps Press, Implosion and other stories (2013) Sententia Books and has edited and co-authored The Exquisite Quartet Anthology-2011. Her blog: http://megtuite.wordpress.com.