We made way into the living room fashionably late, where hors d’oeuvres were laid out on the coffee and end tables, and soft music played courtesy of a harpist- a very atmospherically appealing room no doubt. It was already a bit crowded but we found a spot on the sofa by the fireplace. The crowd had its best face on and the small talk hummed. Tonight’s soiree was the first time in oh, maybe four or five years, that the Provost was going to be mingling with this crowd of “elite” university folks. The room had an air of excitement to it. Anticipation. Anyone who was ANYONE was there.
The innest of the in-crowd in our insular world.
As soon as we settled in, Paulie reached for a plate, getting himself assorted cheeses and raw vegetables and hummus and quite enthusiastic we finally made it to the food. A server approached us: “Two Pinot Grigios please?” I asked. She wrote it on her pad and disappeared. I put my arm up along the back of the sofa to survey the room.
The usual suspects.
Carla Bronte, the quiet lady that’s been secretary for the young and brilliant Dr. Gherke seems like forever, came toward us. She was with an older woman, and they walked arm and arm. Carla came up to me and asked, “Are these seats taken Melissa?” pointing to the love seat adjoining our sofa.
“It doesn’t look like it Carla. I don’t think so. We just got here ourselves.”
The older lady elbowed and whispered something in her ear as they sat close together in their seats. Paulie nodded his head hello, while chewing.
The server delivered the wine.
“So Carla,” trying to make conversation. “Is Dr. Gherke going to make it this evening?”
“He ought to be along any minute. That’s what he told me anyway.”
“Oh that’s nice.”
Carla placed their order with the server and turned to me. “Melissa, this is my Mother, Eunice Bronte.”
“Pleased to meet you Mrs. Bronte, I’ve been working with Carla for years now,” I smiled and offered my hand to her respectfully.
Mrs. Bronte shook my hand and nodded, then turned her attention to Paulie, still chewing like he’d never seen food before- now with the bruschetta.
“Oh and this is my husband Paulie,” I said, attempting to encourage some semblance of a conversation.
Mrs. Bronte looked at Paulie curiously, watching him gobble down his food.
“Watch out Paulie your stomach has a bottom ya know!”
Mid-chew he looked up, and his mouth slowed down. He put his plate on the table and lifted a napkin to his mouth. took a breath and cleared his throat.
“Pleased to meet you Mrs. Bronte. And this is your daughter?”
“Yes, this is my youngest daughter Carla. She comes after Johnny and Greta. She don’t come around much to see her old mother anymore, but today decided to grace me with her presence,” She was caustic and sarcastic and made sure we knew it. “Yeh she’s the one that had her appendix taken out back when she was pregnant. You heard about that one, right?”
Carla looked at her mother with big eyes.
“Oh Carla why are you looking at me that way? It’s true and you know it.”
Paulie stared and I returned my attention to the rest of the room.
“And you Melissa. You’ve been working with my Carla? Are you the one with that rare bone disease?”
She looked at me hard. I hardly looked back.
“Well Mrs. Bronte I have some medical complications, yes”
Why would Carla would go home and tell her mother that? Isn’t anything sacred?
Mrs. Bronte raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like a real hard case you got there. Must make you hit the sauce now and then huh?” She winked at me just as the glass reached my lips. “I mean Carla said there’s no hope in your particular case.”
“Momma please,” said Carla. “Please forgive me Melissa.” She whispered in her mother’s ear then stood up. “Excuse us, we’re going to mingle.”
“I don’t want to mingle Carla I’m fine right here. And stop lecturing me about my sense of decorum as you call it. I got decorum.” She looked around the room, quite interested in the whole who’s who. “Hey that man over there what’s his name, the one in that zootsuit-looking suit with the bad dye job?”
“Momma, shh.” She sat down and whispered in her ear again.
“What’s his name?”
“It’s Reginald, Momma. He’s the doctor over the Neurosurgery program.”
“Ohh, hm. I don’t remember any Reginald.”
They whispered but I could hear every word. I couldn’t help but wonder if Carla goes home to her mother every night then proceeds to talk about everything and everyone in her day.
“Momma you do remember. He’s the one that had the problem with the law with his ex-wife? Had to get a restraining order?”
Okay, this is good.
“Oh I know who you mean. That’s the one you said likes the pole not the hole right? The one that got it on with that other married fella, that other doctor, what’s his name? Dr. Kelly or something?”
I couldn’t help but watch. Carla saw my eye contact, then whispered again in her mother’s ear.
They sat back in the love seat for some quiet.
The harpist played on. She wasn’t the stereotypical harpist, like one you’d see on TV. You know, with the long blond mane and a white flowing gownish get-up? She wasn’t wearing that at all, nor did she have long blond hair. There was a bagpiping troupe, men in kilts with their instruments, setting up by the door that goes out to the veranda. Apparently we were to be entertained. Dr. Gherke was parked at the bar, chatting it up with one of the young interns. Oh, and here came Reginald straight toward us. He stopped in front of Carla and Mrs. Bronte.
“Carla where’s Dr. Gherke?”
Carla looked up at him and motioned toward the bar, mouthing ‘over there’.
“Oh, he’s talking to that girlie intern, it figures,” he said, to no one in particular. It was muttered, but heard. Reginald looked down at Carla and Mrs. Bronte and Paulie and me, as if he’d just noticed us for the first time. He let out a low and uncomfortable laugh, then turned his gaze back toward Gherke.
“What’s the matter, you got a thing for that one too?” asked Mrs. Bronte. “You’re looking over there like you do. You don’t wanna let your eyes get ahead of your hands ya know.”
Reginald’s head snapped toward Mrs. Bronte. “Ma’am?”
“Oh, why are you looking at me that way? It’s true and you know it.”