Removed from the wallpaper existence of near anonymity for the first time since basic introductions before those I did not fully know so well here at the dinner party, I motioned slightly, with my glass, toward the speaker at the head of the table, and it was regarded well enough as an appropriate enough response to whatever question or statement had either been asked of me, or made of me. In truth I hadn't heard a word of it, only I knew that the conversation had ebbed my way and that the eyes of all in attendance awaited some sort of reply. So I raised my glass, and it did follow that the entire table concluded with the same, and smiles appeared both warm and with grave sincerity. Those seconds were sparks of joy to me. But such dark sparks. My gesture was taken in amiably, with curt nods and moments' glances. And just like that, the attention flowed back in the direction of the head of the table. Such fast, dark sparks of fleeting light.
Sipping very lightly from the pint glass, wishing I could just find it in me to make use of this night and drink with the effortlessness of celebration, I lowered my head. To either side of me sat dozens of guests. It was a rather longish table, probably the largest in the house. This dining area was one flight up from a smaller one, the usual one; the one I remember from years now past. Apparently the way things had been going, since my abrupt departure so long ago, were indeed fine. How poorly thought of me to have put myself into the position I had. In every respect, I held my eyes closed for a bit, still not quite comprehending the cheerful words that filled the air, but just breathing easily of the aroma of food that had not been prepared inside of a large, filthy tin vat.
With little delight I stared at my plate. How remote this blessed plate looked to me, how much of a teasing glance every minute seemed as it ticked away. Dinner, the food itself, I mean, would be only moments away now from over. In such freedom, and such ease, people did not take care to eat slowly, but filled themselves with a rival energy just sort of haste, in due preparation for the drinks that would inevitably follow so hotly on these aromatic heels. Then would come the hours and hours of drink. I craved it, but feared it all the same, as it would signify the succession of time. At this table, yes, we'd all still be sitting for another few hours yet. If all went well.
Murmurs arose suddenly, and then a crickets' hymn of applause, so gentle that it might not have been heard if one were positioned in the next room over with a pint glass held between the ear and the wall. And then the sounds of knives and forks and soup spoons took hold. There was a glorious attempt at restraint, but it lasted the snap of a finger, and then it was over with, and mouths were filled with the luxuries sent from the angel employed here as a chef. All the while I sensed a great dread in me.
As soon as dinner was officially over, I reminded myself, there may be police waiting for me, to replace the act of sleep with that of arrest. Dear God, it might even happen before this dinner could conclude. The very thought seized my stomach so as to prevent me from enjoying the provisions set before me. It would be horrible; I would be searched, stripped of my possessions and shoved into the heartless gray cell from which I'd sprung just days previous. Or worse, perhaps . . . into a worse cell yet, some damp hovel ever filthier. In the reflection from the pint glass, my silhouette seemed so harmless. I could not place myself into a position of acceptance. Not yet. I had to do something.
If I'd have known three years ago what I do now, I don't believe I'd have mixed myself up in the business that I once did. There is something to be said about a comfortable suit that actually fits you, the feel of the room abuzz not with the harrowed moans of the disquieted but with the spirited glow of enchantment, and of course, a quiet, respectful dinner, void of tears and admonishments. I raised my glass again, without thinking, and others cheered too.
My only thought was of my eventual return -- the very certain final return -- to that bitter house of Hell that I'd sneaked out of by sheer force of bribery and, with even more force when it came to such things, the use of knives.
Nobody stays out for long, though, do they? I raised my glass a third time, and it was received with questioning looks on the faces of both those who knew me and those who did not. But of course, this was a celebration, so mouthfuls were swallowed, glasses were raised for the third time at my behest, and the room clinked glasses. Cheers.