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23/03/2016

I tell him I need to go to the bathroom

“Stooley,” Missus Whitworth hisses. But then just as quickly she smiles, straightens. “Now, Stooley,” she says like she’s talking to a child, “our guests here don’t want to get into all your politicking during—”

“Francine, let me speak my mind. God knows I can’t do it from nine to five, so let me speak my mind in my own home.”

Missus Whitworth’s smile does not waver, but the slightest bit of pink rises in her cheeks. She studies the white Floradora roses in the center of the table. Stuart stares at his plate with the same cold anger as before. He hasn’t looked at me since the chicken course. Everyone is quiet and then someone changes the subject to the weather.

WHEN SUPPER is FINALLY OVER, we’re asked to retire out on the back porch for after-dinner drinks and coffee. Stuart and I linger in the hallway. I touch his arm, but he pulls away.

“I knew he’d get drunk and start in on everything.”

“Stuart, it’s fine,” I say because I think he’s talking about his father’s politics. “We’re all having a good time.”

But Stuart is sweating and feverish-looking. “It’s Patricia this and Patricia that, all night long,” he says. “How many times can he bring her up?”

“Just forget about it, Stuart. Everything’s okay.”

He runs a hand through his hair and looks everywhere but at me. I start to get the feeling that I’m not even here to him. And then I realize what I’ve known all night. He is looking at me but he is thinking about . . . her. She is everywhere. In the anger in Stuart’s eyes, on Senator and Missus Whitworth’s tongues, on the wall where her picture must’ve hung.

He steers me down the hall. “Meet us out back,” he says, but does not smile. In the bathroom, I stare at my reflection, tell myself that it’s just tonight. Everything will be fine once we’re out of this house.

After the bathroom, I walk by the living room, where the Senator is pouring himself another drink. He chuckles at himself, dabs at his shirt, then looks around to see if anyone’s seen him spill. I try to tiptoe past the doorway before he spots me.

“There you are!” I hear him holler as I slip by. I back up slowly into the doorway and his face lights up. “Wassa matter, you lost?” He walks out into the hallway.

“No sir, I was just . . . going to meet everybody.”

“Come here, gal.” He puts his arm around me and the smell of bourbon burns my eyes. I see the front of his shirt is saturated with it. “You having a good time?”