The Night at Chez Louie ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
At ten o’clock on a Saturday morning he was just finishing his breakfast when he heard a knock at the front door. He was expecting the mailman so he didn’t bother to close his bathrobe or smooth down his hair. When he opened the door, though, he was surprised to see, not the mailman, but none other than the inestimable Mrs. Bone. And she had someone with her.
“August!” she said. “How nice to see you again!”
“Oh, uh,” he said, pulling his bathrobe tightly around his throat.
“We were just passing by and I wanted to stop by and see if your papa got over his little sick spell.”
“He isn’t here,” he said expressionlessly. “He won’t be back until Monday.”
“Well, that’s all right because, really, we wanted to see you!”
As on the previous occasion when he met Mrs. Bone, his eyes were drawn to her mouth. She appeared to have applied her lipstick, a violent shade of red, while blindfolded. It almost seemed as if she had attempted to reshape her mouth by drawing it on the way she thought it should be.
“I’m not dressed yet,” he said.
“Oh, don’t worry about that, dear,” she said. “I’ve seen men in various stages of dishabille before. Hah-hah-hah! It doesn’t bother me in the least.”
“Well, I’ll tell him you stopped by,” he said, putting his hand on the door as if to close it.
She put her hand on the shoulder of the girl standing beside her. “I want you to meet my daughter, Midgie,” she said.
“Hello,” Midgie said, smiling.
“You and Midgie are about the same age and I wanted the two of you to meet. I think you’ll find that the two of you have a great deal in common.”
“How are you,” he said.
“My mother told me all about having dinner with you and your father at Chez Louie,” Midgie said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Chez Louie but my mother says I’m too young to go yet because it’s a nightclub.”
“I wonder,” Mrs. Bone said, “if we might come in and have a little chat?”
“Well, I’m, uh, pretty busy right now,” he said.
“I promise we won’t take more than a few minutes of your time.”
“Well, okay.” He held the door for them.
“This is such a lovely old home,” Mrs. Bone said as she went into the living room and made herself at home on the couch. “They just don’t build them like this anymore.” She eyed the dust on the table. “It could use a woman’s touch, though.”
“The maid is supposed to be in tomorrow to clean up,” he said.
“They have a piano!” Midgie said, noticing the old upright at the end of the room.
“It was my grandmother’s,” he said. “Then my mother’s and now mine.”
“Do you play?”
“I never learned how.”
“I could show you some chords sometime.”
“Yes, Midgie is a very accomplished musician,” Mrs. Bone said. “Someday she’ll be a great concert pianist.”
“Oh, mother!” Midgie said. “I’ll never be that good!” She blushed, bringing a little color to her cheeks.
August saw that Midgie was nothing like her mother. She was as thin as a wraith and her skin was bluish, almost transparent. Where Mrs. Bone’s face was a palette for makeup, Midgie’s was devoid of color or texture. Her two front teeth overlapped each other and her blond-white hair seemed unreal, like the hair on a doll.
“Do you like music?” she asked.
“Sure,” he said.
“I just love the classics: Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn. My favorite, though, is Bach.”
“She practices for hours every day,” Mrs. Bone said.
When the subject of music seemed to have exhausted itself, August said to Mrs. Bone, hoping to spur her into leaving, “My father is on one of his little business trips. I spoke about that to you when he stepped out that night at Chez Louie.”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “That night. I was concerned that he might really be ill but I didn’t want to press him for details. I didn’t want to embarrass him.”
“He’s not supposed to eat lobster,” August said.
“Isn’t that just like men?” Mrs. Bone said with a little laugh. “Always doing something they shouldn’t do.”
“When he comes home, I’ll tell him you stopped by,” he said with what he hoped was an air of finality. He began to push himself up from the chair.
“I didn’t hear from him after the night at Chez Louie and I wondered if something could be the matter.”
“No, he was fine by the next day.”
“That isn’t quite what I mean. I thought perhaps he had decided to end his friendship with me.”
“He didn’t say anything about it.”
“I wanted to call him but I didn’t know quite how to broach the subject.”
“Well, I’ll tell him you stopped by.”
“I’d rather you didn’t mention that we had this little conversation, if it’s all the same to you.”
“All right.” He smiled because he didn’t want to have to talk about Mrs. Bone to his father for any reason.
“We really came by today hoping to see you. I had no idea your father would be away on business.”
“I wanted you to meet Midgie and Midgie wanted to meet you.”
“And to ask you something.”
Midgie looked frightened. She swallowed noticeably and blushed again. “Oh, mother!” she said. “You’re putting me on the spot.”
“Go ahead and ask him,” Mrs. Bone said. “Now is not the time to be shy.”
“Ask me what?” he said.
Midgie cleared her throat and folded her hands as if to control them. The clock chimed and she flinched as if with pain.
“Well, it’s like this,” she said. “Every year on the Saturday night before Easter there’s a spring cotillion at the country club. All the girls dress in spring colors. It’s very nice and a lot of fun.”
He chose this moment to put the back of his hand to his mouth to cover a yawn. “Gee,” he said, “that sounds like really keen fun!”
“My mother told me all about you, about what a nice boy and how handsome you are and polite, and we were thinking—I was thinking—that I’d like to invite you to go to the cotillion with me as my date. If you don’t have a tux, we’ll get you one.”
“A cotillion is dancing?”
“I don’t know how to dance.”
“Oh, that’s all right. I don’t dance very well, either, but I can teach you as much as I know.”
He cleared his throat and sat up straight. “You don’t know me very well,” he said, “so you wouldn’t know that I’m not the kind of person to ask out on a date that involves dancing.”
Mrs. Bone laughed, believing he was making a joke. “Why is that?” she asked.
“Do you know what a sociopath is?”
“I believe I’ve heard the word.”
“It’s a person with a personality disorder.”
“Are you saying that’s you?”
“I’m saying you can draw your own conclusions.”
“Let’s just forget the whole thing,” Midgie said, obviously relieved. “I didn’t think it was a very good idea, anyway.”
“I want to know why this young man won’t even entertain the notion of taking my daughter to a soirée that certain people would kill to attend!” Mrs. Bone said.
“It’s all right,” Midgie said. “Let’s just let it go at that. Country club dances are not for everybody.”
“You’re very willful and headstrong,” Mrs. Bone said, “and I think I see where you get it from. I’ve noticed the same qualities in your father in the short time I’ve known him. The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree!”
“We should be going, mother,” Midgie said. “Don’t we have an appointment downtown?”
“Why is it that women always want to get men dancing?” he asked. “Why don’t all you women just dance with each other and leave the men out of it?”
Mrs. Bone stood up. “I withdraw the invitation and I’m sorry it was tendered! And you can be sure I’m going to speak to your father about you!”
“He won’t want to hear it. He doesn’t like you and he doesn’t want to see you again. He told me the reason he was vomiting that night at Chez Louie was the sickening stench of your perfume. He said if he ever saw you again he would be reminded of that night and start vomiting again.”
“Well, I’m sure I don’t want to make anyone sick!”
She made for the door, with him right behind her and Midgie following. As she was going out the door, he said, “Just forget you ever knew my father. Forget where we live.”
“You may be sure I will!”
She was halfway to the car but Midgie hung back for a moment. She stopped and gazed at him with her dumbstruck calf eyes. “It was a pleasure meeting you,” she said.
“Same here,” he said as closed the door behind her.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp