Your Friend August Wellington ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
He selected several pairs of swimsuits from the men’s-small rack and locked himself in the dressing room. After checking the door three times to make sure nobody could get in, he took everything off except his underpants and, standing before the mirror, began trying them on: first a plaid pair that he immediately rejected because they were too skimpy; then a yellow pair with a black stripe up each side and a slit at the thigh that made him look like something he wasn’t; then a black, baggy pair that hung down almost to his knees and made him look like an old man; then a red pair that wasn’t too baggy or too tight. He turned this way and that, looking at himself from every angle. The red pair would do, even though he hated the way he looked with his chest, arms and legs uncovered. No doubt about it, he was meant to be clothed. He wasn’t sure he would ever let anybody see him in the red swimsuit, but buying it was the first step and then he would see. He couldn’t look any worse than a lot of other people.
Of course, he had already turned down the invitation to the pool party, but he still might change his mind. He could see himself calling at the last minute and graciously accepting, after all, the invitation that he had declined. “I thought I was having abdominal surgery that day but it turns out the doctor says I don’t need the operation after all. Hah-hah-hah!”
When he got home, Aunt Vivian was waiting for him in her Cadillac, smoking a cigarette. She saw him in her rearview mirror and jumped out.
“August, where the hell have you been?” She reeked of perfume and her lipstick was smeared down to her chin.
“I had some shopping to do,” he said.
“I was about to call the police.”
“You didn’t answer the door. I thought something terrible must have happened to you.”
“And how many martinis did you have for lunch today?” he asked.
She stood behind him while he fumbled with the key in the lock and when he opened the door she went inside behind him as if the house belonged to her.
“I want you to come and stay at our house until your daddy gets back from his business trip,” she said.
“I’ve already said I’m not going to do that.”
“When you’re in school, it’s different, but now that school is out you don’t have any business staying in this big house all alone.”
“I like being alone.”
“You get lonely.”
“No, I don’t!”
“You daddy had no business going off and leaving you alone. You’re still a child.”
“No, I’m not!”
“I worry about you.”
“So you’re saying you won’t come and stay at my house?”
“That’s what I’m saying.”
“I could still put you over my knee and whale the living daylights out of you,” she said.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I’m bigger than you are.”
She swiped her fingers on the dining room table to see how much dust had collected there and then she went into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and all the cabinets and looking inside.
“Are you eating properly?” she asked.
“I’m afraid you’re just eating pizza and junk food.”
“I don’t even like pizza that much.”
“I could bring you some things.”
“You know how to cook?”
“I have a cookbook,” he said. “I can cook when I need to. Do you want me to show you?”
“You have eggs and milk?”
“I have flour, sugar, coffee and tea. What I don’t have I can go buy.”
“All right. I know you had to grow up fast with your mother dying so young the way she did.”
“Please don’t mention that to me again.”
“I hope Dana gets married again, for his sake and for yours.”
“He said something before he left about getting married soon.”
She nodded her head and smiled. “Oh, well, that’s encouraging! Have you met her?”
“I don’t think he has anybody in mind yet.”
“Is he seeing someone?”
“He was seeing a Mrs. Bone with three daughters but I think that romance fell through. I didn’t like her, so that might have had something to do with it.”
“You met her?”
“He took me out to dinner with them one night.”
“Oh, that’s lovely! Did you have a nice time?”
“No. Father isn’t supposed to eat lobster but he ate it anyway and got sick. While he was in the men’s room vomiting, I had a little tête-à-tête with Mrs. Bone. I think I scared her off.”
“Was that your intention?”
“I just told her the way things are.”
“I’m sure that was very naughty of you!”
A few minutes after Aunt Vivian left, there was a knock at the door. It was his friend from school, Colin Mayhew. He was carrying his gym bag.
“Is the paterfamilias still gone?” Colin asked.
“Who wants to know?” August asked.
“I’d like to stay here tonight if you don’t mind.”
“My parents are fighting again. I had to get away from all the yelling.”
“You can stay only if you promise you aren’t carrying any bugs or communicable diseases.”
“You can sleep on the couch or in the guest bedroom. You’re not sleeping with me.”
“Thank goodness! I was afraid that was going to be a condition for letting me stay.”
After they consumed a jar of peanuts and two glasses of wine apiece, the talk turned to the pool party.
“I’ve decided to go after all,” August said. “I bought a red swimsuit this morning.”
“You can’t do that,” Colin said. “You already turned down the invitation.”
“Yes, I can.”
“It would be very rude to show up after you’ve said you’re not coming.”
“Why are you always so concerned about what’s rude and what’s not?”
“I’m just telling you what I think.”
“That’s what’s wrong with the world. Too many people expressing their opinions.”
“Pardon me for living.”
“So you think I should call Beulah Buffington and tell her I’d like to come after all?”
“I know her. She’ll probably take your head off.”
“Let her try.”
“I wouldn’t have the nerve.”
“Are you still going?”
“Of course!” Colin said. “My dad’s letting me take the car.”
“You can come by and pick me up and we’ll go together.”
“I don’t think you should do that.”
“If you told Beulah you’re not coming, that’s the same as not being invited at all. You don’t want to be a gate crasher, do you?”
“I’ll call her first and arrange it.”
Colin picked up the phone, handed it to August and dialed the number. Beulah answered on the first ring.
“Hello?” August said. “Is that you, Beulah?”
“Yes. Who is this?”
“This is August.”
“Do I know you?”
“Um, I don’t seem to remember you. Can you describe yourself?”
“Look, Beulah, I know why you’re doing this.”
”Pretending not to know me.”
“I’m terribly busy,” she said. “I’m going to have to hang up now.”
“I just wanted to ask you a question.”
“What is it?”
“It’s about your pool party.”
“What about it?”
“I was wondering if it would be all right if I change my mind and accept your invitation after all.”
An icy silence on the other end, after which she said, “I don’t want to be mean, August, but I’m afraid you weren’t on the invitation list.”
“You called me just the other day and invited me.”
“I did? Are you sure it was me?”
“Well, yes. I had no reason to believe it was anybody else.”
“This is very odd,” she said. “I’ve never had anybody call and invite themselves to one of my parties. Are you sure this isn’t a joke?”
“No, it’s not a joke. I just thought…”
“What did you say your name is again?”
“It’s okay, Beulah. Just forget it.”
“Well, I suppose it’ll be all right for you to come since you place yourself in such an awkward position, but I have to warn you. We’ve already invited more people than we can handle and we probably won’t have room for all of them. We’re hoping some of them change their minds and don’t show up after all.”
“No, I wouldn’t dream of…”
“I have to go now,” Beulah said. “It was awfully lovely speaking to you.”
August hung up and shook his head at Colin.
“What did she say?” Colin asked.
“She was very obtuse. She pretended she didn’t know me. She said she never called and invited me to the party.”
“Are you sure it was her?”
“She said I could come anyway but there probably wouldn’t be enough room.”
“No, it isn’t. I don’t care.”
“You don’t want to go?”
“I’ll fill you in on everything that happens,” Colin said.
“Do you mean you’re still going?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“I thought you were my friend.”
“We’ve known each other since the beginning of school.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“You can still go knowing that I’m not invited?”
“Loyalty means nothing to you?”
“Look, August, just because you’re a loser doesn’t mean I have to be one, too.”
“So now I’m a loser, am I?”
“I only meant…”
“I don’t care what you meant. I want you to get out of my house.”
“If it means that much to you, I won’t go.”
“No, it’s too late now. I’ve already discovered what a rat you are.”
“Do you want me to talk to Beulah and wangle you an invitation?”
“No! I want you to leave. Right now!”
“I thought it’d be fun to come over here and spend the night with you. I was wrong.”
“Colin, if you don’t get out of my house right now, I’m going to stick a knife all the way through you!”
“Nobody likes you, August, but you’re not able to see it.”
“Do you want me to throw you out?”
“I know your mother killed herself because she was crazy. I think craziness runs in your family.”
August picked up a letter opener and began brandishing it in Colin’s face. “Have you ever seen a person stabbed with one of these things?” he said.
“I hope your father marries a horrible woman!” Colin said. “I hope you end up with a stepmother who makes your life miserable!”
August threw the letter opener, narrowly missing Colin’s head. As he was looking around for something else to throw, Colin grabbed his gym bag and ran for the door. August watched him as he ran across the street and disappeared down the block.
He went upstairs to his room and locked himself in, slowly took off all his clothes and put on the red swimsuit he had bought just that morning. He turned this way and that, looking at himself in the full-length mirror. To himself he looked like a hairless monkey, all joints and angles, his skin as white as paste. He could hear people in his head laughing and making fun of him for trying to get invited to Beulah’s party.
“This will never do,” he said.
He took the scissors and cut the swimsuit into strips, feeling he was relieving himself of a burden. And he left the strips on the floor around his bed to remind himself of just how foolish he had been.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp