Until the Real Thing Comes Along ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(This is an expanded version of a story I posted in June with a different title.)
August had to look away as his father and Mrs. Bone moved around the dance floor, weaving in and out among the other fools. It was too ridiculous. His father, looking like an undertaker in his conservative blue suit, clutched Mrs. Bone to him as if he thought she might get away.
Something about them as a pair was all out of proportion. He was six inches taller than she was, but her hips were wider and she had enormous arms as if she wrestled alligators in her spare time. She wore spike heels in which she had trouble walking and a red dress that showed an inch or so of cleavage. She wasn’t a young woman. August felt embarrassed for her.
When they returned from their dance, father held her chair out for her and then sat down himself. Quite the dashing fellow.
“Oh, my!” Mrs. Bone said. “That was fun, wasn’t it? We need to do that more often!” She picked up her martini and gulped it down.
“Not as young as I once was,” father said, breathing heavily and straightening his tie.
Mrs. Bone took a cigarette out of her bag; father lit it for her dutifully. “Would you like to dance with me, August?” she asked.
“I don’t know how,” he said.
“I can show you. It’s easy.”
“No, thank you.”
“You need to learn sometime.”
“I wouldn’t push that if I were you,” father said.
“While you were dancing I was wondering,” August said, looking at Mrs. Bone’s lipsticked mouth.
“Where is your husband? Where is Mr. Bone?”
“August!” father said.
“No, it’s all right,” Mrs. Bone said. “It’s natural for him to be curious. Mr. Bone and I divorced about five years ago.”
“Do you have children?”
“Yes, I have three daughters.”
She was running true to form. He might have known she would have daughters. And three of them!
“Midgie is about your age. Deidre is younger and Thelma is older. Thelma will be going away to college next year.”
She was on her fourth martini and August knew she was starting to get drunk. She was slurring her words and she seemed to be having trouble focusing her eyes.
“That Deidre is the cutest little thing you ever saw!” father gushed.
“I can’t wait for you to meet them,” Mrs. Bone said. “Midgie is a very accomplished piano player.”
August was going to ask why it was necessary for him to meet them at all when the waiter arrived with the food.
While he tore apart his chicken, he couldn’t keep from stealing little glances at Mrs. Bone. She focused all her attention on her food as if she thought it might be taken away if she wasn’t careful. She took enormous bites, seemingly as much as her mouth would hold. Butter dribbled down her chin.
“You know,” father said, wanting to be agreeable, “it does feel good to eat a meal out occasionally.”
“Yes, does,” Mrs. Bone said.
“The food here is excellent. I’m so glad you recommended this place.”
“Um-umm,” Mrs. Bone said.
When they finished eating, father and Mrs. Bone danced again. Upon returning to the table, father looked unwell. He was pale and sweating heavily. He wasn’t used to whirling a bottle blonde around a dance floor and drinking hard liquor.
“I’m going to get some air,” he said to Mrs. Bone.
“Do you want me to come with you, honey?” she asked.
“No, you stay here and keep August company.”
With father gone, Mrs. Bone turned to August and smiled. Her lipstick was smeared almost up to her nose from the lobster. “So, August,” she said, “tell me about yourself. What do you like to do when you’re not going to school?”
“In addition to trying to resurrect the dead, I like deep-sea diving and knife throwing.”
“Oh, you sly boots,” she said. “You’re making that up, aren’t you? Your father has told me all about your over-active imagination.”
“I think he’s a homosexual,” August said.
She looked at him and closed her eyes, exposing eyelids the color of mold. “Why would you think that?” she asked.
“He gets these mysterious phone calls at night. He goes on overnight trips and when he comes back he won’t say where he’s been.”
“Oh, that’s business,” she said. “He’s told me all about it.”
“Sometimes when he thinks no one’s looking, he’s smiling a secret smile.”
“Maybe he’s just feeling happy.”
“Are you going to marry him?”
“Well, I don’t know. I haven’t known him long enough to be thinking about that.”
“I don’t believe you,” August said. “Women size up men as husband material the first time they ever lay eyes on them.”
She smiled indulgently. “You’re awfully worldly wise for one so young,” she said.
“Did he tell you my mother committed suicide?”
“Didn’t it make you wonder? I mean, what reasons she might have had?”
“He said she had a chemical imbalance of the brain.”
“That kind of lets him off the hook, don’t you think?”
“What do you mean?”
“She hanged herself from a rafter in the attic. I found her when I came home from school.”
“Your father didn’t tell me that.”
“That’s when I was eight. I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist ever since.”
“How trying it must have been for you!”
“You see, insanity runs in her family. Not everybody in her family has it, but she had it and she passed it along to me. I have the feeling that some day I’m going to do something a lot worse than commit suicide. I feel it inside me waiting to come out.”
“You probably don’t want to be around when it happens.”
Father was ashen when he came back to the table. He had loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar. His hair, about which he was so particular, was sticking up in points.
“I’m sorry to have to break up this little party,” he said, “but I’m not feeling well and I need to go home.”
“Oh, dear!” Mrs. Bone said. “And we were having such a lovely time, too!”
At home, August could hear his father retching in the bathroom. When he came out, he looked twenty years older.
“Are you all right?” August asked.
“I will be as soon as I get the lobster out of my system.”
Later, after August had changed into his pajamas and was lying on the couch in front of the TV, father came into the room wearing just his bathrobe with nothing underneath.
“I’m going away tomorrow for a few days on business,” father said. “Will you be all right here by yourself?”
“You won’t get into any mischief?”
“Do I ever?”
“What did you think of Ida?”
“Mrs. Bone. What did you think of her?”
Ida Bone, August thought. I had a bone.
“I hesitate to speak ill of her,” August said, “but I didn’t like her very much.”
“Haven’t you ever disliked anyone instinctively on sight?”
“What did you say to her when I was in the men’s room being sick?’
“I didn’t say anything.”
“When I took her home, she was very reserved. That’s not like her at all. She didn’t ask me to call her as she always does and she didn’t say anything about my seeing her again.”
“Well, you know. Women.”
“She didn’t want me to kiss her goodnight.”
“Ugh! Why would you want to do that?”
“I felt a definite cooling from her this evening.”
“It’s probably for the best,” August said. “I don’t think she’s your type, anyway.”
Two days later when August was alone in the house, he heard a loud knocking at the door that he thought must be the mailman delivering a package. When he went to the door and opened it, though, he saw none other than Mrs. Bone standing on the porch peering in at him, and she had someone with her.
“Oh, August!” she said. “How nice to see you again!”
“Oh!” he said, pulling his bathrobe tightly around his throat. He hadn’t thought of her again and was surprised to see her.
“We were just passing by and I wanted to stop by and see if your dear papa got over his little sick spell.”
“He isn’t here. I don’t know when he’ll be back.”
“Well, that’s all right, honey, because we were really hoping to see you.”
“I haven’t been up very long and haven’t had a chance to get dressed yet,” he said feebly.
“Oh, don’t worry about that!” 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.
She touched the shoulder of the girl standing beside her, as if to present her. “I want you to meet my daughter, Midgie,” she said.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Midgie said with a big smile.
“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.”
“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.”
“It’s no big thing,” he said. “I went.”
“I wonder,” Mrs. Bone said, “if we might come in and have a little chat?”
“My father isn’t at home,” he said.
“Yes, dear, we know that. We promise not to bite. Hah-hah-hah!”
“Well, all right,” he said, holding the door open all the way.
“This is such a charming old home,” Mrs. Bone said as she simpered her way into the living room and planted herself on the sofa as if it belonged to her. “They just don’t build them like this anymore.” She dragged her fingers through the dust on the table and looked at them. “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, pointing to the old Steinway at the end of the room.
“It was my grandmother’s,” August said. “Now it belongs to me.”
“Oh, 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!”
Midgie was nothing like her mother, as if the two of them weren’t related by blood at all. She was angular and colorless and seemed to know somehow how unattractive she was. Her lips were like two pieces of liver and her front teeth overlapped. She had hair so light and fine that it looked like the hair on a doll.
“Do you like music?” she asked.
“Sure,” he said.
“I just love the classics: Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, and people like that. My favorite, though, is Bach.”
“She practices for hours every day,” Mrs. Bone said.
“That’s what a real musician has to do,” Midgie said.
“I believe your father plays, doesn’t he?” Mrs. Bone asked.
“He used to play some,” August said. “When my mother was still alive.”
Mrs. Bone’s smile faded. “Yes, he seems to have a real appreciation for fine music.”
“He bought me a harmonica once when I was five years old and we went to a Navy band concert.”
“I was so concerned the night we were at Chez Louie. I thought he might really be ill.”
“He’s not supposed to eat lobster, is all.”
“Isn’t that just like a man? Always doing something he shouldn’t do.”
“I’ll tell him you stopped by,” August said with what he hoped was an air of finality, but Mrs. Bone wasn’t taking the hint.
“I didn’t hear from him after that night and I wondered if anything was wrong.”
“He was fine the next day.”
“I was a little fearful that 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 came by and asked about him.”
“But that isn’t the entire reason for our visit.”
“It’s not?” he said.
“I wanted you and Midgie to meet and we—or Midgie, rather—wanted to ask you something.”
“Ask me something?”
Midgie frowned. “Oh, mother!” she said. “When you put it that way, you’re putting me on the spot!”
“Go ahead and ask him,” Mrs. Bone said. “Now is not the time to be shy.”
Midgie cleared her throat and took a deep breath. “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. A photographer from the newspaper comes and there’s a whole big spread in the Sunday paper about it with lots of photos.”
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?”
“Why, yes, it is.”
“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.”
“Umm,” he said, putting both of his hands to the sides of his head as if he had a headache. “You don’t know me very well,” he said.
“Not yet,” Mrs. Bone said. “But we hope to change all that!”
“You don’t know anything about me, so you wouldn’t know I’m not the type you want to go dancing with.”
Mrs. Bone laughed as if he had made a joke.
“If you don’t want to go,” Midgie said, “it’s perfectly all right.”
“Do you know what a sociopath is?” he asked.
“I believe I’ve heard the word,” Mrs. Bone said.
“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.”
“Now, wait a minute,” Mrs. Bone said. “I’m not sure if I understand what you’re saying. Are you saying you won’t even consider taking Midgie to the cotillion?”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”
“Don’t you see how insulting that is to Midgie?”
“It’s all right, mother,” Midgie said. “Really, it is.”
“Some people would kill to wangle an invitation to a soiree like that.”
“I’m not one of them,” August said.
“Let’s just let it go at that,” Midgie said. “Country club dances are not for everybody.”
“No, I won’t let it go!” Mrs. Bone said. “He is very willful and headstrong and I think I see where he gets it. I’ve noticed the same qualities in his 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?” August said. “Why don’t all you women just dance with each other and leave the men out of it?”
“Now you’re being rude!” Mrs. Bone said. “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 the way you spoke to me after we went out of our way to…”
“He won’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to tell you, but he doesn’t like you and 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 ill!”
She stood up and, in doing so, banged her leg on the coffee table and nearly fell. She gave a little grunt and headed for the door.
When she reached the door, she put her hand on the knob and turned to see that Midgie was following along behind her. Seeing that August was escorting them to the door, she decided to express some more of her particular brand of indignation.
“If you should ever marry,” she said, “I pity the poor girl you’re inflicted upon.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you,” he said. “You won’t be there.”
“Humph!” She turned the knob, not realizing the door was locked. August stepped forward and unlocked it.
“I think it would be wise for you to forget you ever knew my father,” he said. “Forget you were ever in this house. Forget the terrible night at Chez Louis. It was an ordeal for my father and me.”
“You may be certain I will! Come, Midgie!”
She was halfway down the walk, but Midgie hung back for a moment. She stopped and turned to him with her dumbstruck calf eyes. “It was a pleasure meeting you,” she said.
“Same here,” he said.
He watched as they both got into Mrs. Bone’s light-blue Cadillac and drove away. He had to laugh because Mrs. Bone pulled right out in front of a garbage truck and narrowly missed being hit. She was no better at driving a car than she was at dancing, eating lobster, or fixing her daughter up with dates.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp