The phone rang on Sunday morning when Trish and Rudy were at church. Aria answered.
“Hello Daddy. How are you doing? It’s really hot here. I think I need deodorant. Because Trish said my armpits were smelly. Her nose is really good. Okay, I will. I’m glad H-C’s around, I’ll ask her to help. Yes, she and I and Kiev at the studio. Oh guess what? We had a party in Kiev’s studio. It wasn’t planned it just happened one evening. Me, Kiev, H-C, Elias, Sasha and Eloisa. Elias, Sasha and Eloisa sang from this opera called Porgy and Bess. Everyone was so happy. Daddy I felt happy, really okay. Kiev loved it and he loved that it was in his space too. My fingers have stopped too. Yep. Tonight, yes, dinner. But there was a problem of some kind. Okay. Talk to you soon.”
Aria gathered that a communication mishap happened that would pair two unlikely groups of people. That morning she’d heard that Elias thought he would be hosting Sunday dinner at his house and invited four of his friends from summer stock. Rudy and Trish were under the impression they were hosting Sunday dinner at their house and invited three friends from church: Trish’s best friend, Darlene, and a young couple new to the church, Rodney and Ermaine. Tensions ran high, mainly from Trish, but it was settled through mediation from Rudy and H-C that dinner would be served at Rudy and Trish’s place. In all, fifteen invited guests were coming to dinner at the Kensington house.
Hearing the number of visitors startled Aria. She spent from two o’clock to a quarter of five rearranging the spelling of words beginning with ‘h-o’ or ‘h-i’ and ending with ‘l-y’ or ‘t-y’ to make words describing common objects. Four forty-five, time to dress. It would be the yellow culottes with red pinstripes, a mint tank top, and the short white poncho. For a change she thought to wear her white Adidas with the orange stripes, topped off with her grandmother’s gold lamé hat. Not the best synergy, but oh well. As had become her habit, she wrung the brim of the hat with her finger. The ribbon became inflexible a quarter of the way around. Her heart raced. She tipped the hat so she could see the ribbon and then pulled it away from the body. A grayed note, folded on itself, melded partially with the fabric. Pinching the top portion of the paper, she dislodged it. A warm and light feeling overcame her as she expanded the paper to its full size. “Darling, you send me. Honest you do. I am forever yours. J.” Her body expanded and nestled down into this almost extraordinary feeling.
The doorbell rang, followed by a cacophony of chatter. The love letter rolled from her fingers: her mind went blank as her fingers dipped and twisted. Minutes later the doorbell called again.
“Aria, are you ready to come down to dinner?” Sasha’s voice came from outside her door.
‘L-o-v-e, e-v-o-l, l-o-v-e, e-v-o-l,’ Aria repeated to herself, then said aloud,“Coming.”
She picked up the love note and stuffed it back into the brim, pressing the hat onto her head. Two deep breaths in helped her up off the chair. Another two got her through the door. She made her way down, pronouncing the new palindrome ‘loveevol’ in her head and fingering the camera.
“Aria, I would like for you to meet some of my very close friends.” Elias said.
“Whose gorgeous child is this? Cuz if no body claims her in the next second, I’m adopting. And look at this ensemble you have put together. Like. You must read Vogue?” Darryl squared Aria by the shoulders, looked admiringly at her face and squeezed her.
There was no time to raise the camera. She fell into his embrace finding his bold admiration intoxicating. She’d been mesmerized by his large peacock tail she saw through her gifted eyes, iridescent with a hundred eyes on the feathers. It had disappeared in a blink. He’d be her ally, she was sure of it.
“This is Darryl. And he is a fellow actor.” Elias rolled his eyes playfully at Darryl. “And this is Darryl’s boyfriend, Trevor, and this is Karen.”
Aria brought the camera to her face, pressing the start button. “It’s nice to meet you all.”
“A camera, the world’s such the stage!” Darryl rejoiced, shaping his hair.
Trevor and Karen had kind faces.
Karen rubbed Aria’s back lightly and said, “It’s great to meet you too.”
Rudy approached Aria.
“Aria, I’d like for you to meet Mr. Rodney and Ms. Ermaine. I think you already have met Ms. Darlene.”
“Nice to meet you,” Rodney and Ermaine offered. Darlene ignored the introduction and kept walking towards the kitchen.
“Nice to meet you too,” Aria responded. They’d appeared as two pigeon-headed humans. It took three blink for the image to disappear.
This evening’s dinner menu, made by Rudy and Elias, included crab croquette with hollandaise sauce, asparagus, wild rice, and a salad of baby greens with pears and blue
cheese; lamb stuffed with dates and garlic, baked vegetables, orzo with black olives. Dessert was pound cake and peach cobbler.
The two groups divided at dinner to opposite sides of the table. The combined conversations sounded like a revival her mother had once taken her to. Trish recounted how good the Lord was in helping her get through her accident in which she injured her back. She’d fallen off of a ladder attempting to reach a nest in the corner of an ave on the house. The fall wasn’t far but because Trish was so inflexible, the impact caused a great deal of muscle spasm and strain.
“They gave me two different pain medications, Vicodin and Percocet. I asked what the side effects were, plus I don’t like taking that stuff if I don’t have to. No, I don’t like taking that stuff. That is for extreme pain, the kind that is overwhelming.”
“So what did you do? I know you were in pain,” asked Darlene.
“I prayed. You know I did, didn’t I Rudy? Rudy!”
Aria could empathize with her aunt on this one. When you were in pain, you first prayed and if the pain did not cease then you’d resort to the medication.
Rudy, listening to the conversation on the other side of the table, quickly refocused his attention.
“Yes, she did. She prayed. Trish has got a strong relationship with the Lord.”
Trish beamed at these words. She pressed the balls of her fingers hard against the fork making it look like an odd bird of paradise.
“I threw those pills up in the medicine cabinet and haven’t looked at them since. I need to throw them out.”
“Trish, this meal is delicious. Where did you get this recipe?”
“Rudy is the chef. “ Trish puffed up, and swooshed her hand in the air. “He’s very health-conscious but still seeks that southern flavor,” pursing her lips slightly towards Rudy.
Trish seemed to love being the center of shallow conversations. She quickly threw a sour look at the thespians. “Things would be perfect if the other side of the table would disappear,” Trish said out loud.
Aria asked H-C quietly, “What’s Percoset?”
“It’s a drug to numb pain,” H-C answered.
“All kinds of pain?” H-C hadn’t heard the question because her attention had been focused on the rally of conversations going on.
When the groups retired to the living room, Aria noticed Rudy’s hesitation to join the church crowd. He positioned himself where he could see and hear his brothers and their guests. Aria and H-C sat next to each other, cuddled and holding hands on the couch. She felt like she was at a circus. The room seemed to be divided into two rings. Trish’s friends sat tight lipped, serious with their eyes focused, yet occasionally darting to the other side of the room. Their clothing was stiff, beige and dull in comparison to Elias’ friends. Darryl, Trevor and Sheryl were animated, lively juggling and turning daring stories. They wore bold colors: orange, red, cobalt blue, stripes and patterns underlining the words of the story.
“We were doing Chicago,” said Darryl
The room burst into laughter except for the fundamentalists who snickered at the comment but were still interested in the story.
“Not doing Chicago like that, though in our younger years we might have engaged in this challenge, so to say,” Darryl attempted to clarify.
“Watch your mouth there’s a child in the room with very large lovely ears,” Trevor added.
Directly to Aria, “I don’t mean doing like that, I mean you wouldn’t know what “like that” means...Uh, do you sweetheart, well...anyway…we were doing a show, in a show. Like a clown would go do a circus as part of his act.”
Aria’s eyebrows and smile stretched upwards.
Elias got up to refresh his drink and said, “She’s not that young and she’s very sophisticated for her age. You probably want to go on with the story. Watch your language though, Frenchy.”
“Elias is so funny. His tail tickles me.” Aria giggled to H-C as she watched him bop into the kitchen. H-C grinned and shook her head a little.
Recounting the pastor’s message at church regarding acceptance of your lot in life and being faithful, Trish noticed that her audience wasn’t responding appropriately to points in her story where they should be giving up the “Amens” and “that’s rights.” Instead, they smiled at the serious points of the sermon she was recounting, and laughed in the middle of her sentences.
Trish said, “God says whatever your lot in life, remain faithful.” Rudy and Ermaine chuckled. Rodney smiled at Trish, the corners of his eyes still in the other conversation. Trish subsequently rolled her eyes at him, digging her nails into the doley on the arm of the chair.
“Acceptance of your role in the church and among Godly people is the duty…”
Darlene guffawed, “Oh no, girl.”
“What did you say, Darlene?” asked Trish. Darlene brought her attention back to Trish momentarily.
Darryl continued, “Anyway, we were sharing a hotel room, naturally, though some folk wouldn’t say that there’s anything natural about it. We needed to be at the Moore Theater for call. We were running a tad bit late and I hadn’t put in my contact lenses just yet. You know how I get when I am overwhelmed and anxious. “I have particular needs including an electrolyte based alkalinized pH 9.5 water that I like to have to keep my vocal cords lubricated. I use a natural deodorant free of aluminum that doesn’t work well so I need to apply it a couple times a day…”
Trevor said, “And it takes a lot of time.”
Darryl pretending like he was hurt continued, “You were rushing me…well I got one of my contacts in, but the other wasn’t, and we had to leave. On the way, I noticed the contact was almost felt lopsided and itchy. It was causing my eye to water and wink quite a bit. We got to Michigan Street and we walked down towards the theater rehearsal space. Of course we were gazing into the shops when I thought I spotted Oprah through the glass. I couldn’t tell if it was her for sure. I told Trevor, and know what he said?”
“I said, being the consummate professional that I am, ‘We need to go, to be on time for our call.’”
“’I thought this was very foolish. This might be Oprah, our opportunity meeting our preparation, you know that’s what she always says. He said he was not impressed and that he was going to rehearsal. I just knew this would be my moment. If only I could get a better look. I smoothed out my skinny jeans.”
“They were orange,” said Trevor.
“That was the seasonal look.”
“Cake anyone? Fresh. It’s pound cake.” Trish displayed the cake on the antique silver stand.
“No, thank you. Not now.” Darlene waved Trish away.
“I’ll pass too,” Ermaine said.
“Did you all know that pastor blew up his house last night and poured honey and flour over himself?” Trish stood over her friends.
Darlene responded, “Ummm, Hmmm, God is good!”
Trish stormed into the kitchen. The crowd leaned into the conversation.
“And Armani T-shirt that read ‘You Can’t Fake This.’”
“And I marched into Cop-Copine towards the ‘O.’ The sales associate rushed me for the sale.”
“More like to trying to figure out if you had all your marbles,” said Trevor.
“You should have worn those little Bobby Brown sunglasses you had. Least you could have hid the winking,” teased Elias.
“With all the sophistication that I could muster under my circumstances and with slight nasality, I said, ‘No, thank you,’ with one eye shut. I proceeded towards ‘O’ almost in a run. I probably looked like a pirate. She sees me out the corner of her eye and then turns to face me. Then you know what she did? She ran!”
Trevor laughed and clapped his hands.
“She apparently thought I was crazy, maybe she thought I was going to try to attack her. I was so embarrassed. I apologized and then told her about the contact and that I thought she was Oprah.” He sighed. “Turns out it was someone who could have been Oprah’s twin,” Darryl added.
“Fraternal but who’s checking,” Trevor commented.
“Well, at least it was a woman,” Darryl defended.
“Anyway, Trevor left me, to get to rehearsal on time. I made it too, just in the nick of time. When I got to the theater there was a big crowd. I asked what was going on and they said Oprah and Gayle had just been there and guess who got their autographs?”
Trevor looked around with a satisfying grin. The room laughed.
Aria realized that somewhere between introductions and the middle of the evening her anxiety had gone upstairs and flopped into the easy chair in the bedroom, clearly out-competed by joy. And maybe, just maybe, she reasoned, she deserved a little.