Checks and Balances

 

Chapter 1

It is a truth rarely digested that a single woman in possession of a small fortune may not be in want of a husband. However finely molded her financial profile may be, this truth is so unpalatable to the better part of the business community, that not one marketing strategy has ever been devised to address such a woman's actual views and wishes.

None of our more respectable advertising agencies will court her for fear of blunting the keen edge of the young blades who are busily carving out market shares in the gooseberry tart of prosperity. In any case, the well-known brevity of the general public's attention span permits no time to be lost in dawdling over one's breakfast. A fast, snappy campaign, preferably one capable of being printed cheaply on cereal boxes in primary colors of ink, must be sketched out and provided every day as grist to the general mills of commerce. Idle dreaming over the big ticket items that an unromantic woman might be willing to buy raises no one's interest rates.

Home and garden publications vainly strive to lure her attention with seasonal cake decorations and year-round diet tips; whereas illustrated sports periodicals openly mock her. The fashionable e-magazines, perhaps fearing the cut direct, simply refuse to acknowledge her existence. How is such a woman to be tempted to open the clasp of her purse? Perhaps she does not even carry a purse! No purse, no pocketbook--what if she does not, as the more horrid rumors have suggested, even use commercially prepared deodorants? She is accused of brand disloyalty, gender-inappropriate purchasing habits, and every sort of statistically anomalous behavior. Ad agency focus groups throw up their hands in despair, doubtless feeling that such a monster of nature might be capable of any economic enormity.

She might have a natural sweetness of disposition and the most generous heart in the world---her disposable income might be as free as a one-time special offer---yet she will still fail to attract the adoring, concentrated scrutiny that well-established firms afford to any prospective bride.

The preference that mercantile society shows for the married or the about-to be-married is generally thought to be a sign of healthy speculative interest in futures as well as in future customers (since the child-care industry has been known to boom now and then in a most spectacular manner). However, it may also be due to the fevered flush of degenerative distribution disease, which requires a shocking number of malls as its outlet. As it happens, the only members of the global village who have any degree of certainty with regard to a modern old maid's custom are the mortuary and tax-preparation establishments. However little a wealthy woman may like to be classed with the dying and the about-to be-dying in terms of her attractiveness to the aristocracy of trade, her position has several advantages, not least of which is the comfortable ability to wear any kind of shoe that she likes.

The general disregard with which a woman of independent tastes is treated by industry may be heightened into somewhat of a particular nature, however, when she goes shopping for undergarments. Astounding quantities of scratchy lace and hot pink polyester satin are employed in the manufacture of women's intimate apparel. The frills, furbelows, and general inadequacy of their construction are proportional only to their price. Most of these apparitions of allurement are the pure, unspoiled product of man's benevolent, creative fancy---owing little or nothing of their composition to the precepts of nature. Indeed, these confectionary creations bear so little affinity to the human female form as to warrant suspicions of dadaism, wishful thinking, or (most likely) substance abuse on the part of the designers.

However, the inferior quality of the workmanship is generally held to be indemnified by the quantities produced. An infinite variety of shoddy fabric, coupled with a narrowly mediocre range of taste, generates positive mounds of commonplace finery, freely supplied to retailers everywhere, upon whose generous counters this vast monotony of merchandise is displayed for the public's critical inspection and approval.

It was in the town of D, in the county of Fairfax, where Ms. Charlotte Anna Penelope Darling consulted the opinion of her good friend, Ms. Gertrude S. Kingsley, on an item she had selected for purchase.

"What do you think of this one, Sam?"

"I think you could do a lot better. But I fear your only alternative in this barbarian gulag is the Sky-Mart Blue Tag special. But don't mind me. It's up to you how you choose to waste your money. If you do not mind having your soft tissues gouged by peripatetic underwires, by all means, carry off your prize. For the record, my guess is that it is marked down 75% for a damned good reason."

Anna hesitated then replaced the item on the table where she had found it, after carefully restoring its original neat folds. Before she had inherited her fortune from a deceased and much beloved aunt, she had been in retail herself and knew a great deal about maintaining tidy clothing racks. Despite her brief experience in the juniors department, she had a stronger reliance on her friend's judgment than on her own--at least in such worldly matters as this.

The lingerie department of Billier's prided itself on the elegance of its offerings. The saleslady in attendance was excessively offended by this gratuitous comparison to a cut-rate warehouse located in the newest and rawest strip mall in town. However, she was a professional in every sense of the word, and showed none of her displeasure to a potential customer, however rude. This particular customer, as she and every other merchant in town already knew, was one of the wealthiest women in a five-state area---not that you could tell by the way she dressed. On occasion, to be sure, Ms. Kingsley appeared in public in an outfit calculated to strike stark terror into the hearts of insurance lawyers, but in general she dressed in the most casual, sloppy way imaginable for a woman of her age and substance.

Though her wealth was inherited, her family background was distinctly blue collar--a fact that she took perverse satisfaction in and occasionally exploited in her rare personal encounters with the New York financial in-crowd. She was British by birth, but her childhood had been spent in many different countries. In addition to her native intelligence and shrewdness (a legacy from both her parents), she had been educated by that rarest of professional teachers, a superb Swiss governess, and, as a consequence, had achieved a level of university honors of which she was justifiably proud. Fraulein Kloninger still resided with the family and was superintending the education of Ms. Kingsley's young brother, although she had retired from active teaching. She had cultivated in her willing pupil a strong regard for the refinements of manner---the little courtesies and ceremonies---of human interaction.

A childhood spent chiefly in continually changing residence and the duty of adjusting to many different cultures had enforced the practical value of maintaining an elevated degree of formality in conduct. Unfortunately, this same childhood had also bred in Ms. Kingsley a fine, careless disregard for the niceties of dress. It was an odd combination of personal traits, made all the more disconcerting by a sharp, satirical turn of mind, and a tongue to match. Yet despite all this, people were seldom really aggrieved by what Ms. Kingsley said, for they took it all as a mere effusion of wit, not as a serious criticism. In this regard she was something of a Cassandra, for she could seldom spark outrage where she intended to affront. The lingerie saleswoman at Billier's was one of the few who took exception to Ms. Kingsley's freedom of speech, for she had been on the receiving end of it upon more than one occasion.
She kept a judicious silence and overheard as much as she could, with the firm intention of retailing Ms. Kingsley's words among her fellow employees in the break room.

"I am by no means pleased with your American custom of addressing strangers by their given names."

"It is not my American custom," Anna replied, smiling.

"The American custom, then. They think it jolly; I think it uncivil."

"I am sure it is meant to foster a warm-hearted camaraderie, and to promote the idea of equality among all citizens."

"Whereas it actually fosters insolence and promotes personal disrespect. However, I grant you that it creates a certain sort of equality: speaking to all as if addressing a horse or a bootboy lowers the dignity of everyone concerned in a perfectly balanced and impartial manner."

"Oh, come now Sam--would you really have people go backward in time--start addressing each other as Mr. This and Ms. That? What possible purpose would such formality serve?"

"Indeed I would.. It is not a going backward in time, but a going forward in propriety. And it would serve at least one purpose very clearly--to check the little habit men have of patronizing and infantilizing women. I have observed many instances where men are addressed as ‘Mister' and the women in the same group are called ‘Betty' or ‘Jane'. I suppose stripping women of their professional and social titles is the first move towards stripping them of their other personal effects."

"Sam, really! Do lower your voice. People are beginning to take notice."

"I say nothing of which I am ashamed. Let them eat cake---and choke on it if they like. If people will be so dreadfully uncivil to me, the least I can do in return is to be perfectly rude. It fosters mutual understanding and promotes equality."

"Oh, Sam!"

"You needn't ‘Oh Sam' me--it is as true as a wheel. Women should insist on being addressed properly at all times and follow up infractions with the most dire consequences: No address? Then no undress!"

"Please, Sam!"

"Oh very well. You may take comfort in hoping that this unattractive trait is not peculiarly American, for I understand that Australians are equally crude. There you have it--if England will export her criminal elements to the colonies, she must expect criminal negligence to be cultivated abroad."
"The sun never sets on the British umpire?"

"Precisely so." Anna's riposte made her friend laugh delightedly and turned off the rapid flow of Ms. Kingsley diverting diatribe.

Ms Darling was different from her friend in many ways, but never more so than in the tendency to accept or to criticize people's general behavior. She had been brought up in a great deal of seclusion: orphaned young and reared by her father's much older sisters. Her later youth had been spent caring for her aged aunts, and she had lived most of her 26 years in the same tiny New England town. Now that both of her guardians were deceased, she delighted in travel, fine clothing, gourmet foods and all the similar small delights of being independently though modestly wealthy. Every fresh place was a splendid source of pleasure to her, and people in themselves fascinated her--both eye and mind being engaged. She drew rather well and was presently taking art lessons from a famous university. She had met Ms. Kingsley at a university function for which Ms. Kingsley was one of the after-dinner speakers. She had admired the speech and the speaker very much indeed, and had presented Ms. Kingsley with a portrait immediately afterward. It was merely a hasty sketch, done in pencil and ink, but it was a spirited and lively piece which accurately captured some of Ms. Kingsley animation and sly malice. Ms. Kingsley was pleased by the attention and still more by the honesty and sincerity of the artist. On such a slight basis was a fast friendship begun.

 

The Grand Opening ceremonies at the new Sky Mart must inevitably include the usual spongy mix of hype, hoopla, and helium deemed attractive to the television-saturated consciousness. Besides a substantial print run of windshield flyers, hideous full-color inserts in the Sunday paper, and cheesy ads extolling the size of the parking lot (broadcast just after the eleven o'clock news), there was to be a concerted effort to draw the youth crowd in. The original idea had been to hire co-eds in bikinis to wash cars but construction delays had pushed the opening back several months and it was felt that the overall effect of November weather would be to drive the costs of labor for such an exhibit considerably over budget. It was much cheaper and almost as effective to hire musicians. Accordingly, several live bands were engaged to cover the Friday night and all day Saturday shifts. There was even to be a jazz-and-poetry recital area in the bookstore-café next-door to the megastore. In addition, an alfresco mural (tempora on butcher paper, or something like it) was commissioned..

If this banner was less frontally assaultive and more pleasing to the eye than is usual on such occasions, the credit for that must go to Mr. Leon Wyngate, a recent fine arts graduate and something of a minor celebrity in town. And if the Saturday night music at the café attracted a genuinely lively and attentive set of young people from the university, that compliment was undoubtedly paid to the band Heart Field and its leader, Mr. Clinton Wyngate. Not only did he play both the saxophone and the clarinet, but he was also the composer for many of the songs performed.

The Brothers Wyngate had each their own following. Leon, the younger was an enthusiastic and well-regarded young artist; but Clinton was astoundingly good. Their appearance generally matched their character and their roles in the art world. Leon's charismatic smile, handsome blond looks and strong surfer-boy body (still looking cut at age 28) made him a general favorite wherever he went. His love of good company ensured a large crowd of hangers-on, not a few of which were female. However, he was also a serious and dedicated young man who spent a great deal of time in his studio. He was apt to turn dreamy-eyed spectators into paint-spattered helpers, for his bent lay in the creation of murals and other such large works of art.

Clinton, usually called Clint, was dark and lithe. Three years older and physically slighter than his brother, he was no less sensually pleasing, especially when he was seen under stage lights in a smoky bar, with his hips slowly following the curves of the music he was playing. He too had his starry-eyed co-ed contingent of admirers; and, in the same way he found them a bit of a distraction from his first love in life. Music is a demanding mistress for those who hope to win her highest favors. Clint was classically trained but was seriously and aggressively promoting his own compositions.

Characteristically it had been Leon who accepted the Sky-Mart gig for the pair of them. Clint was derisive about it out of the earshot of others.

"Whatever possessed you to hire yourself out to Sky-Mart, for God's sake? Did you think we needed to hobnob with hoi polloi? A spot of the common touch? No--I know--you are planning to run for office. Wasn't that it?"

Leon shrugged uncomfortably.

"Well, a commission is a commission. Their money is as green as any fancy-pants grant. I don't know why you should feel that way. The Borgias were great patrons of art, you know. At least Sky-Mart does not go around poisoning people!"

"Matter of opinion," Clinton retorted promptly, "Have you seen the Hawaiian shirts they are selling?"

Leon threw a crumpled paint rag at his fastidious brother.

"I bought one. Now either get out of here or get to work."

Clint unfolded and critically inspected the rag.

"Ah!" he intoned solemnly, "An early Wyngate. The Sky-Mart Blue Tag period unless I am mistaken."

"Out!"
 

Ms. Darling's good nature and grateful heart could not fail to lead her into the jungle, red in tooth and claw, of non-profit organizations. Volunteers are hungrily sought out by every breed of good-doing animal; and unmarried women who have trust funds are, naturally, the preferred prey of all species. Ms. Kingsley, though well able to defend herself (being a sort of hybrid of skunk and armored dragon) in this vast field of human endeavour, had, through her association with Ms. Darling been drawn in to assist one or two of the charities that Ms. Darling held most dear. Sam was not so déclassé as to actually perform volunteer work, but she sat upon the Boards of the few associations she deemed worthy of her time.

Anna's immediate supervisor (or ‘coordinator' as she dubbed herself) was a well-turned-out woman of a certain age---the exact certainties of which she kept to herself. Mrs. Arielle Withlow was a tall divorcee with a strenuously maintained, elegantly trim figure. Her features were rather handsome than pretty, and firmly declared her Boston ancestry. She was always carefully made up, chicly coiffed and was very blond indeed. True to her type and her calling, she gave frequent dinner parties, teas and other types of social events, sometimes as public benefits, sometimes for private advantage. Anna was dutiful about attending the benefit concerts and $500-a-plate dinners, but was beginning to shy away from the more intimate affairs that Mrs. Withlow often pressed her to attend. The uttermost promise of these ill-assorted gatherings lay in a total absence of sound, intelligence, and fury, signifying nodding.

Anna, despite her appearance of mildness and calm, was really rather nervous and shy in large groups of people. She also had begun to realize that Mrs. Withlow had ulterior motives in inviting Anna so frequently to her home. It appeared that she was arranging blind dates for her friends and that Anna was being served up as an amorous hors d'oeuvre or, actually a leftover, to the men Mrs. Withlow's friends had declined to date. Anna was not at all interested in dating anyone at this time of her life. From junior high school all the way through college, she had loved and been loved by a young man who suffered from cystic fibrosis. He died in the first semester of her senior year in college. She had never yet been tempted to form any serious attachment, though she had casually dated a number of men since then.

After dodging a fair number of these nature abhorrent vacuums, upon the successive pleas of minor ill-health, previous engagement, preparing to go out of town, and just-too-tired, Anna's market of excuses was finally cornered and Mrs. Withlow was closing in for the kill. The very next party was to be tomorrow night. Would Ms. Darling be so kind as to favor her and Mr. Keith (Mrs. Withlow's current flame) by coming to dinner? No? Well, then could she attend later in the evening? She could bring a date if she liked, it was a very informal group. Oh, she was so glad! Mr. Keith would be delighted to see her again, he had scarcely had a moment to talk with Ms. Darling the time she visited. There never seems to be time enough to have a real, old-fashioned conversation anymore, does there?

In this exigency, Anna recollected an occasion when she had been bemoaning the necessity of attending yet another one of Mrs. Withlow's drop-deadlier dull divertissements and Sam had expressed a willingness to rescue her from the solemn festivities at a moment's notice.

"Just Bunbury it, Anna," Sam had said. "Tell them I developed an acute attack of Anatidae viridia and I asked you to come and soothe my fevered brow."

"Very well. But what is Anatidae viridia?"

"Green goose syndrome."

Anna smiled with a less strained expression and accepted Mrs. Withlow's invitation with a more natural grace than she could otherwise have achieved.

She called on Sam as soon as possible to enlist her aid. Sam only answered her phone at specific times of the day and week, and Anna wanted to be sure of her help.

"Alas! But I must be in the public eye that very evening. I am to introduce Dr. Brotersen at the kickoff of the lecture series. ‘Tis a far, far Broter thing than I have ever done. Will I not shine with reflected glory? Tra la!" Sam struck a pose of mock magniloquence. Anna's face fell.

"But see here, Anna, don't worry. If I can't haul you out of the line of fire, at least I can go with you into the den of iniquity. Or is it a vortex of Dissipation? Or a rabbit hole? Or a Black Hole of CalcuLatte? Into the Jaws of Dopes! Poured the Four Hundred!"

"Do stop your eclectic ejaculating and help me out here!" Anna pleaded, laughing in spite of herself.

"Hee hee! Don't fret, dear friend. You shall dine with me and then we will call Mrs. WideLow--- "

"Withlow."

"Mrs. Swinglow Sweet Chariot--is she not the one who looks like she has been the victim of a hostile makeover? Yes, I thought so. We will call, or rather you will, since I have not been introduced, and you will ask her if I may join the Galas of Gloom by gliding in upon the train of your gown. Alliteratively yours, Gertrude S. Kingsley, equestrian esquire."

"She said I might bring a date."

"Yes, dear child, but I do not wish to be classed as your date. It not only gives people the wrong idea about my sexual orientation, it gives them a glorious handle for gossip not dissimilar to the handle that Nonconformists are always in search of. I have noted many similarities between the two religions."

"What two religions?"

"The Gospel of Gossip and Nonconformist Evangelism."

"Sam, you are totally absurd."

"True enough. But I am also punctilious. Call please."

"Very well."

Mrs. Withlow's voice was of the carrying sort that does not require a hands free set to be easily overheard. Sam listened with no little amusement as Anna held the receiver far enough from her ear to avoid being deafened in the noble cause of civility.

"Oh! Dining with Ms. Kingsley! Why yes--of course! She would be most welcome to join us. I cannot express my gratitude warmly enough. I am so looking forward to seeing you and would be most happy to make Ms. Kingsley's acquaintance. Please do come by as soon as you conveniently can. Thank you. Very good of you to call and let me know."

This welcome was so effusive and surgingly gracious that Anna had the distinct sensation of being soaked in a warm spa bath. She wondered if she had misread Mrs. Withlow's intentions all along. Perhaps she had been angling to get her hooks into Sam the whole time.

She expressed her misgivings at once.

"Oh! Sam! What if this is exactly what Mrs. Withlow wanted me to do--to drag you to one of her parties. You said you were not interested in meeting her."

"Ah! But I made a promise to you, did I not? ‘A moment's notice' I said. I am inexorably bound to fulfill the terms of my contract and without demur. If I must be a martyr on the altar of true friendship, I shall at least have the consolation of knowing that my noble character is preserved."

"No, Sam. You need not come. It was my folly and I will not drag you into the mess."

"Too late Ms. Anna! The engagement has already been made. I am now committed both to you and to Mrs. Whitlow's glutinous gaieties."

"Glutinous gaieties! Good heavens! Such language."

"That is nothing to what you shall hear when we are in company with said Mrs. Whatlow."

"Sam! You wouldn't!"

"Wouldn't what?" Sam's face was a cunning mask of innocence.

"You would not--you shall not--be rude to Mrs. Whitlow!"

"It depends upon what you consider rude, I suppose."

"Sam, I have to work with this woman three times a week."

"I am fully cognizant of the implications. You need not fear---much."

"Sam! I will have to watch you like a cat at a mouse hole."

"In that deeply meditative attitude, you will certainly be rewarded twice over: Once in that you are likely to catch every nuance of the situation when I maneuver our hostess into providing a form of lively entertainment completely unprecedented in her limited experience of society, and second in that you will never be bored for an instant."

"Oh Sam! I am sorry now that I asked. I am sorry for everything!"

"Tsk, Anna. You worry too much. I am not going to damage your public or private relations with the good woman. I am merely planning to set a cost on my company that she may not be willing to pay in future."

"You are planning something evil I can tell."

"Not evil, Anna. Dreadful perhaps. But not evil."

"You are going to embarrass me I am sure."

"No, no! That would violate the terms of our original contract. If I embarrass anyone if shall not be you."

With this Anna was obliged to remain content, for she saw that Sam's mischievous daemon had seized hold and that her friend was actually looking forward to the event.

Mrs. Withlow's flat was situated in one of the numerous bedroom communities that sprout freely from the trailing outskirts of D---. As they approached the complex, Sam was positively brimming with barely suppressed energy and Anna was, as she had declared she would, watching her friend closely. Sam was correctly attired, for her, in a plain dark suit, excellently cut (with a trousers pleat that could have been employed as a scalpel) and shoes of Italian make. Anna wore a green gown of Regency design that flattered both her face and figure, and emeralds that accentuated her jewel-green eyes.

"You look nice, Sam. Thanks for dressing up."

"You owe me no thanks, sly thing. You know perfectly well it is not on your account but on Dr. Brotersen's that I have made this concession to propriety. Science and not society has earned this mark of my respect. If I must glide into society on the train of your gown, then you can very well hitchhike on my coattails to the glittering realms of astrophysics." Anna laughed, making a very pretty picture in the lighted doorway when it was opened to admit them.

Leon Wyngate was as much struck by this picture as anyone. He had accepted Mrs. Withlow's invitation without any reluctance, for he was fond of society. Clinton was willing to come only because he thought there might be some advantage in meeting possible patrons for Leon's art. Clint very much doubted that any of that crowd were interested in modern music composition. But Leon had persuaded him to come along. The dinner conversation had been so exceedingly dull that he wondered whether he had exercised the best judgment and he knew that Clint had been suffering agonies of ennui. Now, however, Leon was quite glad he had come.

Mrs. Withlow advanced upon her new guests as eagerly as her high heels and her dignity permitted.

Anna performed this most important introduction with equal simplicity and correctness.

"Mrs. Withlow--Ms. Kingsley. "

"Mrs. Whitlow?" Sam frowned, pretending to mishear. She was already launching into her campaign of haughty naughtiness.

"No, WITH-low."

"Oh! Yes, of course, I beg your pardon, Mrs. Withlow. Very pleased to make your acquaintance." Sam bowed slightly as was her usual wont. She did not extend her hand to be shaken.

"You are very welcome." Mrs. Withlow, surprised by the formal bow, dropped a small curtsey and quickly converted the involuntary extension of her own hand by taking a pinch of the fabric of her gown and stretching it out to the side in the bygone manner of her Victorian forebears. Had she been wearing a fuller gown, or even one like Anna's, this gesture might have passed off very well. Unfortunately, she wore a hip-hugging spandexical bonbon, all over sequins, and the general effect of her gown tugging was to make it appear that she was surreptitiously adjusting her girdle.

"It is very good of you to join us. You must have many more pleasant demands upon your time."

"Both loyalty and honor obliged me to come, Mrs. Whitlow. If I hope to pass myself off as a gentlewoman, I must honor my promises must I not? " She spoke rather loudly and beamed round at the company at large, transfixing the majority of the guests with both voice and gaze. Some nodded hypnotically and others simply stared. Anna put her hand to her mouth and coughed delicately.

"Indeed, in these days of declining morality, honoring one's word is perhaps the only trait that distinguishes the true aristocrat from the common herd. Do you not agree?"

"I---I hardly know. I suppose so."

"Yes, I hold this to be true for every kind of human bond--of parents and children, between friend and friend, husbands, wives, and lovers. If one accepts the benefits of social relations, one must also be prepared to accept the obligations--the unpleasant duties and responsibilities as well. Must one not? Why, attending a party is a mere nothing on the scale of social obligations endured in the name of love."

"No--yes--of course not. Certainly. Thank you so much for coming."

Leon Wyngate perceived that his hostess was somewhat uneasy, and although he did not know the reason, his natural chivalry led him to lend his support to her.

"For some of us, the pleasure of human companionship amply repays the effort involved," he suggested.

"Nor is every social engagement such a burden as you imply," his brother added. Clint knew exactly why Mrs. Withlow was ill-at-ease, at least on one count. Although he had just been thinking along precisely the same lines as Ms. Kingsley evidently thought, he felt guilty enough about it to consider it impolite for her to say as much. Sam raised her eyebrows at this riposte and sailed gaily in again.

"Ah! But there is a great consequence in connecting oneself to the human race: the willingness to sacrifice one's own preferences for the sake of another is the cornerstone of all love---and the whole ground floor of marriage. Is it not so, Mrs. Withlow? Mr. Keith, do you not agree that marriage is a sacred commitment, not to be abrogated without very good reason?"

"Well, I--certainly, Ms. Kingsley."

"I cannot speak for Anna, of course, but as I am most unlikely to change my condition of blessed singleness. You see, I myself am quite happily unmarried--for which most of my acquaintance are profoundly grateful I imagine. Anyone who would be keen to marry me in the face of my profoundly selfish character must be either a fortune-hunter, a philosopher, or a fool. I fear that I certainly could not compete for any gentleman's attentions in the presence of such grace, such beauty and accomplishment as I see displayed in this very parlour." She smiled broadly upon the cluster of ladies seated on the sofa.

"You will give my guests quite the wrong idea, Ms. Kingsley. This is merely a small party of friends and acquaintances---not a match-making affair." She endeavoured to emit a tinkly little laugh, which came out of her long nose more like a fluorescent light's 60-cycle hum.

"Oh, Mrs. Withlow, you do not do yourself justice! Your evening parties are everywhere celebrated as the ‘happening place' for singles! You are the quite Aphrodite of Arlington, I assure you."

Mrs. Withlow favored Ms. Kingsley with a frosty smile and glazed expression before turning the subject by offering Ms. Darling her choice of after-dinner drinks..

After that frank assessment of the evening's entertainment, none of the guests made any attempt to single out Ms. Kingsley, and indeed, most strove to avoid her notice altogether. She strolled happily about for the rest of the evening, smiling and nodding to everyone, but engaging no one in conversation, and distinguishing no one by any prolonged eye contact. Anna was too deep in conversation with the guests, especially with Mr. Leon Wyngate, to much notice or be pained by her friend's behavior.

 

© 2001 Copyright held by the author.

 

Back to Novel Idea