originally published in Crack the Spine Issue 164
Natalie looked at the bowl of gin punch lovingly, as though she were its mother.
"I hope Brad and Cara aren't too weird tonight," she said.
"You made a punch that contains an entire bottle of gin for four people. Maybe you're little weird," Greg said, looking up at her from the couch.
"Have I ever thrown a bad party?"
"And what do I always say is the key to throwing a successful party?"
"You get people drunk."
"I get people shitfaced. Bachelorette-party-homeless-bum-drunk. I want people to wake up feeling like they slept in the streets. The worse the hangover the better the party."
"You never get bad hangovers anymore."
"I learned to control my drinking."
"Do you ever enjoy yourself?"
"I used to."
"Back when you got drunk and had bad hangovers?"
"Yes. Then I did enjoy myself."
"Why don't you get drunk tonight? Give yourself the gift of a terrible hangover. You have a bowl of gin right there. Stick your head into it. Have a good time for once."
"I have to make sure everything goes smoothly."
Greg looked at his wife with magnificent distain.
"The house is clean. The snacks are out. The punch is done. Why do you worry so much?"
Natalie sat down on the couch next to Greg's feet. He wore black silk socks. His feet looked very professional.
"You always think I'm controlling," she said to his feet. "I'm not."
Greg pulled his phone out of his pocket.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm looking at my phone. I think it's a better way to spend my time than arguing with a controlling person about whether or not she is controlling."
He squinted, stuck his chin out and drew back the top of his head to read, the mask of a man just beginning to lose his eyesight. In the white light of his iPhone he looked old and dead. They sat in a moment of sober silence.
"Do you want a drink?" Natalie asked.
"Of course I do."
"Do you want the punch or something else?"
"Do you want me to get drunk?"
"Of course I do." She smiled the smile of a little girl promised a trip to the candy store after the dentist.
"Get me a whiskey. I'll drink it before they get here." He would have winked, were he that kind of man.
"Make one for yourself."
"Ok. Maybe I'll get drunk and prove I'm not controlling."
"It's going to take a lot more than one shot of whiskey for that."
She poured bourbon into crystal tumblers. They had the heavy weight of fancy things.
"Do you like Brad and Cara?" Natalie asked. "I think they are a little weird."
"Weird like young? They seem very young to me."
"They are both thirty. That's not very much younger than we are."
"They are thirty going on twelve. They are too enthusiastic about life. The horrors of middle age will eventually grind them down and make them less pleasant. Especially Brad. He has a face like a little kid."
"There are a lot of man-children running around the city these days like they have somewhere important to be. They all look like they're taking the subway to a spelling bee in dad's suit."
"My office is full of boys like Brad."
"They think they know everything."
"They know nothing. When are they getting here?"
"They should be here now."
"Cara probably hit traffic picking him up at daycare," Greg said. They laughed in bitter cahoots and drank.
"Cara is very pretty, though."
Greg, like any man who has masturbated frequently to a woman he then finds himself forced to discuss with his wife, scoffed.
"She's not really my type. She has a big ass. She's frumpy."
Natalie wiped a little whiskey from underneath her lip with her sleeve and smiled sadly, like she had recognized an old friend at a funeral.
"What is your type?"
"You, baby," he said. The diminutive fell flat.
Natalie took their empty glasses to the kitchen and poured in tequila.
"I just bought this. Try it," she said, pressing the glass into his hand.
"But then I want to go back to whiskey."
"You can do whatever you want."
"What about Brad?" Greg asked.
"What about him?"
"Do you think he's good looking?"
"He looks like a six foot four baby," she said, but she was blushing.
"Are you blushing?"
"Do you have a little crush on the adult baby?" Greg laughed. Her face flushed to a blotchy, ashamed shade of pink.
"Oh, don't laugh. I just think he's cute," she said.
"For a baby." He patted her on the knee.
"Yes. For an adult baby."
"I lied about Cara anyway. I think she's attractive."
"I know you do."
"You can tell?"
"You look at her the way that wolves look at bunny rabbits."
The buzzer rang and they put down their empty glasses. Natalie turned to walk towards the door but Greg grabbed her wrist and spun her around.
"Maybe tonight you can babysit Brad. I'll chase Cara around the bunny trail," he said.
"You can do whatever you want."
The next morning Natalie woke up feeling like she had slept in the streets.