Knowing No One
At the party there was a woman telling a man that she was making tee-shirts. “But everyone’s making tee-shirts. It’s so boring.”
"Everyone’s not making tee-shirts. Everyone’s in a band. How do you think I think I feel?"
Everyone at the party was in a band. No one except the woman was making tee-shirts.
The woman who made the tee-shirts found the bathroom. When she didn’t know what else to do, she found the bathroom. The woman was not sure if this was something that everyone did; this thing of finding the most private yet public room in the house and locking the door and looking in the medicine cabinet and sitting on the edge of the bathtub and trying the different lip glosses and nail polishes and aftershaves until it felt like something changed and she was ready for the party or the party was ready for her.
But that was what she did and that was what she was doing when someone knocked on the door and twisted the knob—not in a forceful or impatient way, but just in the way that anyone does when they have reason to believe that they can proceed.
Instead of standing up and assuming the role of a person who had been using the bathroom in the customary way, the woman reached up and turned the doorknob so that it freed itself from the jamb and swung open. The woman sat back down on the edge of the tub, a bottle of Revlon lacquer labeled Juicy Fruit in one hand, two painted fingers on the other.
"Oh. Hi. I’m sorry. I didn’t know anyone was in here."
"No, it’s fine. I’m not really in here — I mean … I’m just… I’m just leaving now." The woman took the bottle of color, smiled, and slipped past the second woman and down the hall to the top of the stairs where a mirrored panel met a corner and another door to another room.
The woman who made the tee-shirts sat down and began, awkwardly, to paint the fingers of her other hand, the hand that was more comfortable doing the painting. The woman who made the tee-shirts was thinking about the woman in the bathroom. She looked familiar. From another party? From a coffee shop? From the bus stop? The bar where she had been the night before?
From someone’s band?
The woman who made the tee-shirts had arrived at the party with her boyfriend, but she did know where her boyfriend was and she was not going to look for him. Not because she didn’t want to be with him but because each typically fared better at parties on their own. Hanging out together didn’t make very much sense. They could do that at home.
By the time she was finished dragging the borrowed color across all five fingers, the woman who had found her in the bathroom finished her turn there. She emerged from privacy still tucking a white cotton shirt into pale, faded denim. When she saw the woman there at the top of the stairs near the mirror that cornered the door, she stopped, startled, and smiled. And then she sat down next to her.
"Is someone going to play in the basement later?"
"I think so. Devon’s band."
"That’s a good color."
The woman who made the tee-shirts passed the bottle to the woman from the bathroom. The woman from the bathroom opened the bottle and leaned against the wall.
The house was old. One of those grand old houses that had once been cut up into formal dining rooms and servants quarters but was now cut up into kitchens that no one cooked in and bedrooms without proper closets where people in bands slept with people who waited on tables.
The house was one of those formerly grand old houses that was now dank and carpeted and sagging. The people who lived in these houses did not appreciate the original crown molding. Did not, in fact, even notice that it was there.
The kitchen and the keg was directly beneath the women with the painted nails; if they followed the stairs they sat at the top of, they would, after 13 steps that twisted slowly to the left, open a door that faced the never-used oven and about 20 or 30 men and women and boys and girls they each knew or pretended to know or half-knew in the way that people of the same age with the same interests in the same small city all “know” each other.
And this was precisely why the women stayed there, at the top of the stairs where no one knew anyone in the very best way.