Much to her dismay, Irene’s powerful interpretive dance about the mating habits of the Balinese Freckled Stork failed to impress her fellow passengers, and she was shunned later that evening in the First Class Dining Room. Undeterred, because she had been bred with premium-stock Connecticut money, she marched directly up to the woman who seemed to be doing the most shunning.
Irene: “Melba Tipplesworth, may I have a word?”
Melba, pausing in her conversation with someone who is not important to this story: “And you are?”
Irene: “Oh, please. We grew up on neighboring estates, we both attended Mistress Edna’s Finishing School for Moneyed Heiresses and we both chastely lost our virginity at the Spring Fling Social at the Bridgeport Botanical Society on the same night.”
Melba: “That’s an extraordinary amount of words to tolerate from someone I don’t know.”
Irene: “Are you being absurd? Okay, let’s take this route. Do you recall a certain summer night in my three-story treehouse when we were wondering what it was like to kiss a boy and you suggested that we could practice by-”
Melba, suddenly turning to the unnamed supporting cast member who probably should have had a name after all so we’ll give her one: “Lila, be a dear and run find some more of that delicious gin. It appears that we need reinforcements.” Lila scampered, and Melba turned back to Irene. “Fine. I suppose we might be acquaintances. Perhaps I didn’t recognize you when you aren’t surrounded by hundreds of inbred cousins.”
Irene: “Me? Your tribe is the one that hasn’t married outside the family since the signing of the Magna Carta. You all look exactly alike, which makes group photographs completely pointless.”
Melba: “Oh, so you think people should be different, do you? Is that why you were strutting about on the upper deck like an overheated ostrich?”
Irene: “Ostrich! I’ll have you know that the mating dance of the Balinese Freckled Stork is one of the most beautiful and complex mysteries of life, one that has fascinated scientists for centuries. There is so much subtext in each tiny maneuver.”
At that point, a waiter arrived bearing two snazzy gin cocktails on a gilt-edged tray. Since we’ve already learned our lesson about not naming minor characters, we’ll give him a sprinkle of identity. Lawrence: “Ladies, I believe these are for you, courtesy of the woman you rather obviously banished earlier so she could not hear your indiscretions. Despite the snubbing, she remains faithful to the quenching of your thirsts, in more ways than one. Enjoy.” Then Lawrence turned and walked out of the story, hoping that his performance was enough to garner his membership in the Screen Actors Guild.
Irene and Melba also turned, spying Lila on the far side of the room, who was inexplicably beaming and giving them both a thumbs up and then made motions indicating that she would not be returning unless requested. Then she dashed off to do who knows what in a place that wasn’t here. What was that all about?
Irene and Melba turned back toward each other, suddenly, awkwardly silent. To enliven the interim wherein the scriptwriter may or may not have forgotten to insert some dialogue, they both drank healthily from their gold-rimmed glasses. And then they took another swig because, well, awkward. And a third, because something had fundamentally changed with the action of a woman named Lila who understood and did not judge and gave a little nudge.
Melba broke first: “I didn’t see you on the upper deck.”
Melba: “Of course not. I never go up there. With all this collagen I’ve got going on I would have looked like a wet biscuit in three seconds. No, it was Lila who told me. I… I asked her to check up on you.”
Irene: “Check up on me? But you were just acting like you don’t even know who I-”
Melba: “Of course I know who you are. I’ve never forgotten you. And I’ve never forgotten the treehouse.”
Irene, taking a fourth gulp because it might come in handy, as her heart was racing: “But that was so long ago.”
Melba: “Not for me. It’s right here.” She touched her heart. “But I never said anything. Because I was afraid you might not understand.”
Irene smiled. “And I was afraid that you might not understand my dance.”
Melba: “That mess with the stork?”
Irene: “All of it, all of those things I did to get your attention. The stork, and the finishing school, and the Spring Fling Social. And the treehouse. I still have it, you know. And there’s plenty of room for two people who took a long time to get back there.”
Melba smiled as well. “Perhaps it’s time that I considered marrying outside the family.”
Irene: “Well, at least they’ll be able to pick me out in the group photo.”
Categories: Past Imperfect