Issue Forty-Three - Winter 2024

A Change in Rhythm

by Lita Kurth

In a baggy jacket and rumpled trousers, Johnny rushes to the parlor. The elite Faurée soirée is about to begin, control and charade. “People! I’m telling you,” he hisses, passion in every vowel “Waken! You wastrels. Don’t fiddle. Midnight is magic. Sunrise—”

“A surprise indeed. He’s out on parole. Ignore him.” A cadet, severe in white, pronounced this decree; the entourage agreed, regarding the guest with unfeigned disgust.

The hostess said, “Soufflé, my friends, fondu! Come along to the gazebo. Our motif is safari. Giraffes and gazelles in granache.” Her voice extended and resounded above the Bizet. The guests went out, a parade of explosions, excited, aggressive. Only a bassoon remained, forlorn.

“Champagne?” A server, pleasant, smiling, lifted a platter toward Johnny.

Johnny made a grimace. “Lifeless silver, lackluster linen: is anything colder?”

“This bottle of vodka, their ugly pinches,” whispered the servant, glancing around to make sure the guests were gone.

“Bitter winners.” Johnny said, gazing at a candle. “Foolish bitter winners.” The room was nearly empty now,

The hostess, absurd in maroon and chartreuse barrettes, returned and commanded, “Shut up!” She motioned toward the settee. “Come on, Clarisse!”

A brunette in Chanel sat up, laid a silky arm on the back of the couch, her sharpei at her feet, asleep. “I’m content to remain,” she said. Reclining, she’d been listening to Johnny, alert under half-closed eyelids, sliding her foot in a golden slipper, one black curl astray on her forehead.

“Are you insane?” The hostess departed again, disgusted.

Are you crazy?” Johnny asked. He lingered by the curtains. A flicker in his pupils told of firelight and sadness. The dark-haired woman shivered. The room, the night, despair: a drink that’s served straight up. She tendered a quivering finger at Johnny in the mirror. His reflection hovered, higher, lower. “It’s one way to escape.”

Johnny smiled halfway. “Hope is another beverage.” He took a seat on the arm of the couch. “What’s the name of your dog?”

“Giselle. Of course.”

“Naturally. May I touch the hair on your arm?”

“Feel free.” Her bangles chimed and slid as she lifted her hand.

Johnny brushed the silky hairs, kissed her fingers. “Now I want to look at you.”

“Who doesn’t?” She lay back, amused. “Regard, admirer.” Her shoulders bare, bosom wrapped in silk, slender ankles, toes.

“Pretty, head to foot.” Johnny sat beside her, careful. “Lovely.”

Johnny led her to the bedroom; kisses and attentions flowed like whiskey or religion.

Outside, the gazebo was bedecked with fiesta-like confections and hors d’oeuvres: shad roe, foie gras. Regret constrained became enlarged, and now French horns spat out ennui. The crowd disported to rock and jazz and blues without delight, exuding cologne and remorse. The blues resounded on brick and stone, confirmed that all was lost.

A chanteuse collapsed, hair awry.

“Relax,” (cadet to femme fatale). “The reward is getting fucked up with the elite.”

The guests pretended, agreed, and imbibed; at last turned blue.

Outdoors, the caterers, exhausted, requested to pack unused champagne.

“Shut up. I’m not concerned with your affairs.” The host moved off, blue ice in his demeanor.

In the bedroom, Johnny kissed eyelids, kneecaps, smoothed fingers on tender thighs. Clarisse was turning blonder by the minute, rosier, warmer. The former darkness rippled, lightened and in a drawn-out instant, all the fickle crudeness in the garden filtered into rivers, shaking rapids, falling open.

“Goodbye, society,” breathed the brunette. “Welcome, Johnny.”

Copyright Kurth 2024