by J.L. Powers
I went to a party on Saturday at the house across the street. It was a Tupperware type party except the saleslady was trying to get us to buy these amazing cloths with actual silver melted into them that can clean off, like, anything.
“Does it work on dog slobber?” I asked. My front windows are perpetually streaked because my dogs spend all day panting in front of them or shrieking as they try to claw through them to kill the postal worker, whom they hate with a passion I’ve never seen them feel for anybody else.
Another neighbor with whom I have a nodding acquaintance but whose house, I know for a fact, frequently smells like pot and who regularly has screaming matches with her husband that you can hear all the way across the street at my house sat down next to me and started to jabber away, all about how her dog is a therapy dog, she’d gotten him ten years ago when she graduated from an eating disorder program.
I’m nodding my head while she talks but I’m distracted because Nesta keeps running over to different ladies and asking, “Eat?” and pointing out things on their plates that he wants. And I feel like a bad neighbor for ignoring her when she’s telling me about her recovery from an eating disorder program but also I feel like a bad mother for not grabbing my child and making him understand that being a plate poacher is not acceptable party behavior. He’s not quite 2 so it’s hard for him to understand that all the food in the world isn’t his alone and that if it isn’t his plate, it isn’t his food.
Meanwhile, I’m slurping down a huge glass of wine, which works wonders for not feeling so bad about yourself at the exact moment but doesn’t work so well the next morning when you wake up with a headache and also the realization that you chose to drink wine which means you didn’t stay up late to write after the rest of the house was asleep.
The saleslady is trying to demonstrate that the cloths will work wonders with my dog slobber problem. She smears Vaseline all over the living room mirror and then asks me to clean the mirror with nothing other than the slightly damp cloth.
I start to clean the mirror but then I realize My Little Escape Artist has escaped to the kitchen and I’m afraid of what might happen if he’s in there alone so I hand the cloth back to the saleslady and I go into the other room.
My neighbor with the house that smells like pot, the therapy dog, and the yelling husband is standing at the counter eating. There is a huge bowl of sliced bread, and a bowl of artichoke-spinach dip, and a bowl of potato chips with sour-cream-and-onion dip, and plates of watermelon, and California rolls, and fresh spring rolls. They are all spread out in front of her on the counter.
I grab Nesta and go back into the living room.
The mirror is now clean as a whistle. Somehow all that Vaseline was wiped off with just that miraculous little cloth and it has left no streaks.
Even as I nod with the other women about how marvelous this is, and feeling supremely domesticated (in my 20s, I never dreamed I’d go to a party like this), I’m hearing the bowls clanking rapidly in the other room. Clank clank clank. I suspect that my neighbor from across the street is gobbling everything up as quickly as she can.
My Little Escape Artist escapes his position on the couch and runs into the other room again, so I head in there with my neighbor who is throwing the party.
I notice that all the bowls on the counter are now empty.
I follow the little guy outside, where my neighbor who is throwing the party picks fresh tomatoes off her plants and starts popping them in Nesta’s mouth. The neighbor with the house that smells like pot and the therapy dog and the yelling husband wanders outside and watches us in this vague, almost glazed sort of way. I notice that her shirt has several small oil stains where she got artichoke-spinach or sour-cream-and-onion dip on it.
We all go back inside and my neighbor who is throwing the party says, “Isn’t that nice? She [neighbor with house that smells like pot] cleaned my entire counter for me.”
She sounds sincere and it is only later that I realized she was being sarcastic because the neighbor whose house smells like pot much of the time has just guzzled all the party food in about fifteen minutes flat. Later, I also realize that she said it in the other neighbor’s hearing.
The neighbor who ate all the food wanders into the main room, where the sales pitch is still going on. She stands there for a moment. Then she says, “I have to go now.”
And she leaves.
Later, I think about the entire exchange. My child running amok in the party, the party that is really a sales pitch, the neighbor who graduated from an eating disorder program ten years ago eating all the party food, the neighbor who publicly comments on the other neighbor’s bad behavior, and me, the writer-neighbor, taking it all in but not realizing until later what it all meant or putting all the dynamics together.
Since becoming a mom, not just my social life but my entire writing life is messy like that. I am constantly picking up the loose threads of a dozen trajectories/conversations and it’s hard to follow each one. I’m learning to be slow and deliberate and to quiet my mind down so that I can focus on writing.
It helps considerably if the household is asleep.