“What do you do, Mrs. Ryan?” Mrs. Huntley asked.
These people looked as if they spent most of their time inspecting the leather bindings on their books. What could she say, that if she had a big winner in the ninth she was going to buy a microwave?
“I manage my investments.” Joanna looked over at her mother as she said this and smiled.
Dinner proceeded with bursts of conversation, then silence. Thelma lost track of exactly how many glasses of wine she had drunk, but still felt that she could focus adequately.
She was staring into a large black and white photograph of a bald man with a mustache. He smiled benignly.
“Who is that man, and the man in the large poster near the door?” Thelma asked Clive.
“Lenin is by the door, and that’s Freud, across from you,” Clive said, as if any dinner guest of his should not have asked the question.
Thelma stared at Freud. “Are you a communist, Clive?” Thelma asked stiffly.
Joanna started and then said, “Mother, really, people can like Lenin without being communists.”
“Mother Ryan, that is an interesting question.” Thelma knew right then that there would be nothing interesting about it.
“One’s political persuasions are so rarely truly probed.” I bet we’re going to probe this one, Thelma thought.
“Political inclinations do relate to one’s sexuality, one’s economic status–,” he went on.
Mrs. Huntley, who seemed, at least to Thelma’s wine soaked eyes, a tad juiced herself, suddenly said, loudly, “People rarely entertain like this anymore. Do you entertain, Mrs. Ryan?”
A silence fell.
“No Mother Huntley, I don’t much these days, not since my husband died.” There was a pause. “I’m afraid that people might pour wine down my organ.”
Mr. Huntley giggled, and Joanna, who had learned to expect anything out of her mother’s lips, said softly, “Mother has a small organ that my grandfather gave to us. He was a missionary in Ethiopia.”
“How lovely for you. But why would anyone pour wine down it?”
“Wine leads to that sort of thing, I think,” Thelma muttered, conscious that she was now not sure where the wine was leading her. She had reached a state where she was a little shaky, where every word called for concentration and energy, so that lips would form them without slurring.
After dinner, drinks were served, and Clive bustled about, talking all the while of ideology, politics, poets, poetics, hermeneutics, a word that made Thelma want to grind her teeth. In fact, maybe she had made some funny noises with her teeth. Thelma was at the stage in her drinking in which she thought of doing things and then wondered if she had actually done them.
“Estate planning is crucial, really, and something mother and I have worked on together, as a team,” Mr. Huntley went on. “We are quite a team,” and he patted the fat bump on top of her stomach.
“I’m leaving my entire estate to Joanna,” Thelma said proudly, and then realized that her estate would probably be the organ and the Oster blender she had had for twenty-five years.
Clive laughed and said, “Oh don’t do that, Mother Ryan, we will just have to take them to the dump.”
No one laughed but Clive, who experienced his wit as immediate and incisive. In the silence, though, he felt shock, not applause. Joanna went around to Thelma’s chair. “It was just a joke, Mother,” she turned slightly toward him, “He didn’t mean anything by it.”
Thelma laughed self-consciously, but then felt the kind of rage rising that she knew was very dangerous. She looked back at Joanna, in her black stockings and sensible beige skirt. So sweet, so serious, a young woman of purpose, of intellect, and very kind. In her drunken state Thelma was inordinately proud of the wonderful beauty of this fine girl, this person of substance.
How in the world had she sprung from the besotted loins of Frank and Thelma Ryan? Another wave of rage swept over her, and she knew she was descending into the madness that exists only over the edge, down into the bitter dark gall that ran inside, burning her, heavy, like molten lead. I can’t lose her, not to them, she thought. She knew she was going to do it, she felt herself thinking of doing it, and then she did it.
She picked up the crystal wine glass and hurled it against the wall, where the brownish liquid splattered like dark blood.
Thelma heard someone yelling, it must have been herself; “You are not good enough to fuck my daughter in the ass.”
Join us tomorrow to find out how Anne’s story ends.