"Then I successfully have. Just shoo her away. The cat," I said.
"Oh no, don't worry about it. I'm flattered she wants to sit here."
"Except I do like these pants," he said after a moment. He lifted the cat off his lap and brushed at his trousers.
I got out of my chair and stood by a bookcase. I had heard Cake say, "You want to bet that if we go in there she still won't have moved."
"Badgering your own witness!" Dad told the TV.
Perry Mason was on, and Dad had been ahead of the prosecutor character with objections. "Not best evidence. Wasn't introduced in cross." He said, "I think this must have been a joke episode, the way Raymond Burr keeps announcing he's waiting for Mr. Right."
"Have you seen this one?" I asked.
"I don't know, I might've. I've got them all on tape. It's to the point that whatever I'm doing I move to the theme song, you know? Tahd-ah, duhd-ee, tahd-ah, duhd-ee."
The smoke alarm in my kitchen sounded.
The girls, through the entryway, high-jumped. Cake swatted at the alarm. Cammie was fanning at it with a towel.
My dad scooted over to me and asked if he should intervene. "Although I'm not sure how," he said.
I pantomimed palming the lid, turning it, plucking out the alarm's batteries.
Above its shriek, Cammie screamed, "A potato! That's all I was trying to do! This is about a fucking potato!"
The spud flew past us and thumped against the wall, hard, and awfully close to the cat.
WE WERE ON THE WAY TO THE girls' cocktail party. Cammie had her car in a tight alley, competing with a cab. Usually I enjoyed riding with Cammie. Her driving included many tricks she'd learned in her days of pizza delivery.
Now we were caught with the cab side by side at the alley's end. The cabby hauled himself out and came around to argue.
I said, "How about if we just -- "
"In fairness, I think he started it," said my dad.
"It doesn't matter who started it!" I said.
The cabby was yelling. Cammie geared into reverse.
We arrived for the party at the same time as a lot of guests. Some were carrying drinks, coolers, and bags of ice that they dumped into the sinks in the kitchen.
My dad wove through the room, chatting and introducing himself and shaking hands.
I knew no one. While I was traveling, the girls had picked up a whole new crowd.
And they had redone their loft -- lacquered the floor tiles, painted murals, stenciled the woodworking.
"The guy behind you," said Cake. "Not straight behind. Five o'clock."
I turned, turned back. "He looks like Aldo Ray," I said.
"Yeah," Cake said. "But Mom, he is the sweetest person."
"He certainly does have a lovely tan. Golden! Your grandfather must've got to him. He's olderthan your grandfather."
She said, "The sweetest. You know, the last time he stayed over -- because he lives out in who-knows and some nights it's too cold. The next day he kept apologizing, 'cause I guess he'd been snoring. Saying, 'God, I'm a warthog! Honk, honk!' Saying that over and over."
"All your guests are old," I said.
Cake looked at me as if I'd burped.
I could hear my dad behind me. He was talking to somebody, asking, "How could you tell? You remember these? Nineteen forty-three, in fact. They're my war shoes. Old, but they are perfect shoes to this day."
I thought I saw someone. I went stiff and wheeled slowly around like a rotating store-window mannequin.
"Tell me that isn't," I said and grabbed Cake by the wrist.
"Well, yes," she said, "I'm afraid it is. We have a party, they come if they want. Mom, pretend you don't notice."
"How?" I asked.
"Easy," she said. "Just pretend."
NOW THE CROWD HAD ME CORnered. My husband and his friend were dancing close by. Their moves had flourishes, and the lacy tops of the woman's thigh-highs showed with her every turn.
I tried to look engaged. I leaned to the ear of a woman who was reading her watch. I whispered, "I, too, need to know the time."
"This won't tell it," she said, and finger-snapped the watch face. She was bare-legged. She wore a cocktail dress, a bowler hat, ugly black shoes.
"Would you just talk to me for a second?" I asked.
The woman pulled back. She said, "Glow-ria. You don't remember me. We used to be best friends."
"Oh," I said, "Bonnie. I'm sorry. I didn't see it was you."
"Catch your breath," the man with her said kindly. Rhinehart, I believe, was his name. He stared off at the speaker system and nodded at its song. As it ended, he looked back to us, still nodding. He said, "Love is a lie. One big lie."
"It's like you're holding an egg yolk in your hand," I said in a low voice.
Bonnie said, "You mean the otherperson's holding the yolk."
"You two are psychotic," said Rhinehart.