Charlie

What she liked about large outings — parties of ten or twelve pressed arm to arm at long rectangular tables — was being toward the center, slightly on the outskirts, disengaging from any one person’s attention and scanning the faces for a minute, or as long as she could hold herself arm’s length from it all.  There was something peaceful and warm about it, something satisfying about all the little bits of conversation, the tenors of the voices colliding and coordinating, all unintentionally. The five people to her right are almost all leaning toward each other talking — the topic they’re on now, who knows how they got there — the beginning thread lost by now, no one remembers. Four people to her left are playing cards, some game she gave up long ago. Two on the edge of the table are laughing loudly enough to blanket everyone in the sound, raise the corners of everyone’s mouths, and draw some looks for a curious moment.

God, she feels good, she thinks. Her shoulders sink — her whole body sinks a little deeper into her chair, and herself. Her finger finds the tip of the straw in her drink and presses down until a small circle is stamped in her skin. She looks down, into the ice and liquor, and she listens. The only thing better than being in the midst of the hum of such pleasant chatter is being a member in it. But that was never her strong suit. Her inputs were token, infrequent, and often lead to a pause, or a switch in the banter. That’s why it was better to sit quietly, distantly present. Make gentle eye contact, reply to a ridiculous expression from a friend across the table with a ridiculous expression of her own, drink her liquor slowly, and leave either a little early, or at once with the crowd. These were the tactics. They were safe, and proven, and easy.

When she stuck by them, she would part from her friends, and their friends, with a good taste in her mouth. She would walk quietly — alone, or accompanied by the presence and continued chatter of one or two from the bar door to the car door — with that hum still in her ears, and that sinking still in her shoulders. In bed that night, the weight of the liquor on her eyelids, she’d lay on her stomach, her cheek to cotton, and she’d pull back strings of words she’d heard. She’d think of things she could have said, but hadn’t thought of fast enough, and run through what she did say, and what had happened after.

God, I feel good, she’d think, some nights — Thank you.

God, what an idiot I am, on others.

When you’re surrounded by that many people, she explained later, to a guy she was seeing at the time, but didn’t end up amounting to anything — When you’re with that many people the social rules are sort of in a state of flux, there are too many people for everyone to focus on everyone, and someone like me, quiet and subtle — I can get lost, on purpose. Look, if there are two conversations going on and I’m in the middle, I can turn my head and look as though I’m in Conversation A and then turn my head and look like I’m in Conversation B, and no one in either knows the difference. As long as I smile, as long as I open my mouth sometime, as long as I have a drink and laugh a little, I can be as there or as far as I want to be and rarely does anyone ever catch me. I can choose to be forgettable, all the while attaining these memories of everyone else I will never, never forget. If I want, I can be invisible. Not be made it. Become it.

He didn’t understand. She found that people of a certain disposition rarely did.

Then what’s the point of being there, he asked.

She shook her head. Being there.