And as Elizabeth left, half the room went after her. "So much for my friends," I said to myself, while clinging to a second scotch.

Laura, the vulturess, judged me an easy pray. "You have to understand," she slugged, "that queen Elizabeth must have a court. Anyone in the theater knows that it's not the crown or the costume that makes a king, but the fear and reverence of his courtisans. You were a king yourself, once."

"And you've always been a good actress," was my dry reply.

"Thank you. And what have you been up to?"

She knew very well what I had been busy with. Deconstruction exercises in sordid bars, mostly.

The gallery was about to close, and the late summer light played through the windows and the smoke. I've always resented these socialite gatherings, where we graduates rubbed against each other and art was reduced to stamp collecting, and still I kept showing up as if I had toothbrush and towel here.

Laura wasn't letting go until she had established the exact Linnaean classification of my worminess. "You haven't written a line since..."

"Yes, I know, I was conscious through and through."

"You could have called. You know I would have been there."

"I had things to do."

"Fighting the bum maraud of the ginnels, for what I hear." She moved close enough to summon bad memories. "Why are you playing hard to get, Robert? We had good times. We can again."

Bill entered the room, straight towards Laura. "Saved by the cowbell," I muttered on the leave.

The End

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