The axiom might as well have been, It’s better to die by suffocating in one’s sheets than endure a second night with Mrs. Rothschild.
“My dear, you must know that I bare absolutely no closer a relation to that old family than Venus bares to Mercury,” in her planetary drawl.
She resembled an old, finely carved timepiece which rang every six hours, most bothersomely at midnight, the wonking hem of an electric cargo curving unsteadily around steel track, arriving before a crowd, beady and wet with the tears of her own success.
“Such malefactors as you should be split at the shins and stoned!” she said after the oysters in a campy Uxburg tavern. She was speaking of the exodus of sponsors from the hot air balloon show in Radliff the following spring. There were many rows that evening. I’d told her I intended to be more open minded regarding canine passengers, namely that furrowed drooling bark, living mascot of the gnomic Wasserman Collective.
Her ashram, kept at the temperature of an Icelandic sauna under the presumption that it occluded flying insects, made all tarot card parties exasperating. Mrs. Rothschild was perfumed with gin and rarified in her talk of jockeys less available than the King of Prussia, the amber stallion named Red Light with the shoulders like great upside-down artichoke. She would flap together her lips while many women and few men, I included, bore witness to her immense gifts of social commerce.
I was caught in an irregular state of naked confusion when one morning she blurted, with the ash and sessile oak particularly resplendent in the view through the window, “I’m very much in error, Cal. Aren’t I? I’m very much in error and no one seems to know what to do with me.”
“You’re not in error. Everyone loved the balloon. It received much praise.”
“I’m drowning and there is nowhere for me to go anymore, Cal.”
“I’ll take you wherever you’d like to go. Where would you like to go?”
“Show me your palm.”
I held out my hand. She touched each finger, drawing lines into the center.
“You’re going to live a fine life, Cal,” she said. “Fine and long.”
“If you stop that scratching we will both live forever.”
“My dear, I die every night. I slip over and I’m falling and I’m blind for a good while. You’re a doll.”
That afternoon, Mrs. Rothschild and I danced a waltz on the high sward with the ash and the black poplar and the crack willow and the alder and the sessile oak and the wych elm and the crab apple and the hornbeam and the gean cherry and the white willow and the ancient yews, green and bursting with hawfinches.