I am brusquely jolted from my mellow, Sunday morning slumber. I’ve just remembered. I have to go to a party this afternoon. Oh, heck.
“I wish I didn’t have to go,” I tell H. over a plateful of French toast.
He’s heard this before. Many times. Every time we’ve been invited to a social event involving more than two or three other people.
“Oh, I’m really looking forward to it,” he says.
H. is shy at large gatherings. I turn into a social butterfly. He spends a lot of time examining the host’s bookshelves. I flit about, trying to impress as many people as I can. He is relaxed. I have a nervous clump in my stomach. When we first met, H. remarked on how perfectly “in (my) element” I was at parties. He knows me better now.
I get dressed, paint my face and grumble, H. tactfully avoids pointing out that, had I not been invited, I would be sulking and complaining that “nobody ever invites me anywhere”. He knows me well.
We arrive. H.’s attention is drawn to the books lining the living room walls. I dive into the fray, flashing smiles, joining in the conversation, my brain on overdrive. Everybody I speak to is very pleasant, interesting, easy to to talk to. I enjoy the conversation. So there’s no reason why I should be constantly aware of the clump in my stomach.
A couple of hours later, like a cat that’s just noticed a chink in a fence, I detect an opportunity for a socially acceptable exit. I dart in search of H. and can barely repress my irritation at seeing he has just helped himself to cake. I bristle. How long is it going to take him to finish that cake? I whizz around kissing, thanking and wishing a happy Christmas. Oh, good, H. has finished his cake. Quick, the coats. Anyone would think I was having a miserable time, yet nothing could be further from the truth. I fly out of the front door like a bat out of hell, and walk fast along the pavement. All the time, I’m thinking about how much I liked the people at the party, and how much I’d like to see them again. At the same time, I can’t wait to get home. I know exactly what I will do once I’m there.
The second we’re back in our flat, I rush into the kitchen and put the kettle on. In the living room, I light the fire and all the candles and night lights. I don’t want the lamps on. Not yet. I change from my skirt and blouse into my leggings and oversized lambswool man’s cardigan.
Within five minutes of coming back home, I am sitting on the floor, staring into the wavering blue flames of the gas fire, sipping almond tea from a bone china mug, listening to the yearning violin of Von Biber’s Rosary Sonatas. The fragrant tea and the music soothe my frantic soul back into my body. H. comes to sit behind me, on the sofa, and picks up the mug of tea I’ve left for him on the low table.
We sit in silence, except for the shooshing of the gas fire and the soulful baroque violin.
The clump in my stomach slowly dissolves, and I feel whole again.
“It’s all right, we can put the lamps on now, if you like,” I say to H. as I get off the floor.