Something to Celebrate:
A Short Story by AW Moore
Something to Celebrate by A.W. Moore
Joshua and Karen face the mirror that spans the entire width of their oversized, modern bathroom with the dark steel fixtures. Exposed cords hang from above leading down to fixtures housing Edison Bulbs, a new design of an old design. Images of this style currently occupy the insides of most modern home magazines, and therefore, Karen had to have it. Joshua and Karen are at their respective sinks scratching and scrubbing their teeth. The sound of churning water and paste sits in the room, incapable of filling the mostly empty space. Karen is in her towel while Joshua is already wearing jeans and an undershirt. She has always wondered how he could get dressed so quickly after a hot shower, and he has always wondered why she cared.
“So, what do you want for your birthday?” Karen asks with toothpaste still in her mouth and the two laugh.
Karen will not be giving Joshua a gift this year and they both know it, but despite its absence, the night remains special, and not just because of Joshua’s birthday. Tonight will be their final date. Tonight will be their announcement.
Joshua is turning thirty-nine, which means the two have been married for eleven years now: long enough for both of them. The two have wanted to separate for a while, but there is a lot to plan. What to do with all their assets, including friends, has to be agreed upon. Joshua and Karen do things right and their divorce is to be no different.
Their final date has been meticulously planned out by Karen, and days before, she explained the meal selection with glee, “The Sea Bass is supposed to be one of the most delicious cuts for sashimi Joshua, that’s one reason why they’re being overfished and on their way to becoming a threatened species. Might as well give it a try before they are all gone right?” The sound of Karen’s voice interrupted the silence of their living room that day, as it normally did, and Joshua nodded in response as he scrolled through his iPad looking at nothing. He knew that the showy, indulgent meal that is essentially destroying an entire species of fish would complement their announcement perfectly. The show that is their marriage has been destroying them for years.
“Following the dinner, to be consumed with lots of great discussion, of course, we will make the announcement.” Karen said.
The Announcement, the real reason for the gathering. The news that will further confirm their commitment to sophistication, perfectionism, and always being the most put-together of their close friends.
Still brushing his teeth, Joshua imagines his friends’ responses. He imagines how supportive they’ll be: how envious they’ll be.
Karen rinses her mouth, flashes her smile, and meets Joshua’s eyes in the mirror, “After dinner, I want to invite Sam and Leslie out to that place we went last time with the fancy cocktails.”
“Yeah? That would be nice I suppose. I like their pine-nut infused whiskey.”
“I remember that, and after we have drinks, I really want to go dancing. The same place that Sam and Leslie took us a few years back.”
“Dancing? Come on Karen.”
“Yes dancing. You had fun the night we went.”
“I was hammered drunk the night we went.” Joshua replied.
“I know, and you can get hammered drunk again tonight if you would like on your pine-nut infused stuff. We are celebrating Joshua.”
“You want us to go clubbing?”
“No. I just want to go dancing at a cool, hip place. It’s our last date, and we agreed to enjoy it.”
Joshua breaks eye contact and sets his toothbrush into the concrete holder, it’s something so unnecessary and bold that it matched the bathroom perfectly when his phone rings. Joshua answers, it's Jake, his old friend from law school. He has two daughters now; they really are doing well. Joshua goes downstairs to chat. The two compose conversation beautifully. They start with Trump and the state of politics in America. Each communicating a cocktail made up of two parts what they heard on NPR, two parts what they read in The New Yorker, and one part their own fluid ideas, shaken so well that no one can know where the ideas come from, not even the speakers. It all pours as one original concoction, free from judgment and ridicule. The conversation ends with the simple fact that Jake and Marie won’t be coming to dinner. Nothing to worry over, they still have Sam and Leslie, alongside the proud parents Daniel and Carla, a goodish crew for the celebration.
Joshua darts back upstairs to his room where Karen is standing barefoot wearing her dress for the evening.
“What do you think?” Karen asks, and she gives a little spin.
“Wow. That looks nice, very sexy.” The dress is all black with a trapezoid design that leaves her shoulders bare. Karen really has nice shoulders too, the slim kind where the bones are exposed just enough. The dress stops midway down her thighs, giving her legs a nice length.
“Well, it’s a special occasion.” Karen smiles.
Joshua steps towards Karen, he imagines himself unbuttoning the back of her dress and
letting it fall to the floor. Joshua imagines all of the things he used to do.
“I’ll go dancing tonight.” Joshua says.
Karen grabs him tightly for what now feels like the hug from a close cousin, “I was hoping you would say that.”
The restaurant is dimly light. The tables covered in white. Surrounding the establishment are patrons talking and laughing loudly, the noise of communication is only second in volume to the opening and closing of the kitchen doors and the collisions of silverware with plates. The occasional pop of a champagne bottle is scattered within the symphony of restaurant sounds, each one sending life across the room and into the relationships of everyone there. The young, fresh-faced servers are running around filling glasses and serving up tall stacks of their city-famous tuna tartare.
Joshua and Karen, Daniel and Carla, as well as Sam and Leslie sit in a circle around the table drinking rosé. They are eating a mixture of Bluefin, Yellowtail, and Salmon; the restaurant is all out of Sea Bass. Their closest friends, Sam and Leslie, are eating silently, but it’s nothing too unusual, they are the kind of people who don’t really open up until after a few drinks. Daniel and Carla are carrying on about their oldest daughter Melody, nine years old, and how much she helps Carla with their youngest son Don, two years old.
Joshua listens and nods his head up and down, he smiles when they do, he laughs when they do, but he’s not really listening. Is anyone really listening? Joshua wishes that his old buddy Jake and his wife could have made it. He knows how to converse. He knows how to gracefully silence incessant stories involving the script for a puppet show, a production produced by a nine- year-old, a production co-starring a two-year-old, a show with an inciting incident involving a King’s spilled macaroni and cheese. Everyone laughs. Everyone goes silent. Everyone drinks.
Sam, the silent friend, sits up straight and clears his throat, “Hey everyone, I’m really glad we could all get together tonight to celebrate Joshua’s birthday.” Sam wipes his forehead and takes a drink. Leslie too takes a drink, and Joshua notices for the first time that it is only water, and not the rosé that everyone else is consuming.
“It’s a shame that Jake and Marie couldn’t be here because Leslie and I have something to share with you all. It’s something we have wanted to say for some time now, but wanted to wait for the right moment.” Sam says.
Joshua’s heart is pounding. His stomach is sinking.
“I don’t want to steal your thunder man, I know it’s your birthday, but we just have to tell you all,” Sam takes a breath, he gazes into Leslie’s eyes, she reaches her hand across the table and they touch, “Leslie and I are going to have a baby.”
So much for our night out.
Daniel and Carla jump out of their chairs. Daniel grabs Sam and pulls him up for a hug, not a bro-hug either, a real one, a kind of father-and-son hug that men only reserve for the most special of occasions. Carla hugs Leslie and pats her now precious belly. Their smiles are lighting up the room. The other patrons even notice. Karen gives Joshua a look and they too jump out of their chairs, they are mimicking every gesture of the genuine Daniel and Carla.
The couples sit back down, everyone remains silent and smiling for just a moment.
“Wow—just wow. I’m so excited for you two!” Daniel finally says.
“Yes, it is really,” Karen pauses, she gazes at a nearby table, she hadn’t noticed before but it is a family of four, the children have a few toys scattered across the table, and they appear to be telling a story that has their parents deeply engrossed. The silence of Karen’s own table brings her attention back to the conversation, “it is really great that you two are having a baby.” Karen agrees. “So Leslie, what do you plan to do about work?”
“Sam and I have been talking about that a lot, and I think I’m going to take the first year or two off.” Leslie replies.
“That’s excellent. It is so important to spend those first years together.” Carla explains.
“Wow, so no working for two years? That will be pretty difficult don’t you think? Just financially I mean.” Karen says.
“I think they are aware of their own finances Karen.” Joshua states and laughs to lighten the mood.
“I’m sure they are. I’m just thinking about when we were discussing children and how you crunched the numbers, it seemed pretty impossible did it not?” Karen replies and Joshua is left unsure if she is addressing everyone or just him.
“Well Karen, we don’t live quite as lavish as you two do.” Leslie responds.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Karen asks.
“Nothing, we just don’t have the large home and the nice, new vehicles and such. I’m sure all that does get quite expensive. I didn’t mean anything by it.” Leslie replies.
“Are you okay Karen?” Leslie asks. Karen nods again and forces a smile.
“Hey, speaking of living lavish, as we like to do,” Joshua pauses and smiles around the table, he winks at Karen, “this calls for a real celebration.” He flags down the waitress and orders two bottles of their most expensive champagne as well as a bottle of sparkling water for the mother-to-be.
The bottles pop and the bubbles pour. With a glass in hand, Joshua raises it up to the table, “To Sam and Leslie.”
“To Sam and Leslie.” Everyone repeats. Everyone clinks, and everyone drinks.
With their bellies full of alcohol and sashimi, the three couples walk outside where they stand for a moment saying their farewells—promising one another that they will get together again real soon. The girls tell Leslie to keep them informed on everything and that they can’t wait to start planning the baby shower. The guys congratulate Sam again on the new child. Daniel, the proud Father with the screenplay writing nine-year-old, ensures him that he will love being a father. Joshua agrees.
Joshua and Karen slump into their car and shut the doors, silence falls on them, so quiet that they can actually hear the faint hum of nothing. Joshua is sitting and staring across the parking lot. The family of four walks out, the Father holding hands with both his sons as they move across the parking lot, the Mother leading ahead carrying two tiny backpacks and what appears to be an authentic Batmobile. They brought their kids here? Joshua thinks.
“Well, that was total bullshit.” Karen says.
“It wasn’t total bullshit. Sam and Leslie are having a baby. That’s great news.” Joshua replies.
“Great news? It was extremely presumptuous of them to announce that at your birthday dinner.”
“Karen, come on, it was not. They just wanted to tell everyone at one time. They had no idea that we had planned an announcement of our own.” Joshua turns to Karen; he reaches across to touch her hand but she pulls away.
“Leslie is going to take a year off of work Joshua. Did you hear that?” Karen replies.
“I could have done that Joshua. We could’ve done that.”
“Aren’t we done having this conversation?” Joshua replies.
“Yeah, you’re right. I’m done talking about it, let’s just go.” Karen suggests.
“Go where?” Joshua asks.
“Where do you think? The announcement was ruined but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate. That was the plan right?”
“You want to go dancing without Sam and Leslie?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“Okay. That’s fine—and Karen,” Joshua pauses for a moment, he searches for the right words to say as he watches the family with the Batmobile drive off in their oversized Sports Utility Vehicle, “I am sorry about how tonight went.”
“Let’s just go Joshua.”
Joshua and Karen enter the club. He feels a bit ridiculous being there without Sam and Leslie but no one seems to notice. The club is too busy drinking, laughing, flirting, and dancing. The music is loud but the lights are quiet. The beat moves fast, but the drinks move slow. Joshua, finally, flags down a bartender, Karen orders her vodka tonic alongside two shots. Joshua, reluctantly, does the same.
“Here’s to us and our failed marriage!” Karen shouts over the music, she raises the one-ounce glass up in the air. The beat pulses in Joshua’s chest and the lights reflect in Karen’s eyes. She lifts her glass slightly higher, signaling Joshua. The two click and slam them back, the clear liquid burns the whole way down.
“Now you do one.” Karen shouts.
Joshua raises the glass and thinks for a moment, “Here’s to Sam and Leslie!” Karen rolls her eyes. The two click glasses, and again, slam them back.
“Let’s dance!” Karen yells, she grabs her drink and dances towards the floor. Joshua leans against the bar watching her diffuse into the crowd. Why am I here?
Joshua had originally agreed to Karen’s final date with the hope of indulging in romance one last time, which sounded nice, and while he would never admit it, he had also carried the hope of possibly scoring a dance, and maybe something more, from Sam’s now pregnant wife. An absurd fantasy that he now realizes will never happen now.
Joshua, the essentially free man, stands against the bar watching his soon to be ex-wife dance in the club. Damn, I’m an idiot. Joshua thinks as he walks toward the dance floor.
Karen has her drink up high, her head is swinging to the beat, her hair bouncing and her eyes closed. Karen drifts further and further into the sea of inebriation. She bumps her back against another man. Her eyes lock on Joshua for just a moment as he is swaying foolishly by himself, drink still in hand. She spins around and slaps her hand on the stranger’s shoulder, he too spins around. The two are face-to-face, no smiles, just movement. The young man, who appears to be ten or more years younger than Karen, looks confused, drunk, and flushed from the exertion of dancing. His shirt, surely purchased off a clearance rack, is wet with perspiration and unbuttoned enough to sport nearly half his chest. Who dresses like that?
Joshua walks back to the bar. He watches his wife and stranger dance desperately. Each aware that at any moment, this instant of connection could go out. Joshua orders another drink, bourbon on the rocks, a ridiculous choice for the setting, but something he can actually enjoy. There are women in short dresses all around Joshua as he sips, and they are not the elegant trapezoid design that Karen is foolishly dancing in now, but these skin tight, multicolored, strapless pieces of fabric that cover hardly enough. Their makeup is on thick, carefully coated to cover all the imperfections, everyone has the same bronzed faces and dark smoky eyes. Their hair is even the same, long curls everywhere, multi-layers everywhere. Then there is Karen, her pale, smooth face doesn’t take to the thick bronze paint on the other girls, her short hair won’t curl, and her dress doesn’t shine like the others, but somehow, she shines. Joshua begins to wonder what he will do now that he is single. Could he actually come here alone and pick up one of these young ladies? Joshua knows he can’t.
Karen and the nearly bare-chested stranger walk to the bar. They aren’t talking, just walking. The young man works his way through the crowd, now holding tight to Karen’s hand as if he has done something to win her from the rest. He shouts at the bartender for his attention. He shouts again, and annoyed faces all stare. He eventually gets his drinks—all assholes do. They throw back the shots and he gives Karen a playful high-five, grabbing her hand and holding on for a moment. That smile he is wearing now is one of pure delight, he must think that tonight is his lucky night. He puts his hand down low on her back as they leave the bar.
Joshua grabs his drink and cuts through the crowd of people, stopping the two just before they can enter back onto the dance floor, “Karen, let’s go!” Joshua shouts over the thumping.
“No, I’m not ready! We’re celebrating!” Karen shouts back.
“Celebrating? Come on Karen, you’re drunk, now let’s just go before things get out of hand.”
The stranger steps forward, forming a barrier made up of half a shiny, department-store-shirt and half a bare-chest, “The lady isn’t interested!” He shouts, then walks forward, shoulder-bumping Joshua and spilling half his bourbon on the front of his shirt.
Joshua grabs Karen’s arm, “We’re leaving.”
The splitting-couple, the husband-wife who pride themselves on doing everything right, leave the club—Joshua with bourbon on his shirt, and Karen too drunk to walk a straight line—followed by some asshole in an unbuttoned shirt. On the busy city sidewalk, just outside the club, Karen rips her hand away, “You don’t own me okay, we are getting divorced, you can’t just pull me wherever you want to go.” Karen is shouting as if they are still in the club.
“I know that. I just don’t know what the hell we are doing here. You want to have this kind of night, then do it alone. Don’t drag me along to watch.”
“Sam and Leslie are having a baby, Joshua.” Karen replies, her eyes are red.
“I know they are.”
“We could have done it too Joshua, we could be home right now with our child, reading books or sleeping or doing whatever the fuck families do.”
“I know we could have, but we made our decision.”
“No. You made the decision and I believed you like an idiot. I believed it would be for the best, for the better of our careers, our lives, and even our marriage. Now, look at us. We should have kept it, Joshua.” Karen is crying now, tears slowly dripping, and the guy in half a shirt is walking away.
“Why? So we could put a child through our divorce?” Karen drops down and sits on the dirty, city sidewalk, “Karen, don’t sit here.”
“We might not be getting a divorce if we would have kept it, Joshua,” Karen almost whispers, “We would have something to connect us like we used to.”
“We don’t know that, things could be worse.” Joshua replies.
“How could things be any worse Joshua?” Karen jumps to her feet, she shuffles to the side of the building in her low heels and throws up. A small audience of homeless men and passing club attendees bear witness. Joshua rubs her back, it’s only natural to do so in this situation. Karen dry heaves for a minute, her body ensuring that every drop of alcohol has been expelled. Karen wipes her face with a tissue from her purse, she straightens her back and runs her hands through her hair. She turns and faces Joshua, “Let’s go home.”
“Okay. We can get some rest and talk tomorrow, and maybe,” Joshua pauses as he stares into Karen’s eyes. What seemed so beautiful before, seems so beyond repair now, “maybe we can find a way for things to be different.”
“We can’t.” Karen replies.
“Why not?” Joshua whispers.
“Because you don’t love me Joshua—and I don’t love you.”
© AW Moore 2017