With a light sprinkle of snow dusted across their rooftops the buildings at Sarah Lawrence looked even more like something out of the book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales my mother had given me. I felt like I had been transported not only from California to New York, but to another dimension where I might just be able to break the limb off of a tree and eat it like a candy cane, or there would be, around the next corner, a woman with an eye in her forehead that never slept; or maybe I would grow wings and fly away.
Also, we could drink until 4am, instead of 2am, and none of the bars asked for I.D. and this was truly magical. On Fridays there were dances in Bates auditorium. Outside the Cafeteria’s high square windows glistened with frost in the moonlight, but inside there were sweaty students dancing in the dark. At the back of the auditorium a doorway led to the area usually reserved only for faculty dining. Now, it was the beer room, where every Friday there was a keg with free beer. I preferred wine, but I couldn’t really turn down free beer. It was like that old bluegrass song..."with a lake of gin we can both jump in and buzzing bees in the cigarette trees, lemonade springs where the bluebird sings on the Big Rock Candy Mountains." It was heaven.
Following a path that led through the grass, or in winter the snow, I would cross Westlands lawn and cut through the lobby where red oriental carpets lay over the hardwood floors, and the light was always lowish, as if it were a drawing room in a Jane Austen book. As if Mr. Darcy were going to arrive at any moment and we had better keep our voices down. There was a broad wooden staircase, also carpeted, that led up to the faculty offices. And then another set of double doors in front, leading to another expanse of lawn or snow and another path past the theatre, the pub, under the wisteria-laden trellis-lined walkway and finally down to Mead Way which led into Bronxville.
On this night, I had dressed as a St. Pauli Girl for Halloween. Not Sleeping Beauty, or Little Three-Eyes, or Elizabeth Bennett, but a beer maiden. I even had a six-pack of St. Pauli Girl Beer with me, and I poured it into the Steins I had found at the Bargain Box in town, and offered it to the cutest boy in the room. After all, Harry had officially broken up with me, I was free to flirt with whomever I chose. Harry had come to the party early to help set up the table he had built. I was impressed that he knew how to build a table. I had never known anyone else who could build a table. I ran my fingers over the table, hating it. I hated this dorm too because it was where he had met HER. And yet here I was at HER Halloween party like a frigging ninny, pretending I didn’t care.
“You look so cute,” SHE said, with a shy demeanor I couldn’t imagine was honest.
“You too,” I told her. She was dressed as a ghost with a sheet over her.
I was sure Harry was coming back to her room later, but he had left when he saw me. Like he ought to. It wasn’t HER fault. He was my boyfriend, she was just an acquaintance, I reasoned. She had no loyalty to me.
“Do you want a beer?” I asked her.
“No, I’ve got some punch. Do you want some punch?” She said.
I was probably going to regret it but I took the punch. Wine and beer don’t mix well, but I couldn’t say no. When I turned around, punch in one hand, stein in the other, Dan was standing there looking like the answer to my prayers in a costume that looked vaguely Shakespearian. If I could catch a guy who I thought was better looking than Harry, who I thought was more talented, or more popular than Harry, I thought it would make me feel better. I thought it would indeed make me better.
“Hey, can I offer you some St. Pauli Girl,” I said, holding the stein up next to my overflowing cleavage.
He laughed. “Sure.”
I handed him the beer and then I saw April and some foreign girl whose name I don’t remember walk in wearing pumpkins on their heads. All eyes turned to them. They had carved two pumpkins clean with jagged eyes, mouth, and nose cut into the face and were wearing them with black suits like the rider in Sleepy Hollow. Good idea. Damn them.
The party went on, more people came and went and I didn’t talk to Dan again, although I observed that he still had my stein. When there was no one else left except me and HER and the two pumpkin heads, I set out across the lawn, following a path through the icy grass and piles of dead leaves.
“Dufflyn…” I heard him before I saw him.
At the bottom of the stairs leading down to the auditorium Dan stood swaying and calling my name. He was still holding the stein.
“I belive you have my cup,” I slurred, and I skittered down the steps, one hand on the rail, one hand still grasping the other stein, barreling toward him.
He laughed and stretched out a hand for me to steady myself with. I liked that he was amused by me. I couldn’t see how pathetic I was, standing there not wanting to release his huge calloused hand from mine, some awful Madonna re-mix thumping through the Bates walls.
“Do you want to dance? “ I said, “Lets go dance.”
“We can dance right here,” he said, putting his arms around me and leaning his tall skinny frame over to rest his chin in the cradle of my neck, each of us gripping a stein behind the other’s back. He was drunk, I thought. He had to be drunk.
And we stood like that, swaying to whatever song came on for a long long time, not minding the beat, nearly asleep as the dawn broke over our shoulders.
EXERCISE: 1) write a detailed description of a place from your childhood that has a resonance for you. Include all the senses with special attention to setting. 2) Now, set a scene in that place. In the scene someone should be in denial and trying to break through. Use dialogue, action, and thoughts of at least one of the characters.