Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chapter 8 - Betrayal

Judas had not slept for days. The loss of his best friend troubled him deeply and he could not help but feel somewhat responsible for the tragedy that was continuing to unfold. Tears had eroded deep cracks into his cheeks and his disposition was more beastly than human. He sat at a large table with his cohorts, gulping wine and writing a memoir about the events of weeks past. He thought about the last time his friend had broken bread with them at this very table. Every thought fuelled his misery.

“John!“ Judas demanded. “Let me see what you’ve written about that long sermon our friend gave from the mount.”

Judas started rifling though John’s papyrus scrolls without waiting for acknowledgment or permission. John looked entirely dumbfounded as Judas hurriedly looked at one scroll and then another. He looked at John scornfully and then turned to the scrolls again. His impatience grew and he became aggravated like a man who had lost something that he knew he had just set down a moment ago. Unable to find what he was looking for, threw the scrolls haphazardly back down on the table.

“Where is it?” He demanded again of John.

John shrugged.

“Do you know what you are?” Judas asked. “You’re a douche. Did anyone think to write anything about our dear friend’s sermon… anyone?”

Luke bowed his head. “I really couldn’t hear much from where I was seated, but I think I’ve got most of it from the previous sermon,” he said.

Judas grimaced. He looked at Mark and snatched up a blotched up inky piece of papyrus from a pile scattered in front of him. Waving around the fluttering piece he cried, “Mark, you’ve hardly written anything! There’s barely enough in this chapter to roll into a scroll.”

Mark hoarded the rest of his small bits of writing together into his arms to protect them from any more of Judas’s spirited taunts.

“I guess we should be thankful that you can write at all,” Judas quipped at him.

Judas looked upward, almost hopefully, but was stricken when his body as filled with renewed rage. There was no outlet for him to vent the boundless anger that bloated every corner of his being. He pointed menacingly at them, one by one, starting with Matthew and ending with John, shouting, “Douche! Douche! Douche! DOUCHE!!! How have you let everything fallen upon me? Am I the only one sensible enough to tell this story? Am I the only one who can so much as remember what our dear friend said? Is it up to me alone to write it all down? Did our friend sacrifice himself in vain?”

Judas wept. He vainly wiped away his tears as he sat back down to his own growing pile unfinished scrolls. Meanwhile Matthew, who hadn’t been given a chance to answer said nothing, secure in the knowledge that he had recorded their friend’s sermon as well as he could. Before he returned to his writing, however, he quietly pulled out a scroll identified only by a scratchy XXVII. Counting down a few lines into the text, he found the last entry he had made which mentioned Judas. He vengefully appended it with, “…and Judas went and hanged himself.”

I woke with a start. It was a strange dream. The decided that the best thing about the dream was that it wasn’t the nightmare I had been expecting. I didn’t know how I knew that I was in store for a nightmare, but I knew that one was owed me and was glad that I hadn’t suffered one this night.

Without stirring, I began to think about the previous day and puzzled over Candy’s relationship. Perhaps my intuitions were wrong and all of the assumptions I had made were wrong too. Certainly, I was not Candy’s keeper, let alone mentor. Perhaps this Roland had been her keeper all along. I could not be living in Purgatory, because every one of my friends would agree that Hawaii is paradise. I could not be suffering from the sins of pride. No one suffers from the sins of pride any more.

Still, there were unanswered questions. Was meeting Candy just an accident? How could she be so naive? Why did Roland appear so indifferent toward her? How did my life seem to fit into Dante’s divine comedy like a hand into a well formed glove? What was Roland’s role in this story?

I wondered again if I was really suffering for my pride. More questions popped into my head with seemingly no answer and decided to suppress them with a plan of action. If it was possible to suffer for one’s pride, then I would have to rid myself of the things that I took pride in. That was simple enough to reason.

To start, I would have to leave my apartment and perhaps Hawaii altogether, since both locations fuelled my pride. I would have to sell my car; like most automobile enthusiasts, I was certainly proud of my car. I would have to reduce my relationship with my friends to an arms-length. Certainly I felt pride being seen with the more attractive and influential among them. Lastly, I thought about my wife. How could I not beam with pride over my wife? Certainly, this would have to be my one indulgence.

I considered then that without the apartment or Hawaii or the cool car or the large collection of friends, I might not have a wife left to be proud of. I knew that she had grown quite accustomed to the life I was providing and might be loath to part with any of it. This was the proverbial Scylla and Charibdis of old. I supposed that if an austerity program caused her to leave, then I would be free of pride and my penance would be complete.

The only thing that haunted me was what if I was wrong? I supposed that if I was not in some sort of Purgatory and this was all my imagination, then an austerity program would simply be self-sabotage and harmful to my status, social standing and relationships for no good reason at all. I stared at the stipple in the ceiling, looking for a pattern. “A thought!” I thought; I needed a clever thought.

I rolled out of bed, clambered into the shower and let the morning thought process begin. My best thoughts always came to me in the shower. Well that is to say, if it’s a normal everyday shower experience without screaming or interruptions. I washed my hair and put my head under the showerhead stream and let my thoughts swirl around like ballerinas on a grand stage, dipping this way, lilting that and leaping to and fro.

Then one idea caught my eye. It was a clever idea, wearing the best ballerina costume of them all. Of course! I would conduct a test. Scientific method would get to the root of all these questions. All I had to do is conduct a simple test and examine the results. If the results pointed to my life mirroring Dante’s then my austerity program would have to follow. If the results were inconclusive, I’d know that my recent divine revelations were all in my imagination.

The test, I decided, would be to act out the opposite of the obvious cure. Rather than embrace the humility that one would naturally need to escape Purgatory, I decided to indulge myself wildly with pride. I’d make a spectacle of everything that gave me pride and monitor the results. If pride was the problem then it could be witnessed that even more pride would certainly accelerate my descent back to hell.

I was elated at having come up with this clever new idea, but overall I didn’t feel good particularly about myself. Drying off, I recalled that the night previous I had exploited my friendship with Candy to gain some sort of camaraderie with my mother-in-law. I’d been in league with the devil before, but never quite so literally. I could taste the stench of it as though it had permeated my entire body. I wondered whether this nausea was one of the purgatorial punishments in store for me.

I decided to atone for that particular sin at another time and began to plan for my experiment with excessive pride. To fully awaken my pride, I’d have to let everything out of the bag. I’d have to flaunt whatever excess I could afford, display whatever feathers I could unfurl. This experiment, I concluded could cause damage of its own. I would monitor the situation carefully, however, with special attention to the aspects of my life that were already damaged and watch to see if those areas grew more intolerable, eased, or stayed the same. If they were to grow even slightly more intolerable, then I would have proof that pride was to blame.

It was a capital plan. I decided that it would not profit me to go into work today and waited face the women as they awoke. A proud man would take strict possession of the throne in his kingdom and that’s just what I did. I made myself a coffee and sat down at my computer to have a look at what was going on in the world. There was some bullshit about the Patriot act taking away any rights I thought I might have had while living in the US. There were a few chat requests from friends around the world and I granted these requests, as proudly as possible. In a moment of weakness, I checked to see what was going on at work. As usual, there was nothing going on at work.

After losing myself in Internet chat Angelica awoke. She seemed surprisingly fresh and high-spirited for someone that had just opened her eyes. I braced myself slightly as she started to speak.

“Robyn, did you hear last night?”

I shrugged. They only ever spoke in Macedonian. There was never anything for me to hear.

“It’s Henri, my husband. He asked for me to return on Sunday. Did you hear?”

Oh frabjous day! I did not hear this. I thought about my dream with Judas. I wondered if this news could be related. Henri spoke French and I understood a little of that; much more than I understood Macedonian in any case. I tried to do a little Freudian free association in my head… “Judas. Betrayer. Betrayal. Hanging. Lie. Lying. Masked betrayal. Why the hell was I being sympathetic to Judas in my dreams?”

I clearly had no talent for free association. Maybe logic would work. I started again. Betrayal had to be in there somewhere. In Dante’s Inferno, the Beast spent all of his days chewing on Judas. If Judas was not the betrayer, then… Wait! My beast was chewing on me and I hadn’t betrayed anyone, despite her invitations for me to betray Svetlana. The Beast in Dante needed sinners to be relevant and so did mine. She wanted or rather needed me to sin, but like me, she had overlooked my pride. She hadn’t figured out that perhaps, I was sinning enough already.

“Did you hear me?” Angelica said, clearing her throat.

“Oh yes! Oh wow… ummm… So you’ll be leaving Sunday?” I confirmed, trying desperately not to show my overflowing levels of excitement from the news.

“Yes, I think is best that I go back as he asked. Henri is not feeling well and I should be with him.”

“Well then, I think we should make sure that we send you off in style. There are only two more nights. I think that tonight we should return to the Le Baron Noir! What do you say to that?”

“This is a brilliant idea!” said Angelica, who seemed to be genuinely thrilled at the suggestion.

“Well then. Tell Svetlana when she wakes and I will round up the usual suspects.”

I decided right then that I would go in to work. I rushed into the bedroom and changed into work clothes that could pass as night time drinking and carrying on clothes. I stopped briefly to shower my beautiful bride with light morning kisses and after whispering a drawn out “Je t’aime,” I headed to the office. The office, I decided would be a great command center to plan the evening’s festivities.

It was mid-morning when I arrived downtown and thought I could take care of my pledge to Candy right away. I called. One ring. “Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!”

“Hey gorgeous! Ready for coffee?” I asked?

“Yes of course! I’ll be at MY Starbucks in ten minutes. Can you get me my special?”

“Yes of course,” I replied. “See you there.”

I was already near Candy’s Starbucks and headed straight in. I ordered and paid for her custom frappuchino, my ordinary latte and took them to a little table in an outdoor nook facing Bishop Street. The sun was warm, my mother-in-law was leaving, I was embracing my pride and the world was good. When Candy arrived, I hardly noticed. I did notice. She was wearing a red and white print dress and she looked like heaven.

She sat at the table and we exchanged our traditional fake kiss. I took a moment to enjoy the setting a second time now that Candy was in it. I imagined how another man might pass by our little protected nook and see me sitting with Candy. I imagined how he might feel the slightest bit of envy. I let it feed my pride. I imagined that he had more envy still and my pride began to swell.

“So what’s new in your life? It feels like we haven’t talked since forever!”

“It was yesterday, baby.” I chuckled.

“Tell, tell, tell!”

“OK. Well the first thing is that I’ve been meeting you every day as per our pledge, but I’ve been meeting you outside of my life. I’ve decided that this has to change.”

Candy drew a pout. “You’re not going to break your promise are you?”

“No, of course not. What I was going to say is that I’ve been avoiding my home and I’m not going to do that anymore. I’d like you to meet me at my house more often, after work, or whenever is best for you, so that we can keep our pledge, but that I can also keep my life the way it is. Do you think that will work? You’ll get to see more of Svetlana that way.”

I had successfully won an argument with my own brain that Candy should spend more time with Svetlana. This, I had decided, would be good for both her training and for my pride.

“I’d love to see more of Svetlana,” Candy announced, “but won’t she be bothered if I’m around your house all the time?”

“I’m quite sure that she will enjoy your company,” I lied. I really wasn’t sure at all.

“Well I love Svetlana and Angelica. I can’t wait to start spending more time with them.”

“That leads me to my next bit of news,” I added. “Angelica will be cutting her trip short… I mean it was extended, but shorter than the… she will be leaving on Sunday.”

Candy’s eyes grew wide like something was wrong.

“Her husband is missing her and she is going back to take care of him,” I assured her.

Candy looked relieved and I secretly marvelled at my own words, since I could not imagine anyone missing my mother-in-law. If I was Henri, I would have surely changed my name and moved to another country by now.

“Oh we should do something for Angelica before she goes,” Candy said.

“I’m already on it. We are all going to Le Baron Noir tonight. I’ll set the time for about seven. If you want to come to Chez Robyn between after work and then, I’m sure that the girls will be happy to see you.”

“Oh I’d love to, but I have to go to church Friday night to mark the Sabbath, but I will come out after that.”

“You know, it doesn’t make any sense to mark the Sabbath and then go out drinking. Skip this week and come out with us. It might be your last chance to see Angelica. Hey, maybe you can invite your friend from church, remember? Maybe she’s had a chance to study her Bible since then.”

Candy smiled politely at this and after a pause, allowed herself to laugh at this. I was already laughing courteously and started to laugh from my belly as soon as Candy opened up. I did a quick pantomime of her friend bowing her head and charging out of Le Baron Noir which was evidently a good impression as Candy broke into a full laugh. With tears of laughter in our eyes and still giggling, we got up from the table and headed for the door.

“OK,” Candy said. “I’ll walk over to your place after work. I hope Svetlana can help me to freshen up a little for the night out.”

“Svetlana,” I assured her, “has all of the latest technologies in female grooming known to man. And many things that are undoubtedly unknown to man. You’ll be in good hands.”

“Then it’s a date!”

Candy presented the back of her cheek for a goodbye kiss and skipped off to work. It was 11am and about time for me to get to the office. I had a party to arrange. Denizens of the office greeted my late arrival with a mixture of suspicion and revelry. Some were happy to see that at least someone at the office wasn’t underneath the thumb of “the man”, while others showed increasing amounts of contempt for my late arrivals and sundry no-shows. I brushed off the contempt quite easily. My mother-in-law was leaving town. A public flogging in the boardroom would only have slightly dented my fully inflated mood.

Shutting the door behind me, I swung into my desk chair and fumbled for Jamie’s number on my phone.

“Jamie, Jamie, Jamie!” I squealed!

“Don’t tell me, let me guess.” Jamie replied, not bothering to say hello. “Your mother-in-law is leaving.”

I was dumbfounded. Was she psychic? “Are you psychic?” I asked.

“No,” she replied, “but there is nothing else that I can imagine that would make you this excited.”

“Well, bring your psychic powers to the Baron’s tonight. It is a time for celebration!”

“Oh, tonight? I have a date, but I’ll let you know.”

“Noooooooooo!” I protested. “You’re services are needed at the Baron’s. Bring your date with you. He might even still like you after he meets us.”

Jamie quoted some personal dating statistics she had compiled, noting the instances where I had met her prospective dates. The numbers seemed to indicate that I was somehow badly influencing her overall dating fortunes. This was not a total surprise to me, though I never expected to hear actual statistics broken out so succinctly.

“Bring him, bring him, bring him! If he can’t handle your friends, then who needs him? Not you! Bring him!”

“OK, OK, I’ll see what I can do,” Jamie relented. “It’s not a promise.”

“Thank you, baby! See you there!”

We said our formal goodbyes and I popped open facebook to make the rest of my invitations. I invited Heather of course, other Jamie, Melanie, and a half a dozen other women on my short list. It wasn’t more than a few minutes later before I had a couple of confirmations. Having concluded my morning business, I hopped up from my desk and stalked the office for someone to take to lunch.

As a contractor, I used to take the executive HANICans out to lunch regularly, usually one at a time to gather their thoughts on how my projects were going. I’d always pay, so as to ensure the chance of their acceptance and increase their candidness while we chatted over lunch. As an employee, I was more likely to take less senior staff for lunch. They never questioned me about my work and this was a good thing, since it was nearly impossible for me to actually do anything useful.

June answered the call. She was a simultaneously mousy and self determined go-getter from the underwriting department. HANICans soon learned that when they had unsolvable problems, that June would eventually solve them, whether they were related to her department or not. June seemed to balance her apparent dutiful loyalty to the workplace and my contempt for employment in general with the greatest of ease. She made me wait less than two minutes before we were in downtown Honolulu and ready to choose a lunch spot.

Hawaiians take their food very seriously, that is to say they are not terribly concerned with quality, but they are concerned with quantity and variety. For example, where many North American cities might have an Asian food restaurant simultaneously serving sushi, pho, and won ton soup, downtown Honolulu features Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Japanese, and Philippine food each with very different menus and often competing with one another side by side. The only similarity between them is that they all serve a lot of food for the money.

“Italian?” I asked.

June nodded willingly as she always did. I wondered momentarily if I could have made a suggestion that she wouldn’t have agreed to. It didn’t matter. Soon we were seated, beverages and two chicken cannellini specials were ordered and the conversation began.

“OK, I had this dream last night and I wondered what you might think about it.”

“Oh,” she said, “I thought you were going to start talking about work.”

“No. Fuck work. I want to tell you about this dream,” I continued.

I recited the dream to her starting with Judas’ tears and ending in Matthew’s unkind entry into the twenty-seventh chapter of his gospel. June listened in what appeared to be an equal measure interest and astonishment. The food arrived and she seemed almost more interested than I had hoped she would be, barely touching her food until the story was over. After the dream had been laid before her, I took a bite of chicken and asked; mouth still half full. “By the way, have you ever read the gospels?”

“Of course!” She exclaimed. “I’m originally from Tennessee. I think I had a copy of the bible in my crib. I’m actually quite a bit more surprised that you’ve read them.”

“It’s just an elaborate parlour trick for me. I quote them or correct other peoples’ misquotes to win drinks in the bar,” I explained as June raised an eyebrow. “Now they gospels float around in my head with nothing else to do but invade the occasional dream I guess. So, what do you think?”

“Well…” She paused. “Who were you in the dream?”

I paused. I ate. I thought. Who was I in the dream? Was I Judas? Had I been accused of betrayal and looking for sympathy? I thought about whose faces I could see in the dream. I was looking at Judas. I clearly wasn’t him. I remembered John’s face too, when Judas accused him. Then I remembered Luke and then Mark. What a vivid imagination I had. Somewhere in my brain the images of four disciples were floating around just for me to use in my dreams.

I thought about Matthew. There was no face. I thought about when Matthew pulled out the scroll. It was my hand! I wasn’t the betrayer. I was the storyteller and I had changed the story to make the betrayer even more despicable. I changed the story to make the betrayer as evil as I could make him out to be. It was a strange dream.

“I was Matthew!” I exclaimed, almost a little too excited about the discovery.

June twisted her face a little.

“Uh huh,” she said with mocking disbelief. “I have to get back to work.”

“Oh dammit! I haven’t even eaten anything yet. Go ahead. I’ll get this and catch up with you later.”

“It was certainly interesting!” she said as she gathered her purse and rushed for the door.

Alone.

There are few urban experiences that give a greater sense of aloneness than sitting in a restaurant at a table for one. I hurriedly resumed eating my meal while considering the revelation that my dreams had been making me into Matthew. I knew that my mother-in-law had laid the groundwork for me to think about betrayal and I began to muse at how my dreams provided me with my very own Judas for experimentation purposes.

My wife would play the part of Judas of course since that was the only person who could betray me with any real effect on my life. The gospels go on to tell about how the beast had entered Judas. I had my own beast; that checked out. Like Matthew Levi, the former tax collector, I worked with numbers and other people’s money. All I needed were a couple of other bit players and I had myself a sorted out dream.

Or did I? Was my dream some sort of prophesy or was it just screaming the glaringly obvious to me, that I was in peril of betrayal. I could not accept that. I knew that my marriage was on a slippery slope, but betrayal was not a possibility. Perhaps there was another betrayal at hand. Perhaps I would be betrayed professionally. Perhaps a co-worker was laying a trap to end my employment. I could speculate no further. I couldn’t imagine that I was important enough in anyone’s life to be considered for betrayal. I decided to shelve my thoughts on this topic and return to my life; to real life and leave my dream world behind for a time.

Between fiddling with the software that I would present the following week and chatting with co-workers and checking and re-checking my facebook page, the afternoon flew past without incident. I was ready for the Baron and I could already taste the bubbles that were about to flow. I was about to call Svetlana and let her know that I’d head straight to the Baron’s from work, in order to secure the back bar for our personal use, when the phone rang.

“Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!”

It was Candy. “Hey baby!” I chirped, “Have you made plans for the evening? I’m taking Svetlana and Angelica to the Baron Noir later for celebratory drinks. Angelica is on her way home on Saturday. Would you like to come along with us?”

“You invited me to your house, this morning, silly!”

“Oh dammit, I’m sorry. I actually did some work this afternoon. I guess I forgot. OK. Don’t move, I’ll meet you on the street and we can walk to my place together.”

I made a u-turn and walked briskly to intercept Candy on Merchant Street. I found her there standing coyly shifting her balance from one leg to the other by bending one knee, then the next. It made the skirt of her dress wave seductively in the wind. Glancing around I noticed that I was not the only one noticing her. She was a vision. I caught up to her and pecked her on the cheek.

“We walk!” I exclaimed. “How was your day? Did you earn your keep?”

“Oh it is the same every day.” She confided, “I’m all over the place at the office doing different things for everyone. I wish I could just get settled in one department.”

“Be thankful you feel needed. A person can never underrate that feeling; and I don’t just mean at work.”

We walked. Candy sang. When we didn’t have anything specific to talk about Candy would break into little voice exercises, or practice some song she was working for the Honolulu Opera. She would attract strange stares when she did this. We attracted strange stares. I think that perhaps people would think that I should stop her from singing and attracting stares. I loved her singing, however and I was not likely to stop anything so beautiful; not for something as selfish as stopping strange stares.

We arrived at the apartment full of energy. Strange Macedonian conversation flowed from the lanai. I walked outside to greet Svetlana with a kiss. “I have a surprise for you,” I said.

“Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!” Candy called as she swung around behind me and reached for Angelica.

“Oh, what a great surprise!” cried Angelica.

“Oh, it is so good to see you too!” cried Candy.

The women chirped and cooed and echoed in the wind. I withdrew to the kitchen for a glass of Chablis and a moment to reflect. It was impossible. Coherent thought failed me as a wave of mixed emotions cascaded through my brain. My mother-in-law was leaving. I would have time alone with Svetlana to iron out our troubles. Candy would be a fun distraction from the everyday and maybe even make a good sister for Svetlana, who I had decided, spent too much time alone in the apartment. I downed my first glass of Chablis and walked out to the lanai with three glasses and a bottle for Candy and the women. They were all eager for to get started on the evening.

By the second glass of Chablis, the three of them were stripped down to their underwear and running in and out of the bedroom wearing this outfit and that, periodically asking me for my opinion. They asked whether the black shoes were better than the silver. They asked whether a certain dress needed a belt, or whether a wide belt was better than a narrow belt. They asked if the jewellery matched the dress or the belt or the shoes. They showered. They applied make-up and they dressed in their selected outfits and announced that they were ready; nearly ready. Svetlana, at the last minute, changed out of her dress and into one of her earlier selections. Now we were ready. I called a cab to meet us downstairs and in moments we were off to the Baron’s for a night of adventure.

It was a five minute ride to the Baron’s and we wasted no time in getting ourselves to the back bar. We climbed aboard our barseats, first Candy, then me, then Svetlana and lastly Angelica. It didn’t take Vincent more than a moment to start boasting about his new secret stash of wines from around the world and we were all busily dipping into glass after delicious glass.

“To beautiful women!” laughed Angelica, who nodded in appreciation toward Candy and her daughter.

“To beautiful women!” we all shouted in unison.

“To us, baby.” I added as I clinked Svetlana’s glass and carefully looked into her eyes.

“To us, too!” Candy added, clinking her glass into mine.

“You look so beautiful, Candy. Just like my daughter. It is incredible,” interrupted Angelica.

For the first time in the evening I noticed that Candy had changed a little. At first I thought it was an illusion, or my brain playing a little trick on me. I looked at Candy more closely, then Svetlana and back again. There was a change. Candy looked a lot more like Svetlana. I checked and rechecked. I cleaned my glasses. It was true. After repeated checks, it seemed clear that Svetlana had made up Candy to look just like herself. They had the same eye shadow, the same lipstick, the same eyebrow pencil, the same mascara and the same blush.

“Baby?” I asked, looking at Svetlana quizzically.

She was about to answer when I noticed over my right shoulder that Jamie had walked through the entranceway with a tall, possibly Indian-looking fellow behind her.

“Jamie!” I shouted.

“Oh, Jamie!” Candy repeated.

The other two women made no verbal acknowledgement of Jamie’s entrance and only nodded before returning to their drinks and each other.

“Hey everyone! This is Vraj.”

Sliding off my stool, I leaned in for Jamie’s hello kiss. She usually aimed for my cheek, but this evening it was on the lips for reasons I could only guess. Perhaps she was expecting more from Vraj later tonight. I shook Vraj’s hand, only to find his handshake to be far less firm than I might have expected. I slid back onto the barstool and waved for the bartender’s attention to herald the arrival of our new friends.

“Hey, why don’t we all move to that table in the corner while we still can? There will be room for all of us there.” Jamie said.

I glanced across the bar. Svetlana, Candy and the beast all pretended not to have even heard her suggestion. Women can be so cruel to one another I thought, as I found myself in a rather typical situation. I was once again caught between the desires of to women.

“Yes. Secure the table Jamie and we’ll be there shortly after we get our bar tab sorted,” I said to buy some time. I was counting on Vraj to keep her entertained while I coaxed the women to leave their seats.

It took about an hour to pry the women away from the bar to take up a position in the corner of the room. We sat at a large table for about 10 people. Heather floated in and kissed me on the cheek. I had no sooner begun to wonder why she had only kissed me on the cheek when I noticed what might have been her fiancé trailing behind her.

“Oh you’ve found him!” I exclaimed, reaching past her to shake his hand.

“Yes. I just got back to…”

“Yes he’s back to help finish our move,” she interrupted. “Then our wedding is two weeks after that. The only problem is that we haven’t found a place for the wedding reception. We have decided on Bellow’s beach for a beach wedding, but really where we go from there is still in the air.”

“I’m sure something will turn up. I can ask around too if you like.”

“Oh you are such a sweetheart,” she confided. “Please do. Oh! I almost forgot. Come to our house for a bit of a housewarming party next weekend. We would love to have you.”

I looked up at Brad, who nodded in agreement.

“Well, unfortunately Svetlana will be back in Paris that week, but I could drop by on my own.”

“Oh don’t be silly! Bring Candy with you!”

I didn’t fully understand her excitement with the idea of me bringing Candy, but I said that I would speak to Candy about the possibility and let her know.

More friends came by our corner of the Baron Noir. Amazon came next, a tall redhead who might remind you of a cross between an actress and a martial arts champion. Unlike Candy, Amazon wasn’t born Amazon. It was a nickname that suited her personality and she took to using it herself. Her presence was stunning and severe and generally overtook most situations. At our table, however, she in this group she just numbered among the large personalities rest. She took a point position at one end of the table and never sat, enabling herself to break away to talk to this person or that, for it seemed as though she knew nearly everyone.

Friends and local celebrities poured through the back room door. Some stopped long enough to greet everyone and some stopped to join the merriment. One reveller who I was happy to see, was an older fellow I knew named Marcel. Marcel’s real name escapes my memory, but he explained that he needed a second name for partying. In this way he could party in the most outrageous way, he argued, without his party persona being mistaken for his professional persona. In real life I gathered that he was a professor of medicine, though the topic of medicine never came up in conversation at any parties where I had run into him.

What made this meeting of Marcel stand out in my mind was that through no small effort he engineered the seating arrangement of our group to put himself next to Angelica. At first, I pitied him and was going to warn him that she was… Upon reflection I thought that she was leaving and no harm could be done. I left them all at the table briefly to go and hunt for Candy who had flitted off. I thought that she was perhaps overdue from checking in with us and was curious as to what she had discovered elsewhere.

I found her at the front bar, chatting with a couple of taller gentlemen with whom I had never made an acquaintance. They were tourists (one could tell from the white sneakers) and had taken an interest in Candy for the obvious reason of capping a visit to Hawaii with a nice last minute conquest. Candy had no idea of their intentions of course and chatted away as though she had just made two new best friends. I could see the look of disappointment in their eyes as I sidled up to Candy and whispered to her.

“Hey! We have an invite for next weekend if you are interested.”

Candy’s already visible glow intensified. “Invite? Where?”

“Heather and her future hubby asked if we’d fly up to their new place next Saturday. Apparently the view is amazing and Heather has the largest wine cellar of anyone I’ve ever heard of.”

“Oh perfect!” She said, feigning a slight pout, “But what about Svetlana?”

“She has to go back to Paris this week, so Heather asked me to invite you. They are preparing for their wedding and, of course would like us to go to that too, but they are also in a panic for a place to host their wedding reception.”

Candy, screwed up her face for a moment. The tourists, who were talking to themselves during our conversation started heading for the door.

“I’ve got it! They can have the reception at Raymond’s!”

“Really?” I asked sceptically.

“Really, really, silly! I’ll call him right now and ask. It’s for the Saturday after next, right?”

“Wow, are you sure you should ask?”

Thought of Raymond’s indifference with Candy welled up in my thoughts. Before she could answer she had a cell phone to her ear and was walking out the front door of the Baron’s. I caught up with her just in time to hear. “Uh huh… uh huh… Ooooh! I love you Raymond! Bye bye!”

Candy’s wattage was at a maximum setting. Her glow lit the street.

“The reception is going to be at Raymond’s!!!!! Oh I have to tell Heather. Come! Let’s tell Heather!”

Almost embarrassed at the sudden news, I followed Candy back to the back bar. Being a little too late to make the announcement, I saw the two women jumping up and down in a loose embrace. I was given a shower of kisses by both of them for having solved Heather’s problem so suddenly. For an instant, I thought that this would be good for my pride experiment. My pride faded quickly, however, when I got the creepy feeling that I was being watched. This shower of kisses could most certainly be used by someone as a flagrant example of my imagined infidelity.

I turned slowly back to look toward Angelica. Svetlana had paid the scene no mind and was chatting with Vraj and Jamie. They were holding hands across the table and…

“No fucking way!” I muttered to myself.

My eyes rounded onto the impossible. Angelica was kissing and being kissed by Marcel. They were passionate kisses; not the kind of kisses that one might give as a prelude to sex, but rather the kind of kisses that one would receive during sex. My brain was incapable of processing this information and I looked away as quickly as I could.

I returned to the attention still being showered upon me. Heather was joking about how with all the women in my life, I’d still have trouble finding a date for her wedding, since Svetlana would be gone, Candy would be with Raymond and it looked like Jamie was quite happy with her new find.

“I’m sure there is someone out there who is not too embarrassed to be seen with me,” I chuckled.

Candy confirmed that we would be there next Saturday and I invited the whole table to join us at Chez Robyn’s for a nightcap. In an unusual precedent, everyone had an excuse; everyone except Marcel. Marcel was the only taker and such a very eager one at that. In what seemed like only moments, the four of us had finished our champagne, cleaned up the bar tab and rocketed back to our apartment in Marcel’s incredibly large SUV. In what seemed a twinkle, Svetlana was lounging on the settee, Marcel and Angelica on the divan and I was selecting a bottle of champagne for the occasion.

“What goes with betrayal?” I murmured to myself. That was easy; Cava. It pretends to be champagne and then when it’s too late, you discover that it isn’t.

I carried two glasses out to Marcel and Angelica. No longer satisfied with kissing, Marcel had taken to massaging Angelica’s tits. She laughed as though it were a mere trifle. Marcel reluctantly freed one of his hands from Angelica’s breasts to take the champagne. Angelica; when she reached for her glass she gave me a look. It was a steely look that one might expect from a war general on the front lines of battle, a general who smeared with blood, both enemy and friendly. She knew that she could do whatever she wanted and that I was helpless to do anything about it. She knew she held the key to my marriage and all I had to do was cross her.

What could I do? I could tell her secret to Henri. Unlike her, I liked Henri. Would he be more hurt by knowing about this scene or not knowing? I was certainly more hurt by knowing. It was too late. I knew. I fetched Svetlana her glass and remained silent for the rest of the spectacle. As we all grew tired, Marcel had failed to coax Angelica back to his place and eventually he made his retreat. He thanked us for the wine and the company and departed. Angelica had made quite enough use of him.

I went to bed alone.

I thought about my dream. Yes, I was Matthew the chronicler, but I was also John with all his pedantry and nonsense who kept missing the point. I was Mark who could barely write and for a moment I was Luke who seemed to miss half the story. I was Judas too. I wanted more from my other parts and wept because I knew that I would never get what I needed from them. I had betrayed myself and soon I would be sacrificed.

This was not a dream about five disciples I decided; it was a dream about five writers who had an important story to tell and disagreed on how to tell it. Little did I know how prophetic the dream would be in the months to follow as my own writing began to take form.

I made myself scarce the next day. Angelica packed and schemed with Svetlana. I went for a long walk that took up the better part of the day. I had a quick Starbucks with Candy in keeping with our pledge. She was still on a high about the upcoming wedding and it was the only thing she seemed capable of talking about.

That evening, I found the women still packing. I didn’t take note of what they said to each other, since it was mostly in Macedonian anyway, but Angelica caught my attention at one point when Svetlana was in the bathroom.

“She’s a slave!” she accused. “To you, she is nothing but a cheap slave!”

That was the last thing she ever said to me. I ignored her through dinner and went to bed early; alone again. When I awoke, Svetlana was sleeping next to me. The sun was pouring in the windows. I lurched out of bed and stumbled into the living room. That beast, that mother-in-law, that horrible, horrible creature was gone.

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