Passing Fancy
Rescue Distance, acrylic by Lakshmi Gill

 

Just hold your tongue. You don’t need to talk. Don’t need to explain. Pretend the cat got your tongue. And you don’t need to make eye contact with anyone. 

 

How many steps do you think it would take to get to the buffet table? Then you could shove some food in your mouth and just point at your chewing full mouth if someone attempts to converse. 

Eddie can do all the talking when he returns. Social Eddie. He can strike up a conversation with anyone, talk about anything.  You don’t need to assure anyone that he’ll be coming back. He is. He may not be coming back for you, but he’ll be back. Eddie doesn’t miss a buffet. 

Eleven steps. You’ve never managed to hold a dish and a glass and drink and eat.  Forget the drink – you need to keep a clear head.  Lose the drink, just like you lost the illusion of Eddie tonight. You left him in a room, and when you returned he was gone. He moved charmingly among the couples, lingering just long enough with each group to provide the precise amount of distraction. He was in stark contrast to the kid picking up stray glasses, struggling to balance them on his tray — the temporary waiter dressed in his neat, shiny vest, but still looking disheveled.  Shine your damn shoes – they’re a dead giveaway that you’re a fill-in.  

You notice things like this. Tonight you notice Eddie. You never plan to be only a temporary person in someone’s life. A passing fancy is what Aunt Gabriella would call it.  It’s what she called Eddie when she met him. “Don’t sink your teeth in, he’s just a passing fancy.”

“Eddie and Lorna.”  You might have carved that into a tree, but you doubt it was ever like that. Aunt Gabriella and everyone else balancing their drink and dish, making small talk and eye contact, they always knew Eddie wasn’t coming back for you. What they didn’t know was that Eddie was coming back to finish scoping out the place. 

Like you, Uncle Fred bought Eddie’s charm just as he would admire a forged painting. He has a taste for all things that appear expensive, sophisticated, worth wasting time and money on. Uncle Fred will never admit misjudgment. He’ll blame you for bringing in such a man, and Aunt Gabriella will try to console you, “Honey, I told you he was only a passing fancy.” 

Eddie won’t take one item from Uncle Fred and Aunt Gabriella. The missing bracelets, wallets, and watches of their guests will be blamed on the temporary help, and Eddie will shake his head, agreeing it is a shame the way people act. 

Sleight of hand is Eddie’s expertise. You should rat him out, but he’ll turn on you – say you’re an accomplice.  He’ll prove it by pulling his Rolex watch from your cleavage. 

Eddie warned you the first night you slept together. “I want all the best for you, baby!”  You didn’t know how he was getting all the best — that the lovely art receptions and after-show parties were his working grounds — until he performed his dark magic here at Aunt Gabriella and Uncle Fred’s gathering. 

You challenged him tonight, and he pulled you in with those astonished eyes, saying he felt hurt that you thought he would ever have taken anything from your family.

You slashed back, “Shouldn’t I be the one insulted? Why not take my necklace?” He smirked then, lifted it off your neck with one finger.  “Fake, baby, fake!” Dropping it back against your skin, he flicked your chin with his finger to indicate just how much you were scorned. 

How did he stay so cool, so empathetic to the others, the gasping women and the cursing men, when people started to report missing items? He was asked to go with Uncle Fred and a few others to confront the temporary help. 

The first night you were with him you thought he was the most romantic man. The way he undressed you, removing even your earrings without you realizing it, then handing you the earrings. That smile, those eyes. Eddie is a magician, but tonight you know something else, and all the magic ends, doesn’t it?

When he comes back in he fills his plate, puts an arm around you and leads you to a quieter corner. He winks at you, again making you an accomplice. He feeds you an olive when you attempt to talk. He whispers into your hair, “Later, just you and me.” 

You will be ever grateful to Aunt Gabriella and Uncle Fred for taking you in, in time to save you from foster homes when the verdict came down and your dad was sent to prison for embezzling – whatever that meant. At eleven years old you only knew a second parent was being removed from you. Up to then you thought he’d been doing an okay job of being a mom and dad for the seven years that had passed since your Mom died. Then Aunt Gabriella showed up at the court with documents prepared by Uncle Fred’s lawyer and claimed custody of you. 

They asked to be your family, wanted you to live with them, just temporarily, while dad was “away.” Aunt Gabriella was the most beautiful and put together woman you had ever seen. “Sure.”  So, they moved you into their home — where you had your own bedroom and bathroom! — and sent you to a private school. There was a calmness in their home that you’d never known before; the school encouraged girls to present themselves with chin up, good posture, and manners. Aunt Gabriella often took you shopping for clothes and matching accessories. She only refused you one thing – talking about your dad, her brother.  You would be released from them, if you wanted to be, after turning 18 years old. Dad would be released from prison no sooner than your 18th birthday. 

Growing up with Fred and Gabriella as guardians and then going to college, which they paid for, you became a woman. Eddie said, “a perfect woman.” But that wasn’t true. You smoked cigarettes, something you hid from him and your aunt and uncle through an exhausting routine that involved spraying your clothes, brushing smoke from your hair, sucking on mints, and applying perfume. Of course, you tried to stop this habit that was no longer considered glamorous. Now you just stick your head out the door or window and suck in some fast drags of nicotine. Still, it is your vice. Now you realize Eddie isn’t perfect either. He uses his skill to rob people of precious trinkets. 

He grips your upper arm tightly the entire time you and he are saying your goodbyes. Aunt Gabriella is devastated. Her dinner party ruined. Say something. No.  You’re a scaredy-cat. You let him take you home to your apartment, you feign a headache and lock yourself in.

You don’t return Eddie’s calls. You use the side door of the apartment building, so he won’t see you coming and going. You should know he won’t let you go that easily. Like magic he appears at your apartment door on the fourth floor on the fifth day. How did he get in?  Who let him into the lobby?  He tells you he is done with these “jobs.”  

You shake your head but can’t convey your muddled thoughts. You like the world Aunt Gabriella and Uncle Fred have afforded you. You believed Eddie fit right in. He’s still standing there staring at you. You take out a cigarette, light it, inhale deeply. He attempts to pull it out of your hand, “What’s this?”  He sounds so disappointed in you. You take another drag.

He attempts to explain:  he owed money and just needed to quickly make a big killing.  He swears he only did it three times. You’re almost entranced — until he says, “I really did it for you. I want you to have all the best, baby.” My God — he’s just like your father! 

You take another drag from the cigarette, then put it out on the floor between you, untethered from another passing fancy. 

 

 

Author's Comment

Passing Fancy sprang from the memory of going with my aunt to clean homes of wealthy people. It is one of a series of short stories where the intent is photographic: to take a picture of a moment of change in a person’s life.

Bios

Phyllis Carito, MFA. Writer, educator.  Books: barely a whisper, The Stability of Trees in Winds of Grief, and Worn Masks. Other work: “Gathering Flowers: Living with the Death of a Child,” Passager Journal, Voices in Italian Americana, Fired Up! (Berkshire Women’s Writers) Vermont Literary Review, and Trolley NYS Writer’s Institute.

Lakshmi Gill, a poet, artist, and educator, has published extensively in Canadian and world literature. Together with Dorothy Livesay, she founded the League of Canadian Poets in 1966. A Punjabi/Spanish-Filipina writer, Lakshmi lives in British Columbia, and is a current member of The Writers’ Union of Canada.

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