Next to Victor is Amelia, who is worried that it still looks like she has pissed her pants. When she arrived at Kevin and Sharon’s house, coincidentally at the moment that Jeremy slammed the door of their Volvo with his knee, one hand holding his tie, the other the bottles of wine, she hopped off her bike and trotted up to him for a kiss, but he held his mouth away and looked at her crotch and said, Jesus, Amy, you look like you pissed yourself. Learn to drive, for fuck’s sake.
It was almost a joke, the way he meant to say it.
There was no opportunity to fight, even though Amelia felt like beating the shit out of Jeremy with her U-lock and watching him hold both hands to his nose like he was trying to push the blood back in, because Kevin has a sixth sense about dinner guests, and he opened the door before they knocked. Kevin, Amelia hammed, you scared the piss out of me. Kevin hauled the bike in beside the jogging stroller. They discussed the trouble of vinyl bicycle seats while Amelia shifted back and forth in an effort to dry off. Both men smelling her.
Kevin is next to Amelia, to go along with Sharon’s rules of boy girl boy girl, no spouses beside each other. Everybody but Sharon thinks that rule is pretentious, and besides, Victor messes up the system, so why bother? But Sharon is particular about her ideas. Everyone will get drunk in a respectable way and enjoy themselves at these parties. They will dress up, or at least funky. What a fun dinner party club, they’ll say, toasting each other on their jobs, and babies, and renovated houses, and funky clothes. On the eggplant and steamed pea shoots. It will make them all feel better.
Sharon — who has Jeremy on her right — has a big ass, the kind that justifies the word rump. Kevin has the idea that women should be horse-like in the way they walk: one hip bone rising as though independent of the other, proud and heavy, before dropping in a slow curve of muscle and sex. Attractive women, Kevin thinks, should make you think about childbirth, but in a sexy way. Of sex that could possibly lead to childbirth, but sex without that purpose behind it. They should smell the way Amelia smells. On his right.
Amelia’s smell, more particularly Amelia, is a problem. At Amelia and Jeremy’s dinner last fall, Jeremy came back from the bathroom and accidentally bumped into Kevin. Kevin, leaning against the recently refinished stairs, sloshed port on his funky shirt. Kevin told Jeremy to watch where he was fucking going, fucking idiot. What the fuck did you say to me in my own house? Jeremy said back. Things got nasty from there.
Sharon, pregnant with Max, her swollen feet jammed into a pair of old flats, told Jeremy to back off, and Amelia (jealous of Sharon’s pregnancy) told Sharon to back off herself, and the conversation of drunk or pregnant adults degenerated: Kevin telling Jeremy that he didn’t appreciate Amelia; Amelia telling Kevin, Kevin, shut up, you’re drunk, and also telling Jeremy, Kevin’s drunk, don’t listen to him; Sharon saying she felt crampy and wanted to go home (Max being born the next afternoon, Kevin hungover); and Amelia, smoking with Victor, telling him all she wanted, fuck it, was to have a baby, but not with Jeremy, who was turning out, five years on, to be a total prick. Exhale.
Joe and Shirley were in Portugal on their belated honeymoon and missed everything.
Shirley is on the other side of Kevin, which makes Sharon feel better. Sharon doesn’t appreciate Kevin and Amelia sitting beside each other, even though the whole thing, the fight, whatever it was, was almost a year ago, and everyone just wound up blaming it on the wine and then going ga-ga over Max. But still.
Sharon has the idea that Shirley tells her everything, but Shirley has not told her that Joe’s doctor found a lump on his prostate. The doctor waggled his finger in my ass, Joe said. Waggle. It was ridiculous. The word kept him from crying.
Shirley is of the opinion that men don’t cry unless they are dying. She saw her father cry before his quadruple bypass surgery, and her brother, naked and bleeding from the wrists, bawled into her shoulder when she broke into his apartment and found him on the floor, fistfuls of pills scattered like confetti.
Joe (on Sharon’s left) doesn’t think he is dying, but he is scared of the surgery, which can cause impotence. He’s heard people say that once you’ve been married for a while, a long while, all a person really needs is a best friend. Someone to hold hands with during movies and share the sudden orphaning that happens when parents die. Ridiculous.
Joe told Victor that making love to Shirley is the only time he’s ever completely happy. They were smoking on Kevin’s refinished deck. (Sharon checking on Max. Shirley stirring the sauce for her. Jeremy coming from work, Amelia on bike.) Do you know what I mean, Vic? Joe asked. Did you ever feel that way, you know, about Cathy?
Victor shook his head, and Joe resolved to sit next to him during dinner.
Victor’s appendix burst when he was nine years old. His mother thought he was faking so he would miss a math test. He almost died.
Victor takes a photograph of himself naked every morning. He puts it into an album. He now has almost five thousand photos.
Victor’s ex-wife, Cathy, is now dating a black man, and this makes Victor feel inadequate, sexually, and also racist.
No one knows any of this.
Dinner is four hours long and all they talk about is the monkfish. It is a new recipe. The monkfish is steamed and not particularly delicious, despite what everybody says.