“Em, do you play receptions?” Ann asked.
“Play them?” he said. “For money?”
“Obviously they’d pay you, Em.”
“Actual money that folds?”
“Well, I’m sure some tips, but they’d probably give you a cheque.”
“A cheque!” he cried. “Where is it and when?”
“Don’t you want to know what it’s for?”
“Is it anything dangerous? Lion taming? Walking on hot coals?”
“Well, no, of course it isn’t that…”
“Goat sacrifice? Something like that?”
“I believe it’s being catered,” Ann replied, smiling.
“Where is it and when?” he said.
“Alba, where are we going?” he said.
“It’s Ann, dear.”
“Ann. Where are we going, Ann? Ann.”
“Well, at the moment we are attempting to navigate the lobby of the Ambassador…” She didn’t think she should say ‘hotel.’ He’d been a little bit upset about the ‘hotel’ part when he was sober. The gods alone knew how he’d take it now. “The Ambassador. So we can get you into a taxi.”
“After party,” he muttered. He attempted to sit down, but she caught him and held him up.
“No, dear. You will not be obliged to make an appearance at the after party. I think you have had enough.”
“How many times did I play ‘Freebird?'”
“You know, I really can’t say. I lost count.”
“I hate ‘Freebird.'”
“You have made that abundantly clear, yes.”
“They wouldn’t stop asking for ‘Freebird.'”
“I know, dear. I’m very sorry about that.”
“Fortunately!” he declared. “There was champagne!”
“Ye-es,” Ann allowed. “I am afraid that is why they wouldn’t stop asking for ‘Freebird.'”
“Well, you’re sort of cute when you drink, Em.”
“I have to drink if I’m going to play ‘Freebird.’ Where are we going?”
“We are almost halfway to a taxi!” Ann cried, estimating the distance. It was about one o’clock in the morning and not too terribly busy. The staff of the Black Orchid and their friends and family were a little more used to champagne and most of them were already making their merry way to the club. There were a few well-dressed individuals attending other functions and some patronizing the bar. They were all much too tasteful to get in the way of a transvestite and a falling-down-drunk violinist. However, there was an impressive expanse of black-and-white tile between the reception hall and the front door and also a large fountain, and Mordecai kept veering off randomly, so she would have to allow ten, maybe fifteen, minutes to close the remaining distance. It might’ve gone faster if she picked him up and put him over her shoulder, but he seemed to have retained a little of his sense of dignity and she was afraid he might remember her doing it.
“Who was that delightful child who wanted ‘Bohemian Rhapsody?'” he asked her, smiling.
“The flower girl. I think it’s Louise’s niece.”
“I really wish she hadn’t. This way, Em.” She put her arm around his waist and dragged him. “I think somebody put her up to it. I thought it was going to kill you.”
“But it wasn’t ‘Freebird!'” he cried. He would’ve gone headfirst into the fountain if she didn’t catch him. Afterwards, bent over her arm, he looked up at her blearily. “Ann. Ann. Why, Ann…?”
“Why what, dear?”
He pointed a finger at her and accused, “Why did you ask for ‘Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes?'”
“I like it,” she admitted. “And I thought probably you’d play it by then.”
“Yes. Very well. Twice.”
Ann called over to the doorman, “Excuse me! Do you think you could start getting us a taxi now? I mean, we obviously want one!”
“Was it a wedding?” Mordecai asked her.
“No, dear. Only the rehearsal.”
“Only why was he wearing the dress?”
“Oh, well, it was sort of a joke. They thought they’d switch. You know what kind of club the Black Orchid is, and Harry’s parents own it, you know. But Louise wanted to have her mother’s wedding dress and the fabric wouldn’t take that much altering, so they thought they’d just do it for the rehearsal. I helped him shop. It’s not too hard to find dresses, you know, but the shoes are always so difficult.”
“Those two women are his parents?”
“Are they real ones?”
“His real parents?”
“Real women,” Mordecai said.
“Oh!” said Ann. “Well, yes, actually. They are.”
“That one in the taffeter lavenda has a very strong chin.”
“Lavender taffeta,” Ann corrected him. “Barbara.”
“Lavender taffeta, Barbara?”
“Harry’s parents are Lalage and Barbara.”
“Abracadabra!” Mordecai replied and laughed.
“Yes, dear. Very good,” Ann said gently. “I promise you, we are almost there!” she informed the doorman. “Please have a taxi!”
“Wedding rehearsal reception,” Mordecai said.
“Yes, Em. You’ve got it exactly.”
“I don’t think I can say that.”
“Oh, don’t you?”
“It’s as if they have arranged it to be vexing. Wedding rehearsal reception.”
“You’ve just said it twice, Em.”
“Alba always said I was very articulate with no brain, Ann!” he told her.
“Yes, I believe you are managing very well. It’s just the walking that has you a little turned around.”
“Drinking does something to my shoes,” he replied.
“Well, yes, I suppose that might have something to do with it.”
“Also it doesn’t have to be drinking.” He pressed the palm of his hand deliberately to his forehead. “It’s like a flashbulb going off!”
“Yes, I’m sure that makes some kind of sense wherever you’re coming from.”
“Ann. Ann. Ann, do you know, Ann?”
“What should I know, darling?”
“I think I’m starting to like ‘Freebird.'”
“That is my taxi!” Ann cried, with such vehemence that the man who had been getting into her taxi straightened and backed off. “I’m sure you’ll hate it again in the morning, Em,” she told Mordecai gently.
He smiled quite sweetly, “Do you really think so?”
“I’m sure of it!”
“Ann? Dear Ann?”
“Yes, my love?”
“I don’t know if I’m going to make it home before I have to throw up.”
“We’ll sit you by the window, dear.”
“How lovely!” he replied.
He made it home. He threw up in the yard, which really didn’t make much difference to it. Ann put an arm around his waist and dragged him into the house while he made occasional attempts to help her. Drinking really did seem to do something to his shoes. He wasn’t getting any traction at all.
“All right, my little love,” she told him. “What if I help you into bed?”
“Ann,” he replied. “I cannot have any bed, Ann. Do you know why I can’t have any bed, Ann?”
“No, but please do tell me.”
“Because I am incoherent, Ann, and I think Erik is going to notice it. And I think he will be upset by it. And I will not be able to convince him that I am all right, Ann. Because I am incoherent, Ann. And he will notice it.”
“Well, that might be, but I think I can explain it to him, Em.”
“It will be embarrassing, Ann. And I will not mind it now, but I am going to wake up in the morning, and then I will die.”
“I don’t think die, Em, but I suppose you might wish you were.” She sighed and considered. “It might help the hangover if you have some water and some aspirins now. Shall we go into the kitchen and try to coherent you up a bit?”
He smiled at her. “Bless you, Ann. You are an angel, Ann. Angel Ann. If it isn’t a song, it should be.” He hummed quietly to himself.
Ann negotiated him into the kitchen. The front room was not nearly so expansive as the lobby of The Ambassador, but there was a lot more loose tile. She put him in one chair and his violin case in another. He put his head on the table and he went out.
Hey, Mordecai! Watch the birdie!
It was like a flashbulb going off, only behind his eyes instead of in front. When the light cleared he was lying on the floor, laughing, and he couldn’t get off the floor, and he couldn’t stop laughing.
“Oh, no… Alba… Please don’t… Not again… Why?”
“You deserve it,” she said, leaning over him. Her hair hung down, and her gray eyes were sparkling. “You’re always taking care of other people. You’re always taking care of me. Well, I’ve fixed you! It’s poetic!”
“Pathetic!” he echoed, giggling helplessly.
“Sometimes, yes!” she replied, grinning.
“You!” he said, pointing at approximately her. “Are going to regret this! Because… Because I am going to need to pee sometime tonight, and I can’t remember how to work my pants!” Oh, gods! It was too funny! And too true. He was curled on his side with the carpet scratching against his cheek and he could hardly breathe but he still couldn’t stop.
“Oh, you’re perfect,” she told him. “We’re gonna have fun with you.”
She was trying to get him up. “I can’t!” he insisted. “I can’t get up! My shoes don’t work!”
“You’ll manage if I manage you,” she said. She threw his arm over her shoulders and stood with him.
“Ah! The floor!” He was practically sobbing. The pattern of the carpet was red and yellow lines on a dark background and the dark part seemed to be receding and he seemed to be sinking into it. “Alba, the floor is funny!”
“Enjoy it, why don’t you?” she said.
“I am!” He was. “Where are we going?”
“To sit with everyone.”
“Sit? On the floor?”
“Sure! If you like!”
“I like it!” he cried. “I love it! I want some more of it!”
His kids were sitting around a trashcan fire and attempting to warm canned food. They were laughing, some of them, and leaning against each other. Alba had already done for them, but not like she did for him. When they looked up at him he informed them all, “There will be no music tonight! No music! Because Alba thinks she is funny!” He couldn’t keep a straight face for all of it, hardly for half of it, and when he’d managed the words he dissolved again and fell against her. This was received with applause.
“Yay! We get to take care of Mordecai!”
“No, no, no!” he told them, waving hands for silence. “We must all be very mad at Alba. And throw things at her. Because I can’t play music. Because I can’t even work pants.”
“Couldn’t you sing?” someone said. Several voices said, “Ah!” and there were words of encouragement.
“No!” he replied. “No! There will not be any singing tonight out of me! Because I can’t remember any words. Of any songs. For any singing. To sing. Them.”
“What about ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb?'”
“Mary had,” he repeated gamely, “a… Mary? Mary.”
“Mary had a Mary Mary! That’s excellent!”
“That is my entire repertoire,” Mordecai said. “Thank you. Goodnight!” He bowed. “Goodnight… Goodnight… Where the hell are we?”
“San Rosille!” a few voices offered.
“Goodnight, San Rosille! Ladies, if you must throw your hotel keys, do not aim for my head!”
“He was in a band,” someone said, laughing.
“A band of what?”
“Gorillas,” Mordecai said. “Or possibly guerrillas,” he mused. “It’s all a bit hazy. There was a lot of absinthe. Is there any more?” he asked them.
“Alba, he wants more!” General laughter and more applause.
“He doesn’t need more,” Alba said. “Hey, Mordecai?”
He leaned forward and smiled at her, as if anticipating a punchline. “What?”
Oh, shit! He forgot all about the floor! She let him down on it and that was entirely too much. He fell backwards and sprawled. “Aha! No! Make it stop!”
“Let’s all help Mordecai cope with the floor!” Alba said. This was greeted with more laughter and agreement. A boy and a girl bore up on either side of him and helped him to sit up. The girl took his hand and patted it gently, “Is there something wrong with the floor, dear heart? Shall we take it away?”
“Do you want to talk about it?” the boy said.
“Patronizing!” he said. “I am not patronizing. I am sincere!”
“He’s helping us help him!” the boy said and laughed.
“It’s all right,” the girl said. “You’re just a little upset. You’ll feel better soon.”
“I feel amazing!” he replied. “Give me a shot and a cigarette! I’ll take back the city!”
“Mordecai thinks he can hold St. George!” his audience marveled.
“Mordecai thinks he can do it himself!” Mordecai declared.
“Ah! Even better!”
“Let’s see him get up,” Alba said.
“Aha!” he replied.
“Am I not doing it?”
“You are definitely not doing it.” He had slumped down a little further, in fact.
“I’m not wearing the right shoes for it,” he said. “I am not wearing my getting-up shoes. I believe I am wearing my drunk shoes.”
“Oho! That would explain it!”
“Let’s take his shoes,” someone suggested. “That would keep him safe. He’ll have to stay indoors.”
“He’ll have to stay wherever we put him,” Alba replied. “You’ll have to come up with some other way to play with him.”
“What about dinner?” someone said.
“Dinner?” he cried. “They want me to make dinner! I will set myself on fire! I will set myself on fire trying to make cereal. And then you will all be very, very sad,” he intoned, pointing a finger around, “because I make the chocolate cake! And you will all die! And be sad. And dead.”
“I was thinking more we would try to get dinner into you.”
“I can get dinner into myself!” he said.
“Ah! He can’t make cereal without starting a fire, but he can get dinner into himself.”
“Let’s see him try!”
They gave him a can opener and a can.
He peered at the label. “What even is it?”
“‘What even is it!'” They thought that was great. “Can’t you read?”
No, he absolutely could not. He had a vague idea he should be able to, like maybe it was something he was familiar with, but he had no idea how to go about it. Something with eyes. And brain.
Well, no wonder he couldn’t do it if he needed his brain!
“It is unseemly to read before dinner,” he said. He picked up the can opener and had a narrow perusal of it. How in the hell were you supposed to work this complicated piece of machinery? What even was it for?
That part moved. That other part moved. Maybe if you wound it up, it played music. He spent some minutes attempting to do this. “It refuses to engage,” he muttered
“You have to apply it to the can,” the boy beside him said.
“Cans are not musical!” he said.
There were some opinions expressed on this, “Well, he’s right! It’s irrelevant, but he’s right!”
“Cans occasionally contain dinner,” the girl said.
“Really?” he said. He regarded the can. “How on earth do you get it out of them?”
There were also opinions on this. Warring factions could not decide if he was teasing them or not. At any rate, they agreed he was in no shape to get dinner out of cans and they relieved him of the responsibility.
“I thought I wasn’t allowed to get dinner out of cans,” he said, when they handed him another can. Or possibly the same can.
Multiple voices assured him that the can was now open, which apparently made some difference.
“We are working on the concept of spoons, now,” Alba told him gently.
“I never made you work on the concept of spoons!” he said.
“No,” she allowed. “But you do seem to be able to move a little, so why don’t you entertain us by trying?”
“Because I have dignity!” he declared, raising the can.
“Too much dignity for spoons,” someone whispered aside.
“Yes!” he said. “Exactly!”
“Perhaps he would prefer to have chocolate custard with an olive fork.”
“Chocolate custard!” He peered into the can, and it was. He accused the room around him with a wavering finger, “Someone else here thinks they are funny. Someone thinks they are absolutely hilarious.” He cackled and dropped the can. “They’re right, of course. Oh, gods! Chocolate custard! Help me! I can’t cope!”
Custard was easiest and chocolate was Alba’s preference. It was — what did she say? — Pathetic!
They attempted to help him cope with chocolate custard, first by cleaning it off of him, then by getting the portion that remained in the can into him, He did not make this easy. It was not that he minded being fed, or even understood it was happening, but he kept having these insights he felt he needed to share. Like, “Why is carpeting?” and, “The ceiling is too far. Somebody get it.”
This, of course, necessitated that they put Kurt up on a stepladder to get the ceiling for him. They kept asking if he’d got it and of course he had to keep telling them ‘no,’ and it was funnier every time. It was almost as bad as the floor (which derailed all attempts at food when he noticed it).
Chocolate custard and the ceiling eventually gave way to sitting quietly and muttering and occasionally giggling at things he couldn’t explain. Not that he didn’t try. They quite liked it when he tried.
“I thought it played music,” he said to the shoulder currently supporting him. “It wouldn’t wind! It wouldn’t wind!”
“Oh, that’s terrible,” the girl said, patting him.
“Alba has my brain. Could you ask for it back?”
“I think you’re very nice without it,” she said.
“You’re a dear woman,” he said. He drew back and attempted to figure out which woman. He thought maybe Carolina Bow, from the movies. “Oh, it’s Linda. Hello, Linda.”
“Linda, you have no idea how sorry I am that I don’t understand pants right now.”
“Well, perhaps I can help you figure them out,” she said, smiling.
Alba put her thumb and forefinger in her mouth and whistled. Loud. “Red card, Linda! No fooling around with the catastrophically impaired! You’re out of the game!”
Linda folded her arms across her chest and pouted. “I was only trying to take care of him!”
“That means we don’t do things that hurt him.”
“I think he would’ve enjoyed it.”
“He enjoys the floor, now, Linda. He probably won’t like it in the morning.”
Oh, the floor. He giggled at it. Lines.
Alba sat next to him and Linda went away. “Do we still like the floor?” she asked him.
“We adore the floor!” He laughed. “Adore the floor. That’s lovely!” He smiled at her. “I can’t help feeling that you have done me a tremendous disservice that I somehow lack the capacity to grasp.”
“You have a staggering vocabulary for a man who can’t work a spoon.”
“I do! I wish I didn’t have pants. Can it be arranged that I no longer have pants?” He shifted uncomfortably.
“No, I’m afraid not. Unless you require assistance with the bathroom?”
“I require assistance with Carolina Bow.”
“Definitely not. I think if you lie down on the funny floor for a little, you won’t mind about the pants.” She assisted him in doing so.
He giggled. “Aha. You’re right, of course. It’s a little bit unfair.”
“I have your brain,” she told him. “I make the rules.”
“Where have you putten it?” he asked pathetically. “I’m gonna want it back.”
“Where have I putten it?” She threw her head back and laughed. “Oh, no! What happened to that vocabulary?”
“Putten?” he said. “Putted? Pudding?”
“Put? That can’t be right!”
“I have putten it where you will never find it, but you can have it back in the morning.”
“I knew it was putten!”
“Yes, Mordecai, you’re very smart.”
“Ann. Can I have my brain back, Ann?”
“Well, we’ll see if we can’t get you a piece of it. Did you get a little sleep? You were talking.”
“I was just remembering something,” he muttered. “What did I say?”
“I couldn’t really hear.”
“Maybe just as well.”
She counted four white aspirin on the tabletop in front of him. “Think you can take these?”
“Will it require a spoon?”
“Hell, I’ll give it a shot.”
There was a glass of water and a glass of orange juice and she wanted him to drink both. That was going to take him a little while.
“I don’t drink much anymore,” he said.
“No, dear, it doesn’t seem like it.”
“I got tired of it. We’d get drunk every night during the siege. We didn’t drink, we needed the liquor for the gods — hell, even beer — but Alba could get us drunk. I could get her drunk. With the quarter. You remember the trick with the quarter, Ann?”
“One of us had to be sober, so everyone could be not-drunk very fast if something happened. It was either her or me. Sometimes when she was going to make me drunk, she’d prank me. She never did it often enough that I’d see it coming. She’d make me so drunk I couldn’t mind myself. It was funny because I was supposed to mind her, and the others… I was a handler.”
“I know, dear. I’m not sure exactly what that is, but I have some idea.”
“I don’t know if it’s physically possible to be so drunk. It was more than this. They’d take care of me. My kids. They thought it was funny. I guess I didn’t mind.” He smiled faintly.
“Are you missing them a little, Em?”
“Oh, a little.” He sighed. “Do you mind sitting up with me, Ann? Is it very late?”
“It’s a little bit late, but if I wasn’t here, I’d probably be at the after party, so I don’t mind.”
“Wouldn’t you rather be with your friends?”
“I have a friend here,” she replied and smiled.
“You’re very kind. I sort of wish you were Linda. Or at least a woman.”
“Well, we must do our best.”
“Do you mind if I don’t go to bed?”
“No, I suppose I don’t mind if you don’t mind it. Let’s see if we can have a little bit more juice, and I’ll put some coffee on.”
Hyacinth set a glass of something cold and bright red and loud on the table next to his head.
“My gods. What is it?”
“David’s breakfast,” she replied.
He had a sip of it. “Is this blood?”
“Tomato juice and iron filings,” she said. “And a shot of vodka, and some hot sauce, and an egg.”
“Are you trying to kill me?”
“No, but maybe I ought to. I understand you’ve been acting like an ass.”
“Did Ann say that?” he asked her, wounded.
“Ann didn’t say anything. But you’ve kept her up all night and Milo has a shift today!”
“She didn’t say anything about that.”
“She never does!”
Mordecai tried another sip of the drink, he felt like maybe he deserved it.
Whoa, no he didn’t! Ugh. He set it down and pushed it away. The damp glass rumbled against the table and he winced.
Milo appeared, looking bleary-eyed and somewhat pale behind his glasses. He already had coffee. Ann had gone up with it and he had come down with it.
“Milo, I’m sorry,” Mordecai said.
Milo put up both hands and shook his head. He presented a card:
“Will they pay me?” asked Mordecai.
Milo shrugged and nodded.
Mordecai sighed. “Does Ann mind looking after me?”
Milo broadly shook his head.
“I need you to be really honest with me, Milo, because if they start asking for ‘Freebird’ again, I cannot be responsible for myself.”
Milo continued to shake his head.
“Where is it and when?” Mordecai said.