Guidance / The Party

“Your life may fall apart around you while you’re putting on the act of radiating positivity, but you will not realize it for some time.”

It is always better to say you’re doing something rather than nothing.

Chloe Scheffe, Untitled Photograph, Fujifilm Instax, 2011.

Jen George’s The Babysitter at Rest will be published by Dorothy, a publishing project on October 17.

The Guide

Arrival of The Guide

“I was assigned to your case. You’re now 33,” The Guide says. The Guide has come into my apartment through the open window at the fire escape, breaking the screen. “Though you’re visibly aging, you’ve failed to transition properly and now it’s the last hour.” The Guide enters my kitchen and looks over my tea collection: teas for energy, for shitting, for sleep, for being calm, for being present, for liking what I’ve been given, for being my inherent self—most of which are long expired.

“I didn’t know,” I say.

Things that can be done

“Increasingly, less can be done. But taking walks is good,” The Guide says, looking over my bookshelf. They seem wise, but I can tell they find their job somewhat tedious. The Guide picks up an open copy of The Necronomicon from my coffee table and reads for several hours in silence, then naps. I watch The Guide as they nap. I put a blanket on them. They appear to not be breathing, but their skin is illuminated so they look somehow more than alive. I want to touch their face to see if the illumination is makeup, but The Guide is a very imposing figure, very distant.

Current status

“You are not partnered, so your trajectory may be less clear,” The Guide says, waking from their nap. “However, partnership can result in laziness and weight gain. So can loneliness. Partnership is favored, since loneliness appears as an objective rejection by the universe.” I sit at The Guide’s robed knees as they continue. “We find you at the point of early decay. Decay sets in with the loss of possibility, not having children, having children, a string of failures over the years, memories, jobs, aging, falling out of shape, losing your looks, realizing you’re a one-trick pony or a fraud or nothing special, and understanding things too late.”

Some ways in which the shift occurs

“Despite your lack of intuition, you may have become aware of the following changes that signal the onset of adulthood: listening to others, doubting everything you think, health problems, understanding of the limitations of time and/or life/living/the individual/experience, failure to believe in the inherent benevolence of the universe, frequent aches—head and otherwise—bad breath (rot and poor digestion), watching someone younger/more attractive be better than you socially and otherwise, crying at kindness.”

The Guide hands me a thick manual. It’s full of symbols I cannot make sense of and lists of rules. Also, some questionnaires and a page of hygiene tips.

Physical

I didn’t look in the mirror and have a revelation, though I had noticed for some time that a woman’s body, the shape of which I’d seen in paintings where the subjects’ bodies were no longer the beauty ideal (round bottom, dropped tits, gut, thighs, dimples between lower back and bottom that had lost their sex appeal), and which looked somehow different than the body I remembered or thought of as my own—this body was distinctly an adult woman’s. A mother’s body, but without having had children.

I rub my little gut in the mirror. The Guide appears behind me and looks at my little gut, then pokes it rather roughly.

From the manual: Q&A I

Q: Re: Losing my looks. Where do they go?

A: To the optimism of the currently young, to the wind.

Q: What takes the place of looks?

A: Invisibility, irrelevance, debt, and unsuccessful stabs at saving to buy real estate.

Subjects to avoid

The Guide looks over journals I’d started at various points throughout my twenties and then comes upon my more recent, sporadic entries: poorly written accounts of various depressions and worrisome descriptions of women seen working as cashiers or bathroom attendants, scribbled down in attempt to ward off their fates for myself. The Guide throws my journals in the trash. “For your future sense of self-worth,” they say.

Time audit

“What have you been doing all this time?” The Guide asks as we drink expired weight-control tea by the window and watch people run down the sidewalk in the sudden thunderstorm.

“Looking around. Watching stuff on TV. Having weird dreams. Eating sandwiches.”

The Guide laughs at someone losing their umbrella and their hat simultaneously. I laugh, too.

Wishful thinking

“I’ve heard people say 33 is the perfect age,” I tell The Guide as I bag up old clothes they have told me I can no longer wear.

“Generally, people think they can do more than they can with the age because of the symmetry of the number. Most do very little with it.” The Guide throws the majority of my wardrobe onto the floor for me to bag up. Very little is left.

Mandates for the adult

“The party for your adulthood is mandatory. The occasion must be marked,” The Guide says after I protest. They inform me preparation for the party is the primary reason for their visit. “You must send out invitations. Invitations are formal; guests show up having RSVP’d. People will most likely speak about articles they’ve read and restaurants they’ve been to. Regarding television, follow people’s cues so as not to let on how much television you actually watch. Avoid overtly solipsistic topics like childhood or family stories. Do not overshare.” I inform The Guide I have never given a real party. The Guide informs me they are not surprised.

From the manual: Minimal Requirements Survey

Driver’s license: N

Home owner/lease holder: N

Cheating on someone: Y

Sex with strangers: Y

LTR/Marriage: N

Keeping houseplants alive: N

DTF: Y

Feelings dialed down: N

Ability to get a grip: N

The dentist: N

Career: N

Results (6+ N’s): If you go to any psychic, palm reader, astrologer, witch, shaman, or energy healer you will be told: you are on a certain path, but the path can be changed at any time as you are in control. This is actually a veiled message meaning your fate has been sealed and the path is closed. The thing to worry about now is not being broke and toothless at 70.

Beauty tips

“You should only drink alcohol at parties or events. Beyond that, it will make you look haggard, tired, and bloated. A good way to transition is to tell people you’re doing a cleanse, giving up alcohol for spirituality, or can’t tolerate it the way you used to,” The Guide tells me as they go through my old college studio art portfolio filled with self-portraits in chalk pastel. “Take up yoga, pilates, or zumba. Wear a sauna suit at all times when not in public. Make a lot of money to buy expensive beauty treatments and more sauna suits, preferably in a creative career that is high-paying, smart-dressing, and jet-setting. Once you’re wealthy enough a sparse diet will become second nature. The act of radiating positivity should take the place of the natural vibrancy of youth. Not proselytizing about healthy foods, new exercise trends, trips abroad, and happiness age one rapidly. You must now claim to enjoy things, learn a lot, and know yourself—this will heavily influence others’ assessment of your objective beauty and worth. Be aware that too much proselytizing may date you, so don’t go overboard. Your life may fall apart around you while you’re putting on the act of radiating positivity, but you will not realize it for some time.”

Excuses

“I thought I had more time because I didn’t start menstruating until very late, years after my peers,” I say. “I didn’t get boobs or a butt until I was 20. I didn’t go to college immediately, and when I did I mostly just slept with my professors. I never finished. My wisdom teeth did not come in until three years ago and are still there, possibly impacted. Once, over a period of nine months, I slept sixteen hours each night, leading to a somewhat significant loss of time. Also, I’ve only recently started to enjoy sex the way it’s supposed to be enjoyed—like orgasm during intercourse, I think.”

Friends/regret

“Your development has been significantly hindered if you still think there is some social satisfaction coming that you have not yet experienced,” The Guide says, looking at aged photo booth pictures on my refrigerator of me with old friends. “Though you may see the concept of connection in others, it’s only a projection of your longing. No one relies on anyone and you will begin to catch on; this can be liberating, though it may also cause pain and some regret at the realization that most people have always been focused on themselves and you had just failed to understand, not doing anything with yourself while others were busy building lives. Regret should be ignored or at least unexamined from this point forward. If you are granted a deathbed, you may think about it then.”

Maintenance

“But I thought I could maintain certain things,” I tell The Guide in a moment of naïve trust and vulnerability. “Like the belief that my experience is leading somewhere? Except I didn’t know it was belief when I was young?”

The Guide puts a hand to their forehead to indicate a tension headache. I’m unsure if the gesture indicates an actual headache, or The Guide is just miming to convey their annoyance. “What’s worrisome is your insistence on maintaining anything. You’ve missed many of the lessons you were supposed to have already learned. As your Guide, I’m very irritated. It’s a lot more work than I’d anticipated.” I feel embarrassed at having annoyed The Guide.

From the manual: Q&A II

Q: What should I eat at the party?

A: Delicacies, so as to showcase sophistication, and light foods, so as not to gain weight. A young woman eating fried foods, cream sauces, cheeses, potatoes, and cakes is charming, an adult woman eating those same foods is grotesque. No salt before events or being seen by anyone in public.

Q: What should I wear?

A: Something that flatters the figure; nothing too creative/individual/unique/artistic or other bids at trying to look interesting. Looks are fading, and what’s left of the figure must be amplified. Consider taking out a loan for surgery. If you are broke, consider a belt for caftans to give the appearance of a waist, and shaping underwear in lieu of a pricey new wardrobe.

Stretches & such

“A few things that should be done now are stretching, rolling your neck around, whipping your arms in circles, leg lifts, and elongating your neck to keep the coming turkey wobble tight.” The Guide is giving a demonstration, but it’s hard to see the nuances of the leg lifts through their long robes. I attempt to discern The Guide’s sex by looking up their robes, but see only fabric. “These activities,” The Guide continues, whipping their arms about, “should replace sitting in the shower, watching television, and dreaming of things you never intend to act upon. You have only a short time to change your behaviors. The window is rapidly closing.” The Guide seems to enjoy the exercises. I can tell by their toned ankles that they exercise regularly.

Interpersonal relationships

“I can think of very few guests I’d like to have attend the party,” I say. “I have never been very popular and have at least moderately severe social anxiety.” The Guide twists my hair into braids. Their thick hands and strong fingers are excellent for creating hair-dos. We try to decide which way it’ll look best for the party.

“Your need to feel elite by liking or not liking people is a flaw of character,” The Guide says in an almost familiar tone. “Your social anxiety is a mask for narcissism. Part of the transition is to understand that one person is basically the same as another. Relationships and interactions may become dull, but that dullness is necessary in order to let go of life as you age and decay. The strong feelings you deny now may show up later in affairs (assuming you get married or have a long term partner), inappropriate sexual relationships with people much younger than yourself (assuming you become a teacher or barfly), or completely focusing on your children (again, the assumption of a partner), all of which, if indulged, will contribute to your downfall and haunt you into old age.”

From the manual: People to Invite to the Party

Co-Workers: People from work and their spouses. If not employed—get a job, learn to be likable to spouses.

Social Neutrals: People you’ve met socially within the last two years with whom you have not had any negative interactions or acted a fool in front of.

Old “Friends”: People you used to hang around with in youth but with whom there has always been a distance—your familiarity with each other will come in handy, your lack of intimacy will allow you to present yourselves to each other as you’d like to be seen.

How to present yourself

“Smile and look busy in conversation,” The Guide says, giving an example of a pleasant smile. Their teeth are a blinding white; the brightness causes me to squint. “Act as though there is a lot to do in the way of serving food and cleaning up, but not too much to do so as not to appear that you’re doing all the donkeywork or you’re a servant. Wear make up, jewelry, and something you cannot afford, in order to ensure you will not feel like a chubby street urchin halfway through the party. Refer to the manual for information on weight loss via dieting/cleansing prior to the party, taking saunas, eating cotton balls soaked in castor oil, ephedrine use, epsom salt baths, and salt flushes. A good host introduces guests to one another, compliments guests in front of other guests, offers wine and napkins, urges guests to eat food while herself abstaining from food due to her new diet. Guests like their hosts to have fun. Act like you’re having fun. Laugh audibly,” The Guide gives a hearty laugh that fills the room and sounds so genuine and warm it nearly brings tears to my eyes.

“Pour wine, twirl to the music, flirt in a non-sexually-provocative manner, suggest something spontaneous that you have previously planned, i.e., shots, recreational drug use, exquisite corpse, Ouija board. Have a list of things ready to say about yourself that include future plans. Examples may include traveling abroad; going to live on a farm in Norway and photographing your experience; going to teach in Africa, Guatemala, or Cambodia; getting into a new line of work; taking up carpentry or furniture refinishing; having a profound spiritual breakthrough; moving somewhere else permanently; starting a business; taking classes; negotiating a salary; doing home improvements; having a baby; and other things that give the appearance life is full, interesting, and moving forward. Make sure future plans are not purely lip service; you do not want to come across as being full of shit. However, it is always better to say you’re doing something rather than nothing.”

Complaint log

“Your Complaint Log takes up a good deal of your file,” The Guide says as they take a bubble bath in their robes and drink champagne that I’ve gone to the liquor store to buy at their request. “I’ve never seen one this thick. Yours should be called the Log of Complaints, Self-Pity, and Pouting. The log itself is both a summation of your problems and an indictment of your inability to progress appropriately, or at all. The complaints, repeating often and added onto or edited frequently, are as follows: Category A: ‘Pointless,’ ‘Same shit,’ ‘I’ll never get out of it,’ ‘Extremely high levels of psychic pain,’ ‘Now what?’ ‘Then what?’ ‘Not again,’ ‘I knew this would happen,’ followed by wails/moans/cries; Category B: ‘So easy for other people,’ ‘Who do they think they are?’ ‘Why do they have that?’ ‘Must be nice,’ ‘Princess complex,’ ‘Fool,’ ‘Think they’re pulling one over’; Category C: ‘Not appreciated,’ ‘No one understands’; Category D: ‘Bored,’ ‘Going to kill myself,’ ‘Don’t want to die,’ ‘Not a genius,’ ‘I don’t want to,’ ‘I really don’t want to,’ ‘I especially don’t want to,’ ‘So sad for me,’ ‘Underemployed,’ ‘Unemployed,’ ‘Penniless,’ ‘Childless,’ ‘Old age,’ ‘Nursing home,’ ‘Elder abuse,’ more wails/moans/cries. I could go on, but the log basically cycles from here.”

From the manual: Q&A III

Q: Was there a particular point at which I should have done something different: gone to school for something specific, made professional advances, interned, taken a risk or leap of faith, asked for help, called people back, shown gratitude, applied for a job with a salary and benefits, saved money, gotten insurance, built a community, resigned myself to a relationship with someone for financial stability, had a baby?

A: Probably.

Party prep

While The Guide sleeps, I clean the house. I make 10,001-ingredient mole with seventy-two hour prep time (secret ingredients: smoked gold leaf and albino peacock talon paste); bake an eight-tiered cake; hand paint ceramic serving platters with Mexican-style floral design; wear a castor oil wrap; do squats; give myself an enema; abstain from salt; drink herbal diuretic and shit teas; purchase a figure-flattering dress way out of my price range; apply lipstick; and make large, opulent floral arrangements consisting of pin cushion, pink mink, and king protea, hanging amaranthus, blue thistle, white poppies, leucadendron, and both silver dollar and seeded eucalyptus.

Childhood dreams & identity

I tell The Guide the things about myself that I would be too embarrassed to say if they were awake. “I wanted to be nun when I was a child,” I whisper. “A quiet, cloistered life seemed ideal. Having my own room with thick walls. A desk. A fireplace. Stained glass. Rosaries. Peeling potatoes. Communal tables. Sisterhood in God. The idea is still very appealing, but one does not simply become a nun at 33, especially if one is not at all religious and always horny.” The Guide snores. “I first forgot who I was when I was very young,” I continue. “Or I never knew in the first place and it occurred to me very suddenly. At the moment of realization, I walked out of my backyard and into the street. I was able see the world spinning. It went very fast and made me dizzy. A police officer pulled over and said, ‘What is a little girl doing out here alone?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Where do you live?’ he said. ‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘How old are you . . . what’s your name . . . do you like cops? . . . No, do you like like cops?’ he said. I didn’t know the answer to any of his questions. I was someone else after that, and since then I’ve forgotten who I was and have become someone else completely over and over again. It’s happened too many times to count.” I feel a sense of loss at The Guide having been asleep so long. “I feel a sense of loss when you are asleep,” I whisper, very quietly, near The Guide’s ear. I decide to run to the store to get more tequila for The Guide for when they wake up.

Chitchat with The Guide

“I wish you had wings,” I tell The Guide when they wake up. “But your robes are very effective, and so are your clear eyes. And your beautiful hair, and your smile,” I attempt to run my fingers through The Guide’s hair.

“I’m not here as your fantasy,” The Guide says, swatting my hand away. The Guide does, however, seem pleased at the new bottle of tequila.

Conversation practice

In my bedroom, The Guide gives me mock party topics to discuss.

“Literature,” The Guide says.

“From Dante, the seventh circle of hell, the Wood of Suicides, is my favorite,” I say.

“Yes, according to your file you read The Divine Comedy during a brief phase of ephedrine addiction, bulimia, and suicidal ideation in your teens. At your party, the mention of reading classics will be viewed as obnoxious and irrelevant. Either everybody has read them long ago or no one has and never will, making your position one of little interest. Anyway, that’s everyone’s favorite circle of hell. If you’re going to bring up literature, have something semi-original to say.”

“How about: The Magic Mountain is a fantasy novel about remaining a baby by luxuriating in a nervous breakdown, napping in fur sleeping bags, and meeting new people to eat rich meals with in the cafeteria.”

“At 33, your literary references should have developed past these choices.” The Guide looks out my bedroom window to the night sky. I’d like to make love with The Guide on my twin bed.

“New topic: Art,” The Guide says.

“We’ve reached a time at which things repeat themselves infinitely? The past forty years have ushered in the age of the hack? A mirror facing a mirror? Claiming one’s genius is the new symbol of obsolescence? There is little greatness? Conceptual, archaic, symbiotic, wormhole, and duff-sitting are popular modes by which to express the absurdity of—”

“I think you should skip this topic entirely. If it comes up, say ‘Something in the oven!’ And shuffle off to the oven.” The Guide demonstrates shuffling off to the oven.

“The State of Everything,” The Guide says upon returning from the kitchen.

“Mostly there’s garbage,” I say. The Guide, drunk, smiles

Wishful thinking II

Over the bathroom sink, The Guide shows me the correct way to clean under my nails using a special brush for this specific purpose. In the mirror, The Guide shows me how to brush my teeth properly, how to wash my face. I watch The Guide’s face as they massage walnut shell scrub onto their forehead and cheeks; The Guide looks slightly bored, like they want to clock out, but maybe they’ve just had too much to drink. Though I want The Guide to be interested and engaged by me, I find this look of boredom incredibly alluring. I’m briefly overwhelmed by my attraction to The Guide and lean in to kiss them on the lips.

“No thank you,” The Guide says.

Farewells

The Guide says our time together has come to an end. I had not expected it to end so soon and am likely in shock. I offer to go to the store for more tequila if The Guide will stay. I offer to not speak at all. I offer my bed for them to rest in. I offer to burn down my apartment and everything in it. I offer whatever kind of sex they’re into, “Any type,” I say, “I want to do it.” Nothing works. We say our goodbyes. I try to hug The Guide tightly and kiss them on their illuminated cheek, made brighter by the alcohol. I attempt to make plans to see The Guide again or keep in touch somehow, but The Guide makes it clear their job is over and they’re very busy with their own life. I cry for some time after The Guide leaves. They’ve left nothing of themselves in my apartment but the broken screen.


The Party

Arrivals

Guests arrive between two and three hours late. The Host checks her email and text invitations to make sure she got the date correct. She adds 100 more ingredients to her 10,001-ingredient mole, making it a 10,101-ingredient mole. Additional super secret ingredients: liquefied frankincense and powdered rotten tooth that belonged to The Host, hand ground with a jade mortar and pestle. The Host makes several dozen red frosting roses and calaveras de azúcar and places them on the eight-tier cake. She reapplies her makeup and realizes she did not exfoliate properly, but does not risk proper exfoliation at this time in case guests begin to arrive. The first guest to show up is a Social Neutral The Host has always found boring and somewhat depressing due to his claylike complexion, frequent complaints about his dead-end job, and inability to do anything about his position and place in the world, who was invited for the reason he has a full-time job in an office-type setting. He has brought beer. He sits on the couch with his six-pack, opens a bottle, and begins to drink, making no conversation. “Let me put those in the refrigerator for you,” The Host offers. “I want to keep them with me,” the guest says. The Host informs the guest she needs to check the oven. As The Host puts her head in the oven, other guests begin to arrive. No one apologizes for being late and The Host, in an effort to be appropriate, stoic, and give the impression that she hasn’t invested too much in the success of the party, does not mention the three hour tardiness.

That’s so great

“I’m pregnant,” says a guest. “So am I,” says another. “Both of you are? So are we!”

“It was a total shock.” “We weren’t even really trying.” “We tried for three years.” “We’re due on the solstice.” “We’re due on the equinox.” “Either Federico, Alejandro, Joaquin, Pablo—after Picasso—Paolo, Swordsman, Phallus Maximus, Everest, or Omnipotence, if it’s a boy.” “Pre-natal yoga and grass-fed steak.” “My doctor said I was the tiniest pregnant woman she’d ever seen.” “Walking every day.” “A big glass of water in the morning.” “The weird thing is I’m not even hungry, just blissed out.” “Lucia Frida, Remedios, Compote Rose, Come Hither, Whirling Dervish, Cosmos, Alma, Lil Cutie, Sexually Desirable, or Simone Weil, if it’s a girl.”

“Wow you guys!” The Host says too loudly. “That’s so great! Congratulations to all four of you! It’s so great! There’s something in the oven! I’ll be right back!” The Host runs to the oven, which has been on with nothing inside it for hours and is creating hell-like conditions in the kitchen. The Host had not thought to get sparkling apple juice or other adult-appropriate non-alcoholic beverages for women with child. All of the French cheeses are unpasteurized, then there’s the matter of the raw oyster bar, which was the second main spectacular food item, and also the raw egg, the mercury, the shaved mad-cow boar hoof, the tuna, the tonsil stone, and the lorazepam in the 10,101-ingredient mole.

Confidences

“I’m not sure how I should act,” The Host confides to a guest’s child as they wait for the bathroom. The Host had not anticipated children and has no appropriate activities or distractions for the child, but has hopes that the child, a boy, may be able to get her a job in fifteen to twenty years.

“Me either,” the guest’s child tells her.

“But especially now,” The Host says.

Stagnation/social hiccups/injury

At the oven window The Host hides from her guests, sweating profusely and possibly suffering from heat stroke. The Host stares into the oven window, watching a mixed metal pot begin to melt.

“Someone spilled wine on the couch,” a guest, entering the off-limits kitchen, informs The Host.

“Oh! No worries! It’s an old couch! I was going to burn that couch anyway! There is something cooking in here, really! Do you have enough to eat? I’ll clean the couch up in a minute! Club soda? Or just leave it! I’m putting that couch on the street in the morning—out with the old!” The Host, worried the guest has seen that there is no food in the oven, rushes out of the kitchen, grabbing a bottle of wine to refill empty glasses. As The Host runs into the living room with the bottle, she stumbles, landing heavily on both knees. Upon getting up, she notices that her knees are bleeding through her long white dress. “I shouldn’t have worn a dress today,” she says to the room full of guests. The guests continue their conversations.

Let’s dance!

Blood and red wine stains have dried on The Host’s white dress. The Host puts on a new record, Dance Songs of Times Forgotten. “Let’s dance!” The Host semi-bounces and demi-twirls around the room. The guest who had been first to arrive dances with his nearly finished six-pack. The pregnant women make like their babies are dancing inside their wombs; only the pregnant women find it humorous. The Host doesn’t remember how to dance. She swings her ass from side to side, then gyrates and waggles from the dining room to the living room. Guests talk to one another and nod their head to the music, tap feet, bounce knees. No one thinks of times forgotten. The Host feels desperate as tears well in her eyes. She pretends she is not crying. “Allergies,” she smiles. “Napkins?” she offers. “Hey there,” she flirts, winking at a non-partnered person. Sexually frustrated she winks at a few partnered people as well. “Probably full funding, just waiting to hear back . . .” The Host lies, dancing from person to person, heavy in her arm movements, “I may not be in New York much longer, the artists are being pushed out . . . grants for women studying the nature of boredom . . . going back there for an ayahuasca trip, but last time I saw nothing . . . building houses in Honduras . . . surrogate for a famous celebrity couple . . . masturbation and other forms of self-pleasure—pizza and ice-cream eating—as the only motivating factors for continued survival . . .” The Host pretends she is not crying.

Additional confidences

The Host and the guest’s child find themselves in line for the bathroom once again. The Host’s eyes are red, irritated from tears and kitchen smoke. “I’ve recently lost the love of my life,” The Host tells the guest’s child. “I’m heartbroken.” The guest’s child knocks impatiently on the bathroom door, shifting around on both feet. “They had long flowing hair down to their ankles and skin that glowed,” The Host says. “Sounds pretty,” the guest’s child says. “They’re all I can think about,” The Host tells the child. The guest’s child passes gas. “I think they may have been an alcoholic, but we all have our flaws,” The Host says. “I’ll never see them again.” The guest’s child cannot stop passing gas.

Spontaneous Activity: Single Card Tarot Readings

“This particular tarot set was made by a trust-funder—daughter of a famous collage artist, friend of a friend of a friend who went to an elite art college and currently resides in Los Angeles, buying rare and expensive musical instruments and taking singing lessons while looking to hire a producer to record her solo album. Also, she has a private drawing-with-colored-pencils-and-oil-crayons instructor and owns a small printing press, hence the manifestation of the deck. So there is dumb luck, which is the best kind of luck if you ask me, and arbitrary fortune associated with these cards. Very auspicious,” The Host informs her guests. The Host lights candles and sage then shuffles the deck. The pregnant women, the guest’s child, and a few employed people sit around the table.

Reading 1: Pregnant Guest

Card: Three of Swords

Imagery: A woman hiding inside a bathroom stall with three swords—one in her left eye, one in her mouth, and one up her vagina—watching her lover/husband with a packed suitcase put his hand up another woman’s skirt.

Interpretation: “This one is completely different than it appears,” The Host lies, “it means you will enjoy endlessly rewarding domestic bliss, full of the foods you love to eat without any of the guilt.”

“Yum!” the pregnant woman says.

Reading 2: Employed Female Guest

Card: The Devil

Imagery: A three-storied house engulfed in flames with a cross section cut out. Inside the house: a jackal ravages the domestic dwelling, a woman is being penetrated by a horse, a man performs cunnilingus on a polar bear, someone has drowned themselves in the tub.

Interpretation: “Good for you! A major arcana card, meaning this card represents your current location on life’s path. This card looks heavy, but the Devil is a playful joker-type,” The Host says, again lying. “It portends not imminent suicide or a penchant for bestiality or complete Devil nature, but a good time. Life is full of good old times.”

Reading 3: The Guest’s Child

Card: The Hanged Man

Imagery: A man hanged, bound, gagged, and castrated inside a Christmas ornament-like globe that represents the world. Ships pass on the seas around him. Cities are filled with people. Great monuments are built. Beautiful trees, fruits, flowers, and crops fill the land, but the man is suspended, upside down, above it.

Interpretation: “The. World. Is. Yours. For. The. Taking,” The Host says through gritted teeth. She has lost all hope of the child securing her a job in the future.

The dinner bell

The Host rings the dinner bell. The 10,101-ingredient mole is served atop slow-roasted pig knuckles. Plates are decorated with squash blossoms, turmeric crème, fried lavender, spirulina salsa, and candied orchids of an unknown species. On a 27′ x 5′ table stand ten candelabras, containing one hundred and fifty tapered beeswax candles in total, beautifully lighting the dining room. Guests take their plates and eat scattered about the house—standing up, sitting cross-legged on the rug—ignoring the place settings. One of the opulent floral arrangements crashes to the floor. A recently purchased Alice Neel knockoff (an amateur nude in acrylic The Host hoped resembled herself) falls from the wall. “Was that an earthquake?” The Host asks, her voice too loud and somewhat shaky. Someone puts the Long Ago Hawaiian Vacation Slideshow Music record on. No one compliments the mole.

So fun

Maybe it was. Something it could’ve been.

A word from The Host

“A toast. Thank you all for . . .” The Host drinks champagne. “It has meant so . . .” The Host coughs. “Mi casa es . . .” The Host feels her stomach rumble. “Great night for a . . .” The Host is afraid she will not be able to sleep tonight. “I imagine you’re all . . .” The Host imagines everyone naked; they are all more attractive than she would have guessed, and somehow kinder. The Host would like to sleep with all of her guests. “You all mean so . . .” The Host feels close to everyone for a moment. “Remember when that painting fell and I thought it was an earthquake?” The Host relives the immediate past. “More champagne?” The Host does not know what tomorrow will look like. “Cheers.” The Host drinks. And drinks.

The cake

It is no one’s birthday, but The Host puts candles on the cake because she must make an effort and the cake is, at least, something. Anyway, she thinks that’s what The Guide was getting at by their visit. Several guests say they do not eat sweets or wheat or things shaped like roses or things molded into skulls, but some eat the cake and frosting roses and calaveras de azúcar. The guests say they must go to the gym tomorrow. “I’m starting a cleanse,” The Host says, “and Martha Graham zumba. And taking an ikebana class, which tones your arms and relaxes your mind.” The kitchen is now too hot to enter. There is nowhere for The Host to retreat. Possibly the bathroom, but one cannot really do that at a party. People might think her bulimic. Or worse.

Harmony/mind melding/dissolution

We love you articles. We love you Balthus. We love you Smokey. We love you Roy. We love you getting older. We love you up-and-coming hip-hop artists. We love you the KLF’s “Justified and Ancient (Stand By The JAMs).” We love you Disneyland mermaids of Submarine Voyage 1967. We love you learning to speak Spanish. We love you Paul McCarthy. We love you Leonora Carrington. We love you Alice Neel. We love that you were a whore and a bad mother. We love you that time we went to Istanbul. We love you the culture of Japan. We love you that time we almost died. We love you the night. We love you alcohol. We love that you’re trying to do that. We love that you actually think you can do that. We love you future plans. We love you summer. We love you opera. Let’s go to the opera in the winter. Let’s go to the beach in the summer. Let’s go camping in the fall. Let’s have a threesome in the spring. Let’s buy a vacation house all together. Let’s move to the New Mexican desert all together. I’ve always loved you. I’ve always been so fond of you. I always get excited when I see you. You have always been my favorite. Let’s remember each other’s birthdays this year. Let’s get a drink sometime. Let’s say hello to one another if we see one another on the subway. We are busy. We are too. We are too busy. We have no time. Time flies. It’s already been a year. It’s already been ten years. How long have we been here? Where is the bathroom? Is there any more tequila? How much is your rent? We’re thinking how to get Mexican citizenship. We’re thinking of moving to Red Hook if we win the lottery. We’re thinking of moving to Sunset Park. We’re thinking of moving to The Hole in East New York. We’re thinking of moving to Queens. We’re thinking of moving to Poughkeepsie. We’re thinking of moving closer to our families, with the babies coming. We’re thinking we shouldn’t drink too much. We’re thinking we’ve had too much to drink. We’re thinking of throwing up in the toilet. We’re thinking of breaking off from the group. We’re thinking we shouldn’t have come. We’re thinking of going home. We’re thinking of going to bed. We were thinking the same thing. We wish you luck. We wish you the best in all your future plans. We will not remember your names. We will say we don’t remember your faces—though we do—because it is easier. The time. The train. The morning. The next day. The workweek. Separation always occurs in the end, but in-between also.

The guest’s child

The guest’s child has fallen asleep holding a king protea in his hand. The Host did not consider party favors. The guests are very drunk. Some speak feverishly. Others speak languidly. The Host has never known these strangers.

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