The Hostess

A smile rests uneasily on her face
Like sugar dissolved in a cold glass of beer.
Lips creak and bend with the force
Of a will determined
To shine a light, however feeble,
From the depths of her hollow spirit.

But to those who care to look,
Her eyes betray her,
The funeral procession building to a climax
Behind the grey windows of her mind,
And shadows flit ominously beyond each pupil
Pressing at the backs of her eyelids
And hammering in a dusky wind against her temples.

"How do you do?" she says again
To a newly arrived guest.
(The twenty-fourth of the night, to be precise.)

"Fine, how about yourself."
Replies the man relieving himself of his overcoat and hat.
(Which she cheerfully receives.)

"Just fine," she chimes,
The golden tone of her voice
Prevailing against the rust in her throat.
"There're drinks in the hall
And refreshments in the kitchen."

Eager feet trot off to the table of wine-glasses
As tired heels clack their way to the coat-closet.
There alone, she casts a wary glance through the front window
Which is met by the glare of new headlights
Coming to rest in their already crowded driveway.

Behind her in the living-room,
The flock bleats and bawls,
Loud, slurred utterances of executives
Punctuated by the high-pitched hyena-giggling of their wives and secretaries.
He's there, somewhere among them
Drinking his fair share of wine, no doubt,
And admiring the short skirt of his pretty young secretary, Miss Trollip.
Glory to the young!
She frowns and draws a long and greying lock over a prim ear
With a regal sweep of her hand.

She ponders the lines that have just begun to appear on her face,
Sharpening her features
And giving her brow an imperial air.
"You look like a Countess, my dear," he'd told her earlier that day,
And she'd smiled the same weak smile,
For she would have given anything to have remained
As she had been in her twenties.
But I guess fermented beauty has its own appeal.
She sighs without a sound.

Muffled footsteps announce themselves on the sidewalk leading to the porch
And silently she folds her arms
And recalls her college days spent with Homer and Ovid.
It's Cerberus she's contemplating now,
The wistful thought of him taking her place in the foyer.

George Chadderdon © 1993