I miss you.
I miss having someone to talk to.
I’d like to know all about you: your friends, your house – children? husband? boyfriend? I suppose that means you’d like to know more about me, too.
That makes sense.
It’s hard to know where to begin, so I’ll start with the thing that made me decide to write this letter: the party for His book.
My job was to serve drinks and carry trays of food and (later on) to clean up the mess. Marta told me what to do. Marta runs the gallery. It’s a picture gallery, with paintings in it that she sells to people. Not tonight, though, she said. Tonight was all about the man and his new book.
“You’ll be wearing your black skirt and your white blouse and your shoes and stockings, Eva.” (She always calls me Eva – not like some of the others. Some of her friends. They call me other things. I hate the things they call me). “You must be very polite. Speak only when you’re spoken to. Offer drinks to people whose hands are free, and hold the plates of food out in front of them.”
“Yes, Marta.” I said. She likes me to call her Marta when we’re by ourselves, but of course in public I call her Madam. Miss and Master are for children, Sir and Madam for grownups. I used to make mistakes at first, but never now. Not since the last time. Marta never whips me, but not everyone is Marta. Some of them are cruel and not kind.
“No wine for the children – fruit juice or water for them. You remember? Wine is white or red, juice is yellow or clear.”
“Yes, Marta. I remember.”
I’ve done these things before, so many times, but she likes to remind me of the details. Marta likes to get the details right.
“Don’t jump if any of the gentlemen … admire you.”
That she’s said before, too. She doesn’t think I understand about the men, but I understand. This isn’t the first job I’ve been assigned to. Not everyone is Marta.
“You’re a very pretty girl, you know. Some of the men may want to … well, you know. Just smile, be courteous, move on with your tray.”
The men get grabby if you let them. After they’ve drunk some wine they like to touch you with their hands, rub their bodies up against you if they can get you alone.
You’re a female, too. You must know the things they want to do, want you to do.
Marta is kind and good. Marta tries to defend me. But she can’t always stop them.
The party day came. I wasn’t looking forward to it, exactly. Why should I? Crowds frighten me, a little. Crowds of people, some of them good, some of them mean, but somehow the good ones never stop the mean ones from doing things like tripping you up when you have a full tray of drinks, or running their hands all over you when you’re trapped in a corner.
Marta’s not like that, and this was Marta’s party. Marta had asked me to help as if it was a favour, not a job, as if I could say no. I tried to imagine saying “No,” but couldn’t. I always agree with her, say what I think she wants me to say, but sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly what she wants me to do. That night, for instance.
The guests started to arrive. We’d spent most of the day putting up posters and laying out chairs and tables around the walls. There was one big table for all the books: lots and lots of copies of the same book. It had a dark cover with red lettering on it, and a picture of a woman behind the letters. The words said:
THE ARABIAN NIGHTS AND COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
Marta said she’d explain them to me later, but she never did.
Everyone was nicely dressed. The gentlemen were in suits, the ladies in evening gowns. It was a hot night, and rather stuffy, so we kept the doors and windows open to allow the air to flow through. I was kept quite busy pouring drinks at first. Another clan, a man, was helping with the lights and sound system. He wore a suit and tie, but I could tell. He moved a step behind the other men.
The speeches started half an hour later. First a big fat man stood up and told us what a good friend he was of the man who wrote the book, and what a good book it was, and how all of us should read it.
I wish I was allowed to read it. Marta doesn’t like seeing me with a book. She says it’s lazy and there’s no good reason for it. What could I possibly hope to learn that I don’t already know?
Then another man stood up and said that he’d published the book because he was sure that it was going to be a great success. There was quite a lot of talking going on during the second speech, so I couldn’t always follow what he was saying. Twice he had to call for them to hush. There were some women near the door, not so well-dressed, who seemed to be arguing with the men by the door. I could see that Marta was drifting in that direction, too. It was her party, and she wanted it to run smoothly.
She’d said that to me so many times during the day, that I understood at last she must be nervous about the success of her party. I’d never thought a thought like that before. It made me feel a little strange – not worried for myself but worried for her.
Now the man who wrote the book started to speak. He said he’d read us some parts from the book, and I wanted to listen to him. I had to keep serving drinks, though. Every time one of the speeches finished people would cluster round the table to get more.
The noise by the door was getting quite loud, now. Suddenly I heard a voice shout: “Wife-killer! You fucking murdered your wife …” It was a woman who’d sneaked right into the middle of the crowd. She looked quite young, about my age, but she was dressed in pants and halter, not a dress. She was waving her arms about, and when the men tried to grab her and calm her down, she started to kick and struggle.
The noise by the door suddenly got worse, and a group of other women pushed by us into the hall. They were all shouting things like “Woman-hater!” “Murderer!”
I didn’t understand what they were saying, or what I should do. One of them crashed into the drinks table and knocked a lot of glasses and bottles over, so I stepped back to avoid being cut by broken glass.
Just then a glass came sailing into the room. I don’t know who threw it. I suppose one of the people by the door, but it fell right into the middle of the floor in front of the book table and exploded like a bomb. The man who wrote the book fell down. I thought I ought to see if he needed help.
The women had mostly run away or been pushed out the door by now, and the party had become a lot of small groups of people shouting at each other. No-one seemed to notice at first that the man who wrote the book had fallen down. I was the first one there to try and help him up.
I knew not to try and wipe away the blood around his face and eyes, because there could be bits of glass in it, and they might go deeper into the wound. Instead I sat down next to him and asked him how he was.
“Who’re you?” he asked, very faintly.
“Eva,” I answered.
“What’s happened? Something hit me – my eyes …”
“You were hit by a glass. Someone threw it into the room,” I said. “Please keep your eyes closed, sir. You might cause further damage if you try and open them.”
His eyelids were gummed shut by blood, so I didn’t think he’d be able to, in any case.
“I tried before and … I couldn’t see anything, Eva. D’you think that means anything? D’you think they might be … hurt.”
He reached out his hand, but it wasn’t to touch me the way men do. He wanted to hold my hand. I held his hand.
“Will I be all right?” he asked me.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I hope so, sir.”
“Don’t call me sir, call me …”
Someone hit me on the side of the head, very hard, and rolled me to one side. There was an ambulance crew with stretchers and a bunch of other men standing behind us. He disappeared underneath them.
All the others were filing out by this time, dishevelled and worried looking. Even the other clansman had gone. There was nothing left of the party but the boxes of books and the P.A.-system.
As they carried the man away, I heard him call my name. He kept on shouting it as they put him in the back of the ambulance. Then the doors closed and the sound abruptly cut out. They jetted away.
Marta was too upset to speak to me, but I knew she’d want to forget it all as soon as possible. It took me three hours to sweep and scrub the floors and walls, stack all the chairs, and gather up all the glasses.
Then I went back upstairs and climbed into my cupboard.
your sister Eva