"So do you have to be naked to use the foosball table?"
At least that's what I think she said. The house's half-million-dollar sound system was being pushed to its limit by one of those repetitive, mechanical-sounding drones people slightly younger than me liked to listen to. I focused on her mouth as she spoke, trying to read her lips through the smoke and chaotic lighting, but found myself concentrating on their plump perfection instead.
I managed to turn slightly, bumping someone behind me and sending most of his beer down my back. It felt pretty good, so I shrugged off his apology and looked out across a dance floor so full that it made nonvertical motion completely impossible. On the downbeats, I could just make out some bare skin over the top of the pogoing crowd.
"I'm not really sure," I shouted loud enough for her to hear but not so loud as to shower her with spit. "I think it's more of a guideline."
She mulled that over for a moment. "Why?"
Now, that was a question that demanded an answer that was probably too long and complicated to get across in the current setting.
A hundred years ago, the house we were standing in had been the calculatedly imposing home of a wealthy plantation ownera man who still sat, white suit and all, in an old daguerreotype above the toilet in one of the bathrooms. In its heyday, the house had been filled with European furniture, South American silver, and Chinese silkall carefully maintained by a staff of ex-slaves who would have been well on their way to realizing that freedom was a more ethereal concept than they'd originally thought. Parties, frequent and lavish, would have been carefully planned to highlight the breeding and superiority of guests wandering stiffly through it and to nudge upward the social standing of the hosts. All that was gone now, replaced by the previously mentioned sound system, an elaborate bar constructed out of an old VW microbus, no less than five big-screen TVs, concert lighting, and an undetermined number of sweating, occasionally naked, twenty-somethings. Outside, the once-stately gardens had been replaced with a twenty-person hot tub, a pool in the inexplicable shape of a star, and an inoperable crane that would soon be coaxing gravity-assisted projectile vomiting from aspiring bungee jumpers.
I shrugged as the girl and I sidestepped away from the expanding mass on the dance floor. I hadn't caught her name, or maybe I had and just couldn't remember. "I don't know. Tradition, I guess."
She tilted her head, causing her nose ring to flash hypnotically as she tried to decide if I was making fun of her.
I'd been trying to peg her age for the last fifteen minutes, but she was one of those people who seemed to gain and lose years with every change of expression. My current best guess was that she was a few years younger than me. Say, twenty-eight.
"You were telling me about your trip," I yelled, trying to divert the current flow of conversation, which would inevitably lead to questions about the infamous owner of the housea subject to be avoided at all costs. "After I left MIT, I did some travelingyou know, just put my bike on a plane went where it was cheap. I started in Europe...Have you ever been to Prague?" I shook my head.
"Beautiful cityand you can hang out there for next to nothing. I rode across the Czech Republic"
"Yeah. I was supposed to go with a bunch of friends, but they all got jobs right out of school and backed out on me. It was better, though, you know? I was kind of forced to dive into the local culture. The people were greatthey took me in, let me stay at their houses...I even slept in barns sometimes with the cows." I grinned, probably stupidly. "Really? Cows?"
"Hey, don't laugh. After a day of hammering your bike through the rain, you'd be psyched to curl up with a cow. They generate a lot of heat."
Copyright 2003 by Kyle Mills. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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