Coming out of the ladies' room, I found myself caught up in the throng of people moving through the greenhouse. Could I be the only one looking up at the elaborate domed ceiling? At the flowers? The plants? No one else seemed aware of their surroundings as they chatted to each other and moved about.
No matter how often I went there -- to take gardening classes or wander around the grounds -- I always found myself inside this building, staring up and out the glass roof, into the sky. This conservatory had become one of my refuges; I resented having it disrupted.
Continuing to follow the crowd, I reached the dining room. The air was redolent with the scent of roses so heavy, full, and fat their voluptuousness embarrassed me. Just as it had been so hard for me to refrain from leaving the party to roam the gardens outside, it was difficult for me to refrain from burying my face in the roses, to keep my fingers from touching their silken petals, to avoid the lure of engaging in some kind of communion with them.
Finally, I found our table in the middle of the room. Bob and Lanni Wilcox were already there talking to Mike Menken and his wife, Georgia, who was on the board of the Botanical Garden.
As I tried to make my way over to Lanni, Paul sidetracked me.
"Julia, come meet the Foleys."
I had been briefed in the limousine ride: Tom and Jill Foley -- he was in publishing -- were involved in a half-dozen causes and had recently decided to consolidate their philanthropic efforts to one or two charities. Paul was campaigning for FIT.
Tom and Jill looked alike in that way a married couple can. Both of them were tall, angular, and stoic and resembled a sophisticated version of Grant Wood's American Gothic.
I was polite, interested, and flattering, making good eye contact during the short conversation we had while we waited for the rest of the table to arrive. And then we all went to find our seats.
Tom Foley was on my right. Sam Butterfield was on my left.
"Good evening, Julia," Sam said, his round eyes twinkling, his full lips curving in a smile. A short, compact man in his sixties, his silver hair fell in waves to his shoulders, longer than was currently popular. Instead of a formal white shirt, he wore a rebellious faded blue chambray work shirt with his tuxedo.
As had happened the few other times we had met, I took a slight step backward -- leery of getting too close.
After Paul made the introductions around the table, Sam's gaze came to rest on me, his dark blue eyes searching mine as if he were trying to unearth me.
"You don't look anything like the Julia who I used to see at the institute," Sam said. His voice was rough, as if it had been rubbed with sandpaper.
The month before I had done a small freelance job, writing a four-page brochure about the institute for Sam and his wife, Nina. I hadn't gotten to know Sam well, but I'd liked and was impressed by Nina. Since she'd moved up to Harvard to teach for the fall semester, she couldn't be at the fund-raiser that night and I was sorry. She would have made the evening more palatable.
"No, I suppose not," I said. "But how could I work dressed up like this?"
"Hell, I don't mean your clothes." He gestured with his hands, his thick fingers moving in the air. "It's your whole damn persona."
"Does every psychiatrist feel it's acceptable to unabashedly delve into other people's lives?" I asked.
"You tell me." He laughed, and all his features dissolved into each other.
"Well, my father -- who's a shrink -- does, and my husband does...all his associates do."
"I hate to be lumped in with all his associates," Sam teased.
From the right, a waiter served warm mushroom tarts and I used the distraction to attend to Tom Foley.
Copyright © 1998 by M.J. Rose
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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