She wandered down to the end of the room and studied her reflection in the great oval mirror above the fireplace. She was wearing her plum-colored Karl Lagerfeld suit, the most elegant outfit she owned. It fit perfectly, with the added benefit that the lush cut and heavy fabric quite concealed the thin nine-millimeter pistol on her left hip. On her lapel hung a sticker that read "Marlene Ciampi -- '64." She'd had her hair done, too; it fell richly to her shoulders, a great faux-casual mass of crow-black curls, artfully designed to cast a heavy shadow over the right side of her face, where the eye was glass. She had already this evening met some of the girls she had gone to school with, and she wondered if she looked as good as the ones who looked good or more like the ones who did not and reflected yet again upon Camus's dictum that people over forty were responsible for their own face. She, with the help of various bad guys, certainly was. As she so mused, a voice behind her said:
Foeda est in coitu et brevis voluptas
Et taedet Veneris statim peractae.
Marlene spun around. Before her stood a plumpish woman of just her own height and age, with an unruly mass of red-gold hair frizzing out of her head, and a broad, big-toothed grin on her freckled face.
"Good God! It's Shanahan!" cried Marlene.
"Champ!" shrieked the woman, and they leaped into each other's arms.
"Wow, let me look at you," said Maureen Shanahan, pulling back and looking Marlene over. "Still gorgeous, curse you. What happened to you? You never come to these things."
"I always come to these things. I'm very socially responsible, as you'll recall, except when I used to hang out with you. I figured you'd remember the Petronius."
"God, yes! We thought we were so clever finding it and offering it for our free translation, not realizing -- "
"We were only the four thousandth nasty Sacred Heart girl to find that thing since the foundation. My God, I'm glad to see you! You won't believe this, but a week doesn't go by when I don't think of you."
"Maureen, that's crazy. Why didn't you call? I'm in the book. Or send a card? You're the orphan. I had no way to get in touch with you."
"I thought you hated me."
"What! Why would you think that?"
"Oh, you know, the last time we saw each other. Me and Ron..."
Marlene laughed. "Oh, God, that! The Odious Ron." She slapped her hand to her mouth. "Oh, Jesus, I'm sorry..."
"No, it's perfectly all right. The Odious Ron and I have parted ways. And you were absolutely right on about him. I put him through med school, produced two kids, and he dumped me for the usual beauteous intern. Pathetic and banal. The truth is...God, I don't know what the truth is. Ashamed? Embarrassed? Stupid? Ron was pretty good at cutting me off from my past life. Jesus, with you in particular it was hate at first sight."
"Likewise," said Marlene, and they laughed.
"Jeepers," said Shanahan, "I can't believe I'm standing here in the ballroom talking to Marlene Ciampi. What is it, eighteen, twenty years?"
"Or thereabouts, but who's counting? So what're you doing, Shans? You said you had kids?"
"Yeah, David and Shannon. David's a freshman at Georgetown law, Shannon's a senior, she's applying to colleges, if you can believe it. My baby. We live in Sherwood. It's just outside of Wilmington. You want to die of boredom? I have a walletful of pictures."
Marlene looked around the room, mock-furtive. "Do you think we could sneak out for a drink?"
Shanahan giggled. "I don't see why not. It never bothered us when we were juniors, and I doubt we'll get carded, although if we did, it would make my year."
"Great! We'll go to Hoyle's on Lex."
"Hoyle's is still there?"
Copyright © 2000 by Robert K. Tannenbaum
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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