"If this were Frasier, Niles would run out and buy a speakerphone before the president called back. He'd hook it up, but then in the middle of the call it would blow up, or something," Daphne says.
We all look at her.
"I always watch because I like my namesake," Daphne says.
"That's what he said?" Lowell says, pouring chardonnay into his glass. "He came right out and said the president liked my potato-mango gratinée?"
"What do you think he'd say to lead into the subject that Clinton wanted to come to dinner? That the president had been very depressed about the Whitewater investigation?"
"No mention of Whitewater!" Lowell says.
"It's like: don't think of a pink elephant," the highlighter says.
Kathryn comes in from the back deck. "The bugs are starting to bite," she says.
"Also, where are we going to seat them?" Lowell says.
I say: "At the dining room table."
"Twelve, with the leaf up, but fourteen? Where will we get the chairs?"
"You can probably leave that up to someone on his staff."
"This isn't going to happen," Kathryn says. "You really think the Clintons are going to come bumping down that dirt road like the Beverly Hillbillies?"
"Gravel," Lowell says. "But you're right. We could easily get it paved."
"Remember when Queen Elizabeth went to Washington, and they took her to the home of a typical black family, or whatever it was, and the woman went up to the queen and gave her a big hug, and all the newspapers had the photograph of the queen going into shock when she was touched?" the highlighter says.
"A good suggestion: a simple handshake with the president and first lady will suffice," Lowell says to the highlighter.
"If I had to talk to them I'd probably piss my pants," the highlighter says.
"We could mention to Hillary that treatment for adult incontinence was not often covered under current health insurance policies," I say.
"We could say that yellow water was better than white water," Daphne chimes in.
"I just realized: I didn't put the carpaccio out," I say, going to the refrigerator.
"Let's spray ourselves and knock back some more wine out on the deck before we eat," Kathryn says.
"Yes, but...we won't swallow!" the highlighter says.
Well before eleven, we've run out of jokes.
"This is the most strange and exciting day I have had since Madonna came in to get her roots retouched after closing. There she was, looking like a little wet dog, with her hair shampooed and the handkerchief-size towel behind her neck, and she wouldn't speak to me directly, she said everything to her bodyguard, who relayed it to me: all of a sudden, instead of touching up her roots, I was supposed to dry her hair, set the dryer on low and give it to him, actually, and let him dry it, and I was supposed to highlight her wig, instead. And then we had a blackout. The whole place went dark, and do you know, her bodyguard thought it was deliberate. It wasn't Con Ed fucking up again, it was a plot to kidnap Madonna! He kept lighting this butane lighter he had with him and looking incredibly fierce. She was smoking a cigarette and talking to herself. She was dabbing at her neck and saying that she wished she could be somewhere else, and then, in almost no light, the bodyguard kept telling me to hurry up with highlighting the wig."
"What did she name that baby?" Kathryn says.
"LuLu," Daphne says.
I correct her. "Lourdes."
"He reads the tabloids in the food store," Kathryn says.
At eleven-thirty, George Stephanopoulos has not called back. After Letterman's monologue, we decide to skip Burt Bachrach and call it a night. The kitten has been sleeping on its back, like a dog, for quite a long time. The highlighter casually reaches for it, as if it were her evening bag.
Excerpted from Perfect Recall, copyright (c) 2000 Ann Beattie. Reproduced with permission from the publisher; all rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
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