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Perfectly Sober

Sheldon looked around the room. People were talking in groups, their shoulders so tight together that if they’d been bent down they could’ve been in football huddles. But then they wouldn’t have been able to hold their plates of brie and crackers or their drinks. He smiled at his thought and checked his watch. Only a few minutes left.

He and Marcia were thought to be so civilized, these days attending the same parties. He did not want to be the one to break the illusion. And he was afraid that if he said no, he’d never be invited again. He wasn’t ready for the division of the friends; they had already divided the books, the silver and the china. The children were old enough to bounce back and forth during their college vacations as it suited them. They were with him tonight, but both out at their own parties.

The TV was on, of course, as it had been all evening without sound; until now it had been no more important than the wall paper. He turned up the volume. The crowd in Times Square was allowed its voice. Sheldon heard a lurid description of the heightened security measures protecting them all. Then the focus was on the clock and the ball atop the tower. He and Marcia had watched this American ritual together for twenty-seven years.

The countdown was about to start, and all the groups opened to face the screen. His host and hostess walked into the room carrying trays of little plastic cups, champagne or Perrier. He took Perrier and smiled his thanks.


He stayed off to one side to watch. Across the room Marcia was wearing a new black dress and the rope of pearls he had given her on her fiftieth birthday.

Six…five…four…. She held a plastic glass of champagne. She hadn’t stopped when he had. A pity, he thought. He allowed himself the illusion that they might have stayed together.

Three….two….one….and then “Happy New Year.” A flurry of hugs and round robin kisses. Air kisses, phony European style kisses, and Marcia’s back to him.

The hostess turned off the TV and with her husband started singing “Auld Lang Syne.” and he joined in. Their group had been doing this for years. Marcia had always laughed about it in the car on the way home, but her soprano had been as loud as though she’d been asked to lead the singing. He heard his voice crack, and instead of singing he listened. He did not mouth the words. Marcia raised her empty glass as if in a toast to him and kept on singing.

They’d laughed about the lyrics, the puzzle of what it was that should be forgotten and never brought to mind. By the end they’d given up on finding the answer. It was too late now, but he knew he’d think about it again on the drive home, taking it slow, mindful of those drunk drivers, their laughter and arguments filling their cars until there was room for nothing more, except the promise of a night cap.

Sheldon raised his glass to Marcia. He’d never much liked Perrier. He drained the glass anyway.

(c) Copyright 2005 Miriam N. Kotzin. "Perfectly Sober" was published in Girls With Insurance, August 24, 2005.