I freeze. (As though I were not already frozen.)
Oh, please, she says. Don't look so surprised. Everyone knows exactly who you are and why you're here. Haven't you noticed how they've all been immeasurably tense from the moment you walked in? How on edge they seem, watching you watch them, waiting for the interrogations they know are coming and being even more frightened by the fact that they have yet to begin?
This time her sigh is self-satisfied.
There we go again, she says, being afraid of mere facts, and she gently allows her eyes to spin upward. I would enjoy the accompanying rosy giggle more if I did not feel so suddenly exposed, naked in front of a group of strangers ogling my shriveled body.
How, I say, how did you know?
(I correct my previous thoughts: here it is, now is the moment I truly wish I were not here.)
Mrs. Galloway is an anal cunt, she says, giggling again, and I nearly choke (on the wine I am sipping in a pathetic attempt to stall) at the glimpse of Bessaline Baxter's latent vulgarity. No living being steps through that door unless she can recite their life story, warts and all.
I, I say, trying to start a sentence by expelling sound in the hopes that one syllable will lead me to the next, but the "I" only leads me to another "I", and then a third, after which by grace of God I finally say something, the only thing I can think of (and therefore, as is so often the case when we run out of crafted statements to relay and are left only with the thoughts that threaten to leap from us the moment our shielding shatters, the most honest thing I could say):
I didn't think everyone else would be made aware of my identity.
(I don't dare look around to confirm Bessaline Baxter's assertions; I keep my eyes transfixed on hers, tethering myself to them for safety.)
As I was saying: anal, and a cunt.
But she says this with such lemon-scented innocence that even I have to join her in giggling, and the combination of taut terror and this tenuous hint of unclenching relaxation makes the floor feel like quicksand trying to spit me up.
So, she says, that dangerous smile spreading across her face, what do you want to know?