The Something Missing

“She won’t know what her” I murmur grimly.


Something is missing in that sentence.


“…’s different until the morning, at least!” the count cackled as he rolled the canvas up and slid it into his prosthetic leg. I rocked back and forth on my heels at the doorway, glancing nervously down toward the golden glow of the banquet hall and its laughing voices and clinking. The room was dark and we were well-hidden in the shadows but still froze when we heard footsteps as a waiter trotted past with a platter and we waited a moment and breathed again. The count clipped the leg closed and buckled it to his knee. I whispered for him to hurry as he unrolled the reproduction and set it into the heavy wooden frame and lifted it ungracefully to the wall. It dropped into place with a sturdy thump and we both froze again but no footsteps came.

I slid out of the parlor first and toward the bathrooms at the mouth of the hall, glancing back to see the count softly close the door and stride after me. As he passed he whispered “patio, fifteen minutes, then we’re off”. I entered the bathroom and the attendant nodded at me and gestured to an empty stall. I sat fully dressed on the commode, legs trembling, and gulped great breaths of air through my hands. Christ, what a job.

At the sink I splashed water on my face and straightened my collar and handed the attendant a bill. He thanked me crisply and opened the door. What a job.

I entered the hall just as the waiters popped a fresh round of champagne and I jumped while all the women squealed in delight and the men roared in appreciation. The count was laughing near the fountain with a few debutantes and I looked but didn’t see her. Just as well, it was hard enough keeping it up before the job but if we had one of our moments now, after, there was too great a risk she’d see the difference in my eyes and know already or somehow tease the truth into them and then all of it would be for nothing.

I took a glass from a waiter but it trembled when I lifted it to my mouth so I just held it and waved back to the red-faced old general who summoned me to his seat inside a bouquet of skirts. He wanted me to join him and agree with his joke but I pretended not to understand and walked away toward the patio doors. The count was still entertaining and I wished he’d be less entirely fearless and excuse himself.

I made it nearly to the door before she laid a white-gloved hand on my shoulder. “Are we really so boring as all that?” she asked. I stopped and closed my eyes for only a moment and then turned to face her, smiling. “Well,” I said, “the Burmese do throw a better party. But they’ve the nasty habit of trying to eat you after.” She laughed and took my arm and we walked out to the patio together. I glanced back over my shoulder at the count, looking my way and smiling rigidly.

Out in the blue moonlight away from the glow of the hall, she moved closer and I could feel her arm tremble against mine. We walked to the stone banister and looked out over the garden. “I’m glad you came,” she said quietly. My eyes crinkled and I laid a hand on hers. She glanced up at me, then out across the manicured bushes.

A door creaked open behind us and we looked back at the count coming out with a glass in one hand and the arm of a socialite in the other. “Hullo, you two!” he yelled happily across the patio, dragging his companion toward us. She squeezed my hand and let it go and we turned to face the count. “So glad you could make it,” she said falsely. He smiled a little drunkenly while his companion tried unsuccessfully to seat herself on a bench, his stiff arm holding her aloft.

He pointed at me and asked “Mind if I have a word with him in quiet? It’s about–” and here he winked for the benefit of us all “–matters of state.” She smiled hospitably and said “Of course, I should see to my guests anyway” and extracted the girl from his arm and led her inside. I watched after her as the count drained his glass but she didn’t look back and he, immediately sober, hissed at me under his breath, “The hell were you thinking?”

“I couldn’t stop it. She snuck up on me.”

“I’ll bet she did. You’re practically spitting feathers.”

We stood in silence for a moment. He looked coldly out over the blue grass. “Do you think she suspected anything? Tell me straight. If she had a clue, this whole thing is off.”

“She didn’t.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“And it won’t be a problem? You’ll never see her again, you know.”

I heard the laughter from inside and down in the garden the soft gurgling of the pond, and I saw the golden glimmer of a koi as its back broke the glassy surface.

“It won’t be a problem. I’ve already forgotten…”