When the Party’s Over
Nancy Arant Williams
Shay Watson used her long leopard-stripe scarf to wave goodbye to
her friends as they honked and drove away, music blaring through open
windows even in the chilly November night air. The porch light was on,
allowing her to glance at her watch. It surprised her to see that it was
nearly two a.m. Where did the time go? It certainly flew past when you
Suddenly she felt exhausted and nearly had to drag herself up the
three steps of the wide front porch, all the while digging for her key,
which had, of course, fallen into the murky blackness of her oversized
faux-leopard handbag. Momentarily she let herself in and stood in the
entryway of her first floor condo, locked the front door and turned on a
lamp in what had been a very dark space.
She felt foggy-brained and knew she’d had too much to drink and
too little to eat. Her friends, Dave and Wong were making it their life’s
work to master a multitude of complex mixed drinks, and she had a hard
time passing up a test taste of each new offering. She found it
interesting that though she really hated the taste of alcohol in any form,
sugar and flavorings could disguise even the most wretched-tasting stuff.
And somehow drinking could make the most ordinary event extraordinary. She
pondered the thought, trying to understand why.
Kicking off her shoes she sank onto the sofa, still wearing her
white rabbit jacket, which wasn’t nearly as warm as it looked. She
shivered then stretched out, curling into a ball and pulling a thick taupe
chenille throw around her. For some reason she couldn’t let go of the
thought that drinking made even the most ordinary event extraordinary. Why
was that? And if it was true, what would happen without alcohol? Did it
really make things better, or just change her perception of what went on
She was stunned to realize the thought had never occurred to her
before. Was she fooling herself, thinking she was having a good time when
perhaps she and everyone else were just trying to make it so, when it
wasn’t? Was it some kind of trick of the mind?
And if they were having such a good time, why did the letdown seem
so drastic when the party ended and life returned to normal? Why was
normal so intolerable? Was it really that bad? Why did she feel so empty
and sick the next morning if it was such a great idea in the first place?
As tired as she was her mind wouldn’t stop whirling, though she
had closed her eyes and tried to give herself up to sleep. Even after
several minutes sleep didn’t come. That was strange. Usually drinking made
her sleepy so it took no effort at all. Maybe it was because the light was
too bright. Struggling to free herself from the chenille throw she finally
sat up, put her feet on the floor and blinked. The light seemed to be
dancing before her eyes. She frowned, wondering what was going on.
She stood, made sure of her balance and headed toward the lamp,
switched it off, briefly let her eyes adjust then began shedding clothes
as she headed toward the bedroom. She sighed, realizing she had to get up
for work the next morning—Saturday of all days. She worked at an
employment agency, where the lines were long as the economy grew worse.
They had never worked weekends in years past, but the pressure was
mounting to get people back to work, to add to the tax rolls that no
longer covered even basic government expenditures.
She loved her job for the most part, but wasn’t thrilled with
compulsory overtime, which really cramped her style. As the only child of
middle class parents she didn’t need the money, and she hated seeing the
hopeless looks on clients’ faces every day of every week, and now even on
Saturdays. She even had dreams of crowds with hopeless faces, for which
she had no good answers. Maybe that was why she wanted to escape reality
on her days off.
Standing in front of the bathroom sink she removed her makeup,
brushed her teeth, and applied moisturizer to her twenty-six year old
face. Her fair complexion seemed to be aging faster than she had
anticipated. Could drinking be a factor?
Staring at her reflection she tilted her head to study the woman
in the mirror as if seeing herself for the very first time.
Who am I really?
Oh, she was clear about the facts. But she couldn’t help but
wonder if there should be more to life than just getting up every morning,
going to work, coming home, shopping and partying, which were the sum
total of what consumed her time.
One rainy Sunday afternoon she had discussed the subject with her
friend, Melanie, and they had concluded that since they knew no better,
nothing more would be expected of them. And if that was so, what was the
point in planning for a different future? Why would it matter? Why did
But that notion had bothered her—bothered her still, producing a
tight knot in the pit of her stomach. Something had to matter didn’t it?
If not, what was the point of getting up in the morning? What was the
point of being alive?
The question haunted her as she slipped her nightgown over her
head. What was the point exactly? The clock said two-forty when she
finally slid under the thick down comforter and pulled it snugly around
her neck. She had to be up in four hours. She sighed aloud. “Just great.”
It wasn’t long before she dozed off, but wild, frightening dreams
woke her several times, making her wonder what was going on. She seldom
dreamed. Or if she did, she usually didn’t recall them. But these were
unforgettable. Odd-looking phantom creatures with misshapen limbs chased
her at every turn. There was no place to escape from them. For the third
time she jolted awake frowning, soaked with perspiration and shivering
with anxiety. Why did the dreams keep coming? Wasn’t one enough?
She turned her wet pillow over to the dry side, got up and changed
her gown, then slid back under the covers, glancing at the clock that
glowed with the time: four-ten.
Out loud she said, “Go back to sleep.” She dozed but this time she
found herself standing up, looking down into a bottomless pit, from which
the stench of death and rotten eggs mingled. For some reason she couldn’t
wake up, and she couldn’t turn away from the sight. As she watched the pit
opened wider so she could get a better look inside—not that she wanted to
see any more. Suddenly she was aware of something else she hadn’t noticed
before—the sounds of people moaning and src
eaming hopeless src
desperate and unending. Her subconscious was frantic to escape the scene,
but she was transfixed. Fires burned in smaller pits and she could feel
heat so hot that it should’ve consumed her in a second, but still she
stood, unable to move from the scene. Her thoughts tumbled over each
other. Where was this place? Why was she here?
As her eyes adjusted to the lack of light she saw creatures
chained by the thousands to the sides of the tunnel walls below, creatures
like those that had chased her. They were growling and src
frustration, yanking at the chains with all their might, unable to escape.
But what was worse was that many of these same creatures were walking
around stalking the human beings before her. Her heart beat hard and fast
as if to leap from her chest when she saw talons several inches long,
honed to sharp points. The eyes of the creatures were evil, filled with
darkness, and without knowing how, it was clear that their only goal was
to inflict pain and misery on the unfortunate souls nearby.
Without warning one of the pits exploded and fire and sparks
filled the air, making it even hotter than before, and the src
louder and more terrifying.
Why am I here? Why can’t I wake up?
Then she knew.
This is the edge of hell. In an instant it
all became clear. Her grandmother had been a Christian and taken her to
church as a child. She had heard stories about Jesus, God’s Son who had
come to earth to bear the sins of all mankind. She remembered vague
iptions of hell, though she couldn’t quite recall the source. But
that memory congealed and she burst into tears. “This is hell, isn’t it?
My grandmother was right, wasn’t she? She said she had prayed for me, that
I would see that my sin had separated me from God, and needed Jesus to be
the bridge to restore me to God. But I said no! I said no!” She blinked,
trying to clear her head. “Is it too late, God? This hell thing is real,
She heard no audible answer, but somehow she knew she was right.
This was hell. All her life she had refused to believe it was real and
considered it a myth. But pretending it wasn’t real didn’t make it so.
Without warning she fell to her knees and wept. “Forgive me, Jesus, for
rejecting your gift of salvation. Save me so I can go back and tell others
this is the real deal!”
Suddenly she found herself back in her bed, breathing hard and
feeling more relieved than ever before. She couldn’t stop crying at the
thought of her narrow escape. “That wasn’t just a dream, was it, God? You
took me there to show me it was real. I can still taste the soot and smell
the smell of death and rotten eggs. I will never forget the intense heat
and the sense of hopelessness there.” After a moment’s contemplation she
sighed, “Knowing these things changes everything, doesn’t it, God?”
From that moment on, she knew she could never go back to her place
of ignorance and her party life. In fact, she would never be the same
Copyright, 2011, Nancy Arant Williams. Used by permission.