When the Party’s Over

Nancy Arant Williams


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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 were partying.

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 around her?

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 anything matter?

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
eams, 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
eeching in 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
eams grew 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 desrc
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, isn’t it?”

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 again.




Copyright, 2011, Nancy Arant Williams. Used by permission.


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