Artie found her curled near the bed in their room, puffing on a cigarette and sucking down the last of her whiskey.
“That’s it, Margot. That’s the last of it.”
“The liquor’s,” she faltered, “s’never gone.”
“Oh, it’s gone. It’s gone.”
“Stand up,” he held his hand out to her, “C’mon, let me help you.”
“Or the liquor will stay gone.”
“I will. No, I am.”
Margot stopped snickering and sat up on her knees, positioning herself as if to strike.
“I mean it, Margot,” he chided, feeling at once as though he were reprimanding a child, “If you don’t clean yourself up, I’m done. I won’t bring you any more.”
She resumed laughing, a startling guttural laugh that seemed to go on for several minutes and caused her to fall back on the floor, her body rolling and shaking.
“You’ll never stop bringing me liquor,” Margot stumbled, her tongue missing her teeth on the T so that it came out as ‘sop,’ and staying near the back of her throat on the first G, as if afraid to move it forward in attention but having the opposite effect and annunciating it. “I’m your best customer. And you love money.”
Artie sighed, looking away. Her thoughts, though tumbling over one another and emerging more garbled than fluid, were coherent, a result of having lived half her life in a drunken state, a process of breaking down the body but never quite wholly the mind. She was right and it was a fact he could not change. If he couldn’t sell to her he would still sell to Chauncey and all that he sold would be consumed by her regardless.
He held his hand out again, “I bet there’s liquor at White Oaks.”
She didn’t budge, roaring into the floor. He grabbed her from behind, locking his hands under her armpits and pulling her into the dressing room while she laughed and then screamed from the bottom of her shriveled lungs.
Margot sipped her sixth glass of champagne in the corner, pensively observing Artie across the ballroom. He had attached himself to the hips of both Evelyn and Minnie, apologizing for Margot’s behavior and guiding their conversations.
She wanted to think their affair had become tumultuous, an uncontainable ardor, but it had not. It had become nothing, lacking any form of madness or root, absent from a single coherent memory.
Margot thought about that afternoon, about her yellowed fingertips and singed furs, her concave chest and the gowns that drowned her, her prattling laughter and the shards of glass that stuck to the soles of her feet. She pored over the last drop of whiskey running down her throat and seeping into her blood, over the beads of sweat dripping from her hairline and into the great crevices that had formed on the topographical map of her face, over the spilled basin of water and the cold cloth on her forehead. She considered the ringing phone followed by hushed whispers, the silent bustling of servants that appeared unnoticed, the somehow unlocked doors and missing keys. They swirled together in her mind, a whirlwind of blame roving around a singular, albeit blameless, cause: Artie.
She pressed herself from her seat, a sudden rush escaping her chest and dizzying her mind. Margot gripped the table, her cuticles transparent and the base of her fingernails a vicious red, before wobbling into the middle of the room where she grabbed two glasses from the servant’s tray, giving him a half-smile and a nod. She took a long swig and marched toward her nemesis.
-M. Ray Hall