Spring Fling – Wist’s Wake by Connie B. Dowell

Posted by on May 16, 2014 in Spring Fling, Writing | 0 comments

Spring Fling – Wist’s Wake by Connie B. Dowell

I peered into the miniature coffin. Though it lay in jagged shards, I could still admire the beauty of the lines. A genuine Moira Wist vase from her green period. Even for a ceramics dealer, it was the sort of thing you’d see once in a lifetime. John’s shoulder brushed against mine. Our champagne flutes clinked. “To the Wist.”

“To the Wist,” I mumbled back. Weird as the occasion was, to his credit, John had taken the whole thing very well. Indeed, my overall impression of John so far was politeness incarnate. I’d have thought the whole party was a trick if not for the honesty in John’s eyes. John pulled me into a hug, his face lit with a huge grin, then he stumbled off toward a group of guests hovering near the bookcase.

On second thought, maybe it was the champagne that had taken it well.

I moved toward the bookcase myself but avoided the crowd. John clearly loved collecting, and not just ceramics. Every spare inch of wall held a colorful painting, each in a different style or movement. Every nook held a new and strange object. I was admiring John’s other ceramics, none nearly as valuable as the Wist, when I noticed faces peering my way. I’d been identified at last. I loosened my tie.

In a flash, a gray-haired woman with octagonal glasses stood inches from me.

“I’m Eileen. I know who you are.” Her magnified eyes never left mine. I couldn’t read her tone. Angry? Curious?

“You don’t need to worry with me.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “I know what really happened.”

I blinked. “The appraisal table broke. It was faulty. It…” I flinched at the memory of the vase shattering and John, Mr. Nice Guy, patting me on the back before a swarm of official show folks surrounded him, murmuring apologies and promises, cell phones pressed to their ears, dozens of lawyers on the line. I had just told John—on camera, no less—how priceless the darn thing was and…

Eileen put a shushing finger to my lips. I backed away. “It was a put up job,” she said. “Those show people did it.”

“Excuse me?”

Eileen placed a hand on my shoulder. Why was she touching me? “Oh, not you, of course. The higher-ups. The people behind the scenes of behind the scenes. They knew John would sell that vase for lots of money, much more than the insurance company will pay. They never do pay what a thing is really worth.”

I opened my mouth but decided the details of such a claim were extraneous to the conversation, at least for Eileen.

Eileen nodded. To herself, I suppose. “They didn’t want him to have that money.”

I drained my glass and some words bubbled up in a voice like metal scraping on porcelain. “Why would they do that?”

“Oh, to keep his ideas quiet!” She was touching me again.

“They don’t like John’s ideas. Money is power, you know.”

“Mmm-hmm.” A rivulet of sweat trickled down my neck. I didn’t think I wanted to know what those ideas were. Nice as John had been, I should never have come here. A lunatic who didn’t understand freedom of the press in the 21st century was about to give me a lecture on alien abductions or maybe communism. Either way, time to go.

I set my glass on the shelf and sidled toward the door. Eileen reached toward me.

The tinkle of silverware on glass came to my rescue. All heads turned, even Eileen’s. John stood on a footstool. “I’d like to say a little something in honor of the Wist’s passing.” His glass brimmed with bubbly again.

“She was a great vase,” John began, “Great and rare. One of only…how many were there produced, Tim?” Everyone turned to me. I stopped moving. Marvelous.

“Um.” I cleared my throat. Of all the pairs of eyes, not a one blinked. “Thirteen.”

“One of only thirteen. A tragic accident has stolen her from the world, but we will always remember. To the Wist!” He raised his glass.

“To the Wist,” the whole room echoed.

“And now,” said John, “cake.”

Eileen tugged my arm. “Surely, you can stay for cake?”

I would have said that, no, I couldn’t possibly stay for cake but she dragged me to the table. A hand, presumably attached to one of the bodies in the mass of people, thrust a fork and plate at me. Eileen scooped up her own plate and dragged me across the room to where shadow boxes displayed various antique magic tricks and magician’s equipment. Fortunately, she seemed to forget her conspiracy theories.

“John has so many nice things, doesn’t he?” She pointed. “This was Houdini’s cape.”

Probably not, but I nodded anyway.

“Don’t you like your cake?”

“What?” I prodded the slice with my fork. “Oh, yes. It’s wonderful.” I glanced to the opposite side of the room where John juggled for a clapping crowd. Despite the champagne, he didn’t drop one ball. I tried to keep watching, but my gaze wandered again and again to the little coffin on the side table.

I turned to Eileen. “Does he often do things like this?”

She swallowed a bite of cake. “Yes. He’s a fantastic juggler.”

“No, I mean, things like having a wake for a broken vase.”
Eileen cocked her head to the side, puppy-like. Her hair glowed green in the light from John’s Tiffanyesque lamp. “John once spent thirteen days hunting a bobcat. He caught it too. He said it was all about rigging the right kind of trap. I think I’ll get another slice.”

My tie was too tight again. With Eileen gone, I beelined for the door. Others were doing the same, so at least I wouldn’t be rude. A titter of laughter bloomed around me. Probably they were all relieved that I’d been the one stuck talking to Eileen, not them. As I passed the tiny coffin, I couldn’t resist one last look. All this fuss for these green ceramic bits…well, mostly green, a little brown dot.

A little brown dot?

I blinked and squinted, but the brown dot remained. I didn’t need to touch the piece to know it wasn’t dirt, but part of the glaze. But Moira Wist never, never used…

I took two steps, then halted. I couldn’t tell John. I’d raised his hopes and a faulty table had dashed them. He could have his pride and the insurance claim as a consolation prize. Everything would be fine. It was the least I could do.

John stood at the door, taking hats and coats from the pegs on the wall. He handed me my jacket with a big, red-faced smile. “Thank you for coming, Tim.” His handshake pumped my whole arm up and down.

“Thank you for inviting me. You have a lovely home.”

“I saw you admiring my magician’s collection earlier.” He put his finger to his nose. “Best not say anything or you might disappear.” His laugh boomed and he slapped my shoulder. “Keep in touch.”

Out in the night air, I rubbed my eyes. Despite Eileen, I was glad I’d come. I would have understood if John blamed me. His forgiving and understanding attitude had deserved at least the courtesy of attending his bizarre party.

I picked up my speed on the sidewalk, in case Eileen followed. Every time I blinked the brown dot and the titter of laughter revisited me. Did everyone know and like me they didn’t want to tell John? But how many laypeople would know Moira Wist’s glazing practices? I walked even faster. Blink, brown dot. The table, when it fell, what did it look like? I tried to remember, but my mind only conjured a blur of vase and tablecloth and concrete floor. Besides, anything unusual would have been caught on camera. Blink, brown dot. To sabotage, one would need to find the table ahead of time and tamper with it. Blink, brown dot. And John had been so kind. Blink, brown dot. He was such an honest person, right?

 

Connie B. Dowell is a writing center coordinator and freelance editor. Her first book, YOU CAN LOVE WRITING: A GUIDE TO GET THROUGH YOUR COLLEGE PAPERS AND LIKE IT, releases May 2, 2014: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22021127-you-can-love-writing?from_search=true You can also find Connie on Twitter: @ConnieBDowell

About Jessi S

Jessi is a lit junkie - you can either find her reading fantasy books, writing about reading. or reading about writing. When she's not doing that, she's the Publishing Coordinator at Pen and Muse Press, an editorial intern at Month9Books, and writing a novel about the '50s. You can find her on her blog posting cat pictures (listentomuses.wordpress.com) and twitter (link: https://twitter.com/listentomuses).

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