Thursday, February 4, 2010


Harliss MacIntyre had a bad reputation. She’d been known to steal boyfriends, flirt with other girls’ dates, and in later years, it was rumored that she’d met a husband or two at that little motel way up 61, being sure to get a room in the back section where their cars wouldn't be seen from the road. The old ladies gave her those up-and-down lorgnette looks, even at church, for the very air around her seemed tainted, somehow, as if she’d rubbed Sin on her skin instead of Jergens.

Harliss hit her forties with hairstyle wider than her skinny hips; she toddled through life in three-inch heels below her tiny Chic jeans, leaving Shalimar and whispers in her wake. And one of the wonders of a small town is that she just went where she pleased, and hardly anyone really ostracized her ---life went on for Harliss despite her inglorious reputation. She played bridge, she attended Sunday School and Training Union, she was On The Board of Homeroom Mothers at the Private School. A few eschewed her company, and those were either wives wronged by her or another like her, or their Mamas, whose grudges would outlast Time itself.

She’d grown up with the same crowd all of her years---most of her high school classes consisted of people she’d started Kindergarten with, and if she’d been in the backseat with almost every senior boy---well, that’s just how she WAS. There was no need to make a big public THING of it, unless you considered the boy YOURS. And, it emerged, there were more of those than met the eye for a long time.

When she herself married, she made eleven trips to Memphis and Jackson and two to New Orleans, to find just the perfect wedding dress. It was taste and not tact which caused her to choose an ivory gown rather than white---it fit her like a glove---indeed like a SURGEON’S glove, clinging to her small frame and accenting her already-enhanced bosoms like a Barbie dress. Harliss had
had work.
Perhaps that’s where the idea started. Perhaps there was never an idea at all. But when some of her longtime friends invited her to a “Nostalgia Tea” and a lot of the décor was from their childhoods, a joke---human or cosmic---came into being and resounded for counties around.

Nobody ever claimed the incident, though it was whispered far and wide; nobody admitted to choosing the party favors or setting the tables. Nobody took credit for the concept or the crime; it just WAS, and as appropriate a gesture of contempt as it was occasion of immediate titters and then parking-lot and ladies’ room guffaws, with eye-wipings and nose-blowings and other unseemly doings which accompany a good hearty hang-onto-each-other laugh.

Why, Alida Jameson and Charlotte Ann Armstrong both squeezed into one stall in the ladies' room, whooping and hollering, and Alida's Mama's Lilly Dache' hat from her honeymoon fell right into the toilet---it being lidless and all. Those hundred silk flowers (just like one worn by Miss Jennifer Jones in a movie, and from Goldsmith's) emerged dripping and draggled, and it took DAYS for it to dry so she could give it back.

This was a “wear gloves and hats” occasion, with a group of perhaps thirty ladies gathering for a lovely tea at the country club. Pastels were the order of the day, with flowers on each table-for-eight, and a silk-rose-twined lattice behind the speakers’ podium, as well as a pink ostrich plume on the registry pen.

Pastel boas draped each chair, every placecard was done in the most beautiful calligraphy, pink tablecloths abounded, and every rose-covered teapot that could be borrowed was in evidence.

But the pieces de resistance were the beautifully-dressed Barbie dolls, fondly remembered by one and all. They sat saucily on each plate, atop the folded napkin, and, as is the nature of the Mattel line, they sat flatly, with their feet outstretched in front of them for balance. They wore costumes from all decades---capris and ball gowns and swimsuits and cocktail dresses, and much OHHH and AHHH was heard throughout the room.

At Harliss’ table, the one nearest the entrance, with her place and her place-card prominent to view as each guest entered to find her own place---at that particular place setting, Barbie wore a cute, flippy mini-dress---quite stylish and attractive.

EXCEPT, somehow of them all, Harliss’ Barbie had lost her balance, and had toppled backward---so that when the ladies arrived, there sprawled Harliss’ Barbie on her back with her legs in the air like a goalpost in pumps. And she was wearing a thong---an item, I am sure, which has not appeared in any fancybox doll wardrobe meant for children.

How one would go about making a thong out of embroidery floss, as I later heard that it was, is beyond me. But somebody had, and that's the only thing which seems to take the occurrence from accident to planned.

But someone, or something greater than them all, had played the perfect joke on Harliss, who laughed as loud as anybody.

1 comment:

  1. Ohhhhh! What a welcome, WELCOME thing to find on this snowy February morning. More news from Paxton! I believe that I like Harliss – especially her laugh at her own expense. I want that quality for myself – someday! But you’ve made me greedy. I want a BOOK – pages and pages of Paxton that I can hold and savor and race through, forcing myself to slow down to make it last. I want to finish it with a regretful sigh and place on my “keep forever” bookshelf (as opposed to my “check again in a year to see if I want to keep” bookshelf) so that I can pick it up a few months later. I want to re-read and remember old friends and find things I missed because I raced through it in spite of myself. I’d put that book with Gladys and Miss Read and Agatha. I’m so grateful for your gift and that you share it so generously and that you are my friend, Rachel.