Ike Duckworth–Chapter 41

Chapter 41

Bonis malisque, hi dies

A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery.—Mao Zedong

 

Fred and Esmeralda had been voted King and Queen of Saturnalia at the start of the festivities, and consequently had crafted tall crowns of yellow paper for the shindig on Friday. Being the king—or princeps, as Fred preferred— meant that it was his obligation to provide for their banquet, and provide he did. Constantia had been appalled at the money he was laying out for this whimsical feast of his and more disturbed by the audacious plans Ike kept suggesting without Fred dismissing them.

“Aren’t you afraid of losing your job?” she wailed.

It seemed he was not.

The caterers showed up around eleven and an indignant Office Manager banged on the door of the conference room to get Fred’s attention.

“What the hell is this?” Alice snarled, pointing toward the three carts loaded with chafing pans and supplies and their white-clad attendants who were standing in the elevator lobby.

“The Saturnalia banquet,” he said quietly, gesturing to the caterers. “I’m sure you saw the email. Please do join us at noon.”

“You’re pushing your luck, buddy!” she announced, but Fred just smiled, leading the way to the lunchroom.

In an hour, the massive table had been transformed into a showpiece of sumptuous luxury, resplendent with figured white linens, china dishes, gold chasers, crystal goblets and gleaming silver. The arrangement of flowers and candles at the center of the table was low, to encourage conversation, made of deep hues, rich crimsons and velvety blacks, with an aroma both sweet and heavy.

The Saturnalia cohort started to gather around 11:30, unable to restrain themselves from following the sound of ringing crystal and smells of sizzling meat and rich sauces.

Fred poured champagne for everyone as they took their seats, beckoning to the passing lunch crowd, though he only managed to convince Megan and Allen to join them. Alice stormed into the room after the second cork popped.

“You can’t do that!” she shouted at Fred. “It’s against company policy.”

“We have beer at Happy Hour…” Wills suggested.

She stood beside Ike, who thrust his glass of champagne into her hand. “Shut up and join us.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Did you drink out of this? I don’t do cooties…”

Before she, or anyone else, knew what he was doing, Ike put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her full on the mouth.

Her eyes were wide when he pulled away, smirking. “Now you’ve got cooties.”

She downed the glass in one.

“All righty, then!” she said, pitching the glass over her shoulder as she strode away, with a little hip-shimmy for Ike.

He caught the glass one-handed half way through its descending arc as the group shouted “Yo, Saturnalia!” after her. The toasts began, interrupted when Fred held up his hand to speak.

“It’s customary for gifts to be given at Saturnalia, so in the interest of adding a note of class to our merry company, I have decided that Esmeralda and I shall not be the only crowned heads.”

He extracted a bulging garbage bag from under the table. Reaching into it, he extracted a dunce cap.

“Phil, I think,” Fred said, passing it over.

Phil stuck it on his head, bowed, sending it toppling into the centerpiece to general appreciation.

“Do you have a clown hat, maybe?” Lewis asked. “Something with glue or thumbtacks…”

The next was a blue velvet bowler which Megan crooned over. Fred tossed it to her, now holding up a tall red-striped Cat-in-the-Hat topper. Lewis wanted that, adding yet another foot to his considerable height. Allan took a cowboy hat and Ike ended up with a black top hat, Wills grinning beneath a joker cap with bells that jangled when he moved. Megan was testing the propeller on Gordon’s beanie, when Fred lifted his glass again.

“Yo, Saturnalia!” and everyone echoed him.

More corks popped and soon the food was served. There was talk and laughter and much swapping of hats. Lewis spoke in rhyming couplets which got dirtier as they surpassed their second glasses of champagne.

Ike was on the verge of a giggle seizure when a tall man in a black pinstripe suit strode into the raucous gathering with a Martin guitar in his fist. His blonde hair was gray at the temples and from his sun-reddened face shone brilliant blue eyes, a has-been golden boy. He strapped on the guitar and then stood awkwardly by the table, fiddling with the tuning, until Esmeralda noticed him there.

“Yo Saturnalia, Colin!” she called out to him, waving in a restrained, royal manner.

“It’s the Ken-doll,” Willis whispered to Ike.

“Yo Saturnalia, everyone! I thought I’d do a little song for you,” Colin said, a well-practiced movie star smile snapping into place, one no doubt calculated to be both perky and genuine.

Fred thought the reversal most appropriate.

“He needs a hat!” Wills shouted.

Ike passed his top hat to Colin. “Matches your suit,” he said. Fred conjured another hat from under the table, so that Ike became Santa.

Colin didn’t seem to know how to react to any of this, and a few people groaned without compunction when he strummed the first melodic chord.

His rehearsed patter continued. “This is a little song by a wonderful musician called Deadman Turner, and it’s called—appropriately enough—‘Io, Saturnalia.’”

He leaned over to Ike and handed him a stack of orange half-sheets with the lyrics in English and Latin. “There’s one for everybody—pass them around!”

Ike raised a cautioning eyebrow as he passed the flyers on.

Another chord was followed by a little finger-picking, executed by the creepy long fingernails of Colin’s right hand.

Pallida immo Mors aequo…” Colin belted out.

Fred carefully followed the Latin text he had in his hand. It was clear that Colin’s voice was good, if affected by some sort of Appalachian twang that was not natural to him, but in this small space, he projected a volume heard in every dusty corner of both floors. Worse yet, he was singing the song in Latin.

“Here comes the chorus!” he sang out, the giant smile reappearing. “Everybody now!”

“Io! Io, Saturnalia!”

A few people mumbled along.

“Come on, now—the King and the Queen!”

Fred and Esmeralda shrugged at each other, and joined in a shout of “Io! Io! Saturnalia!”

“That’s more like it,” Colin called, launching into one more verse.

“Everybody now!” and the whole table joined in, singing or shouting as loud as possible. There was a lot of laughter as Colin played the last few bars.

“This is some bleak shit,” Willie said, holding up his orange card. “’…the brief extent of life forbids boundless hope.’ Good thing you didn’t sing the English. What a downer.”

Colin looked offended.

“Colin, join us,” Esmeralda said with a graceful gesture toward an empty seat to the right of Ike. Colin jostled his way into his place and was handed a glass of champagne. Everyone shuffled their chairs, so there would be room for the guitar when he sat. It was still in his lap, a wall behind which he seemed half to hide.

Meanwhile, Lewis had an answer for Willie. “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you shall die. Same dif, bro.”

“Well, I guess you can drink to that.”

He raised his glass, and they all followed suit. “Yo, Saturnalia!”

“I have another song,” Colin offered, lifting his glass, his pinky extended, taking only the tiniest sip of the effervescent gold.

“No more depressing shit,” the jester warned.

“This is a waltz, it’s entitled the Saturnalia Waltz.” Colin plucked a few notes. “Deadman Turner wrote this one, too.”

Willie shook his head, jingling dramatically. “Dude was on a downer, big time.”

Still, the festive crowd enjoyed the waltz; the music was pleasant enough, if a bit dirge-like, and there was no singing. People were filtering back from outside lunches and errands, noticing the scene with lifted brows and ironic smirks, a few updating their Facebook accounts on iPhones as they glided back to their cubes. One especially boisterous sound was also headed their way.

“Who invited the fucking hippies?” boomed Amanda as she came into view, her hands on her hips in a defiant war-posture. “Oh!” she chirped. “Colin. Here you are at last.”

“Amanda,” Colin said, hoisting that practiced social smile back into place. The sense that he was using his guitar as a shield intensified.

“Ed’s looking for you.” She smirked at the twitch of panic in Colin’s eyes. ”And you too, John Galt.”

Everyone looked around and realized she was staring at Fred. He removed his crown and followed her, reluctantly joined by Colin, who left his guitar tenderly propped beside Ike.

“Dead men walking,” said Wills.

“John Galt?” Ike leaned across to ask Esmeralda. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

She was sucking on her index finger. “It’s from Ayn Rand.”

“That’s not in the Fountainhead…”

“Another one. It means this book is not about architecture anymore.”

“What?”

But she didn’t say any more.

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