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New Fiction


by Michael Andreoni

      The Contemplation Room at Miss Traver’s School for Girls was at the end of a passage off the main hall, away from the street traffic. Velvet brocade furniture and silk wall coverings contributed to an atmosphere of quiet good taste much appreciated by parents. It was an argument for good behavior that was not embraced by all of the teen-age daughters of the city’s elite who made up the student body. A defiant few—there are always a defiant few in such places—called it “The Punishment Cell”.
      Two inmates had been interned. Their features were similar; they were in fact sisters, though filial devotion had lately been tested.
      “You’re a pig for telling Bulldog I helped.” Criminy dropped into the wingback chair. One patent leather shoe delivered a symbolic kick at her older sister.
      Mimi was draped on the divan, studying her diary. With a pencil she scribbled over an entry. “I’m not inviting that Harold. He’s too common.”
      “Pig Pig Pig!”
      Mimi looked up. “I had to tell her. I hate being in here alone. As to pigs, I’m not the one everybody calls Puffy.”
       Nickname notwithstanding, Criminy practically flew out of the chair at Mimi. A ferocious bout of hair-pulling and prolonged screeching brought the matron crashing into the room. The fighters were sent to their corners to comb out tangles and glare undying enmity. “Now you two can rot here an extra hour and miss lunch. Your mother will be told,” Bulldog (no girl remembered her name) promised before slamming the door.
      Mimi looked for her diary. She recalled chopping with it like a tomahawk during the fight until it flew out of her hand. A warning giggle while she was groping under the furniture made her scramble up in undignified haste.
      Criminy was waving the book. “It’s mine now.” She leafed through a few pages. “Let’s see, it says ‘Invitations to my party’. Oh, they’re all boys! Did mother say you could have a party?”
      Big sister advanced on her. “I’ll kick you. You’ll have bruises all over and be ugly forever!”
      “I’ll scream. Bulldog will come back and confiscate your diary—Go ahead, I dare you!”
      Mimi halted. The angry redness faded from her cheeks. “I hate you.”
      With a smirk, Criminy read on. “Steven Rosser, Gary Pearson, Peter Swain, Ronald Timmons—they’re Runson boys. There must be thirty of them here. Mother says Runson boys aren’t gentlemen.”
      “Mother’s going to Antibes next month with Mr. Scott.”
       The diary closed with a snap. “How do you know that? She hasn’t said anything about another trip. You’re fibbing again.”
      “Rosa heard mother on the phone while she was dusting. They’re leaving Friday, the fifth. I’m sending the invitations out for the sixth.”
      Criminy threw the book down. “We never get to go anywhere. It’s always mother and some boring man.”
       Mimi pounced. “Ha ha!”
       “I didn’t want your stupid diary anyway,” Criminy growled, dropping back into the wingback.
       Mimi resumed her place on the divan and wrote, occasionally crossing something out with a flourish. Criminy pretended interest in an urn containing Bird of Paradise feathers, though her eyes shot to the diary at each exaggerated pencil stroke. Had they been adults this might have gone on for months.
      “Are you inviting Shelly? I like her.”
       No reply from the divan.
      “I don’t think you should ask Charlotte. She never wants to play any games. What games are you having?”
      Mimi chuckled over something she’d written.
      Criminy glared at her with a disdain reserved exclusively for family. A few moments later she tried smiling. “Can I come?”
      “No party for Puffy,” Mimi chanted.
      “I’ll tell on you!”
      “If you do everything I say for the next two weeks you can stay in the kitchen with Rosa and listen.”
      “Can’t I be with you and the other girls?”
       Mimi arched into a luxurious stretch. “I’m not inviting any girls,” she purred.

                                                                                                * * *

      Anyone familiar with the better neighborhoods would have recognized the young gentlemen milling around outside the fashionable brownstone as Runson material. As much as the blue jackets of that establishment, the indecision the boys showed in approaching Mimi’s house identified them, and also Runson’s standing within the hierarchy of boy’s prep schools. No Runson alum had ever gone on to become President of anything. Several were in Advertising. The most illustrious graduate to date had served briefly as Assistant Secretary of Agriculture in the Harding administration. Runson men were known to be good at golf. More than a few owed their positions of moderate responsibility to success on the back nine.
      Peter Swain eventually broke the impasse when several classmates shoved him to the door. “Mimi likes you best, you little shit,” Ronald Timmons reminded him, “So you can ring the bell.” That Peter was first in Mimi’s affections was commonly agreed since the pie-eating contest at the Travers/Runson picnic, when she quite publicly kissed his cheek. Privately, her lips had favored most of them. Each boy felt that imprint as proof of a secret preference bestowed on him alone. There were prettier Travers girls; certainly there were smarter girls. The relative merits of those were debated freely in the Runson common room, but never Mimi. Other girls tried, Mimi was.
      Rosa’s eyes widened at the gaggle of boys stretching to the sidewalk. Mimi’s briefing had not touched on the guest list, but her bribe more than made up for any lack of detail. The maid led them into the sunlit conservatory to a half dozen tables set among citrus trees and Bougainvillea. The boys absorbed the pearly travertine floor and damask table cloths in the silence which translates as acceptance among the upper-classes. They quickly turned to the buffet.
      “I’m starved!” a boy exclaimed, spearing a quail egg.
      “Put that down, Griggs,” Peter Swain commanded. “We can’t eat without the hostess.”
      “Well where is she?” This was addressed to Rosa.
      “Miss Adams will be down shortly,” she answered, exiting the room with an amused back-glance.
      As though on cue, a loud percussive noise reverberated through the room. The young men turned in varying directions until the sound repeated. Their eyes went to the dense greenery at the heart of the conservatory. The foliage parted, the goddess emerged.
       Runson curriculum did not deal extensively with classicism. The course work was aimed at preparing privileged young men to be privileged old men. The boys were therefore unaware that Aphrodite walked among them. Nor did they note the incongruity of the goddess of love sporting a whip.
      She began circling them, the whip a serpent tongue tasting the air for boy flesh. The boys’ alternately eyed the whip, and the gossamer pale blue gown which billowed out and yet somehow clung to Mimi’s teenage form.
      “Can we eat now?” Griggs asked. The gross inappropriateness of this woke the others.
      “Hi Mimi. Thanks for inviting me,” Peter Swain began. The other boys eagerly entered into the ritual of greeting the hostess. Mimi bore their good manners with a smile, while continuing to circle. The young men were forced to revolve with her while they spoke their pieces, kowtowing before her.
      “I’m so glad all of you came,” Mimi said, cutting off a boy’s obeisance in mid-sentence. She came to a stop. Her smile encompassed them. “We’re going to play a game before we eat.” A groan sounded from within the ranks, which Aphrodite seemed not to hear.
      “I’d like each of you to hide somewhere. You will have one minute before I come looking for you. The last one found gets a special treat.” She raised the whip. “Ready?”
      The young men looked at each other uncertainly. They were, after all, Runson boys. Peter Swain finally took it upon himself to nod. The other heads bobbled after him.
      “All right. On my signal.”
       Whip held high, Mimi’s eyes sparkled. The boys leaned forward, peering into the jungle for likely hiding places. The whip quivered, poised to snap. The boys quivered, poised to spring.
      “Rosa forgot the béarnaise.”
      The voice had come from among the ferns. Criminy appeared, holding a silver bowl. She approached the buffet with the bowl held out away from her party dress. The effect was of a sacramental offering.
      The boys reacted like race horses spooked at the starting gate. They plunged forward, then halted abruptly. Several in the front ranks fell and were trampled. The room was filled with grunting.
      “Who said you could come in here?” The goddess’s face turned demonic. The whip punctuated her words. “Get! (snap) Out!” (snap)
      “You’ll need this sauce for the Chicken Supremes,” Criminy answered matter-of-factly while setting the bowl on the buffet. She turned and looked at the boys: “Well, hello!”
      “Who is this?” Gary Pearson asked irritably. He was feeling himself for bruises.
      Mimi glared for several moments before shrugging. “Everyone, this is my sister, Puffy.”
      Criminy’s smile faltered a bit.
      “What a crummy name for a pretty girl,” Peter Swain commented. He quailed when Mimi’s frown found him and stepped backward into the safety of the group.
      Criminy’s gaze followed him gratefully. “They call me Criminy, but my name is Anisette.”
      “Anisette. That’s nice,” Ronald Timmons remarked. “Sounds like a queen.”
      “A queen!” Mimi laughed. “She eats like a blowfish.”
      “I have blowfish in my aquarium,” Steven Rosser stated. “They have tiny mouths. They’re dainty eaters.”
      The whip snapped. “Get back to the kitchen, Puffy!”
      “I won’t!”
      “Why can’t she stay and eat with us?” The question came from somewhere within the scrum.
      “Because she has a disease and I don’t want her! I know that was you, Peter Swain. You can just forget about a treat when I find you.” Mimi looked at her sister sneeringly. “Besides, she’s not properly dressed.”
      “I am too!” My dress is beautiful, and I don’t have a disease!”
      “She looks lovely,” Ronald insisted. “Just like a queen.”
      “Queen Anisette,” Steven pronounced.
      “Can’t we please eat now,” Griggs whined.
      “AHHHH! Shut Up Shut Up Shut Up, all of you, or go home!”
      “I don’t think you’re a good hostess, Mimi. Can’t you see they’re hungry?” Criminy’s arms went out in invitation. “What do you say, boys?”
      As one, the throng surged toward the buffet. “Stop!” Peter Swain roared, and they did. Peter bowed. “After you, Queen Anisette.”
      “No!” Mimi cried.
      “It’s all right, Mimi,” Criminy soothed. “You can be a lady-in-waiting.”

                                                                                                * * *

      Mimi tore a page from the diary, ripped it into little pieces and tossed them into the air. They fell like tears all over the royal blue carpet of The Contemplation Room.
      “Mother’s right,” she murmured, tearing another page. “Runson boys are not gentlemen.”
      “Oh, I don’t know,” Criminy giggled from the divan. She was lying on her back reading her own diary. “Peter asked me to the Runson ball.”
      “You’ll be a cow in a gown.”
      “I’ll be Queen Anisette.”
      Whatever reply Mimi made was lost when the door suddenly banged open. Matron looked in. “I don’t see any apologies getting written.”
      “We’re thinking,” Mimi snarled.
      “If only. I’ll be back with the paddle in a few minutes. Get writing, ladies!”
       “Stupid Bulldog,” Mimi called out as the door closed. She ripped up another page.
      Criminy closed her diary and sat up. She tendered a smile. “Tell you what, let’s share. We each get half.”
      Mimi’s expression underwent several revisions, ending up carefully neutral. “What about Peter?”
      Criminy’s face hardened. “He likes me.”
      Mimi shot out of the wingback. Criminy jumped up to meet the attack with talons aimed at Mimi’s red curls. Inches from collision, Mimi stopped. She looked into Criminy’s eyes for a long moment.
      “Oh all right. You can have him. We’re sisters, after all.”
      “Sometimes I wonder,” Criminy countered. “Maybe half-sisters?”
      “That’s possible. Mother really gets around, doesn’t she?”
      The door shivered inward. A largish wooden implement, a giant spatula of punishment, preceded matron into the Contemplation Room. She kicked the door shut. The conversation became somewhat confused.

Michael Andreoni's stories have appeared in U. of Chicago/Euphony, Pif, Iconoclast, Ducts, Calliope, Hippocampus, and other publications. He lives near Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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