The dinner was in a hired-out space at the top of the shopping centre. Evening had anchored itself. Life was happening against the black clouds of night. There was a gold glare pouring from the centre’s entrance, and the dark street ate it up greedily.
There was a long table, like the ones in films about boarding schools and rich families. It had folded white cloth with little holes that’d been arranged in patterns. Eight lamps hovered above. It was set apart from everything else, in a separate, tight room that felt more like a plastic container for its glass walls.
Everyone who’d been invited– about 20 people, were elsewhere, in a holding room of sorts with poor lighting, green carpets, and stubby leather sofas that brought knees to chins when sat in.
They stood in the middle of the room– the three and the sisters, directly beneath the weak bulb overhead. A young woman dressed in a big fur coat walked the room, balancing flutes of champagne. They’d all laughed at her upon arrival– all but Jade and Cleo, who’d feigned amusement. It was the sort of strange that was more foreboding than funny. The girl didn’t smile as she went about. Jade had noticed that she was handing out more glasses than they had hands; people were hoarding them on little tables nearby.
The room felt difficult. Sam addressed this by saying,
“This is so random, so quintessentially us.”
The other people were all unknown to Sam, Cecelia, Jacob, but were familiar to one another. They could be mistaken for being a broad group, but Jade knew better, they were all wealthy. The chatter around them was feverish, the faces– oily and excited. It all alluded to something unusual, but, though she listened, Jade couldn’t make sense of anything. Of all who were there, which was the host?
Cecilia was pretending to know.
“Come on,” she whined, “we know him,” she was pointing shamelessly at a tall, magnetic Korean man in an understated blue sweater.
“You might,” hissed Jacob, “you must’ve slept with him.”
While the two argued amongst themselves, there was a darkness breathing out of the corners of the room. Only Jade wanted to notice it. Therefore, when someone else slipped in, it was her who was first to see. This new person was suddenly there, like the first sprout of a seedling; and too, like a dust spider that’d entered through a gap in the wall. It sent Jade’s heartbeat to her ears, when she immediately recognised him.
It was the humiliated boy, the young man with the beady black eyes and the dead appearance, the one from the streets below. Jade couldn’t understand why he was there. He was looking at people, not at the ground, and no person had the instinct to look away. Jade opened her mouth, she pushed from the back of her throat to sound the alarm, but she couldn’t do it. Cleo was looking at her now, tracing her sister’s line of vision. When she saw what Jade saw, she said,
All turned to stare. Sam immediately guffawed, wanting to be heard. Jacob, when he’d found the face in the crowd, appeared as though he’d swallowed something gritty, and for this, Cecilia didn’t seem to find it funny either.
“This is great,” said Sam.
But Jacob said, “How ugly, we can’t stay.”
Which led Cecilia to say, “imagine they all heard we’d been here with him.”
“Oh come on,” said Sam, “this is great,” he said again.
Sam usually won in the battle of wills. Still, they began to fight it out amongst themselves, with Jacob and Cecilia saying things that conveyed their disgust, and Sam convincing them of how interesting they would all be in the days afterwards.
As all of this went on, fear was consuming Jade. The boy was not behaving as he’d before seemed; he was not incapable, and therefore, not at all harmless. He was talking to people, laughing with them. Sam, Cecilia and Jacob held no weight here, and they were yet to see it. Cleo was silent, her eyes were like those of dogs, watching the person they had many times mocked. He was more at ease in the room than any one of them, and now that he was here, the feeling could not be escaped, that all were waiting for something to happen, something more than simply eating. At that moment, she heard her sister say,
“We’re going to quickly run to the toilets,” said Jade, talking of her sister as well.
It went unregistered by the three, who were quickly coming into agreement, that they would stay for the laughs and the thrills. The sisters hovered for a while out of courtesy. Then, they backed away, opting not for the closest set of toilets, but the furthest– in the warm whiteness of the shopping centre’s free roaming parts. They couldn’t risk being heard.
“Could you not feel it?” Jade asked her sister.
Cleo thought about it, then she said, “Yes.”
The two looked at one another then with something like sadness. There was deep uncertainty in it all, they hardly knew when it’d started. Minutes and hours were weighed against days and weeks.
“Maybe this is all about the dog,” said Cleo.
Fear and apprehension was its right to wield, after all. Why did they deserve anything less? Only when it could prove to be too late, did thoughts of the dog feel the warmest.
“What kind of party is this?” Jade asked her sister. Then she said, “At the end of this, I think we should take the dog, go to mum’s.”
Cleo was about to argue, but she gave it up quickly,
“Let’s finish the night at least,” she said.
Jade conceded, as Cleo had only seconds before. They walked back towards the room with the green carpet. They noticed somebody in the distance. Slowing almost to a halt, the sisters squinted at the figure who was hunched by the doors they needed. The jangling of keys was set off by the high ceilings.
“They’re locking the door,” said Cleo, “excuse me,” she called out with a hollow urgency.
The caretaker who had been playing with the lock, straightened himself. He turned towards them with only a mild interest in what the two girls wanted.
“Why are you locking the door? There are people in there,” said Cleo.
He was a fairly young man in grey overalls. He looked aggravated, as if he could only take orders and not give them. Jade could see he had little intention of explaining himself. They were right in front of him now, but the caretaker wasn’t intimidated.
“You’ll have to talk to my manager,” he said.
“He must not know about the dinner party,” said Cleo, “there are guests inside.”
“You’ll have to convince him that,” said the caretaker.
“Where is he?”
The caretaker sighed,“He’ll be in tomorrow,” he said, “6am.”
He turned his back sharply at that.
“You’re going to leave them in there until tomorrow?” Cleo shouted after him.
But by then, they were both watching him jog down the dead escalators in the distance. They turned their attention to the newly locked door. Though this surely had to be a mistake,
“He did that on purpose,” Jade found herself saying aloud.
“What should we do?” asked Cleo.
Sam’s was the only number either of them had. It didn’t even ring, and Jade could’ve bet the dogs life that it wouldn’t have.
“Jade, we can’t just leave,” said Cleo, though it was already clear which side of the door the sisters preferred to be on.
At that moment, the doorknob twisted. It was one cool, measured turn of the handle. Then, perhaps assuming it stiff, or jammed, the person on the other side shook it once, hard. There was a pause then. Jade and Cleo focused, trying to determine the right time to shout the news through. But then, it began to judder violently.
“It’s locked,” both of the sisters said overtop of one another, but the knob only continued to shake angrily, until whoever stood on the other side began to thud on the door itself. But then, it all stopped abruptly.
“We should get help,” Cleo turned to Jade.
But Jade didn’t say anything. She stared at the door, as if she could see through it. She pressed her ear to the door. Then, she pulled it away and said,
“If it were us, what do you think they would do?” she asked her sister.
Cleo looked at her as if the question was harmful.
“What did you hear?” Cleo asked her.
“Nothing,” said Jade.
On the way back, they’d found time to thank themselves for living out of their suitcases. The sisters wondered too, whether the sense of gratitutde would be immeditate for Sam, Cecilia and Jacob; they would surely need their space whenever they did return home. And they would return home, just not as they’d left.
“If you’re still alive,” Jade spoke to the pet carrier under the window, “I’ll take you away from this place,” She opened the latch, stretched her hand into the darkness, and felt the warmth of the dog.