Southern Ways are Strange Ways

Kincaid took advantage of the first lull in the evening to slip away, on the pretense that he was going to the bathroom. “Excuse me,” he said, softly, to the host. “Um, which way is the…”

“Upstairs, second door on the right.” The host was wearing a bolo tie and a dark, flat-brimmed hat like a mariachi’s. Kincaid had already forgotten his name.

He closed the door softly behind him and leaned for a moment against its cool oak, listening to the murmur of voices and the clattering of drinks from the other side. Nausea and shortness of breath; sweat on his palms.

Upstairs he turned left and went to the end of the hallway, past the studio, easels blinded with drop-cloths, to the smallest door. No chandeliers burned here, no quaint and figured lanterns; what light there was came welling up from the stairwell, slashed by the balusters. His hands were steady when he reached for the knob with his handkerchief, his breathing slow. Noiselessly the knob turned and he slipped into darkness like the bottom of a well. A bright fish swam for a second there before the door snicked shut.

Down in the library, all the guests were silent, their faces still and raised. The host stood by the French windows and watched the shadows moving across the lawn. There on the grass a bright fish seemed, just for a second, to be swimming, to rise to the surface, mouth open for a mayfly, flirt of tail — and then was gone.