Second Guest (1985)

a parody of Saki

If one was going to be invited to parties, the Blatherstoke mansion was certainly as good a place as any other. Guests arriving in their cars passed through a culvert illuminated by their own headlights reflecting off a social barrier, and were led by the signs (adorned with beautiful flowing script clipped from the most recent fashion magazines) to a rhinestone porte-cochere where they were graciously asked to turn around and use the street. (Those arriving on foot or horseback were asked to leave and return by parachute; this served to separate the poseurs from the truly ostentatious.)

Inside, Madeline Blatherstoke had struck up a conversation with one of her most influential guests, the Baron Alejandro von Neufchatelski, who had just returned from practically everywhere.

"Truly an eidetic get-together, Madeline," effused the Baron over his cocktail glass. "I dare say this supersedes the night I spent in Borneo playing canasta."

"Why, thank you, Baron," replied Madeline, though she had expected as much. "I must confess I underwent some trepidation when the synthesizer band failed to show, but I think those five Philcos with frayed cords are a more than adequate substitution."

"Oh, that they are. And may I add that the cardboard cutouts placed alongside each one fully flesh out the effect."

"Yes, you may add that. But really, you must tell me all about your adventures these past few weeks. When last I saw you, you had yet to discover anything to equal that check valve you unearthed in Kuwait."

"Yes, and that I had to give back. Actually, there was quite a stimulating itinerary this time around: surveying facial expressions in Algeria, eyeing a lovely clock tower in Belgium, exploring vegetarianism in Greenland, consulting with a German bacteriologist before stopping to relieve ourselves in Jakarta, and even finding time to compose a catchy melody or two in Abu Dhabi. We were prepared for anything, of course, but reports of a dropsy epidemic fell flat."

"Yes, one never knows...why, just last week we had to lay off our gardener for lying on the cymbidiums. We now have flatbush growing in their place. Oh, Baron, have you seen the new addition to the mathematics room? Come with me, I think you'll notice quite a differential."

"Ah...this Gatorade is chilled to perfection."

As it happened, the path to the mathematics room took the two of them past the anthracite entranceway adorned with all manner of trilobite fossils, so Madeline was there to greet the next guest as the doorbell sounded its plaintive G-thirteenth, flatted fifth.

"Another guest," she observed. "I really must eliminate invitations next time, they create such a burden."

One of the Philcos, which was not grounded, began to hiss and fizz obtrusively as Reginald entered. Once inside, he turned and called to someone on the steps.

"It's okay, they're not serving any '81 vintages. You shouldn't have to avoid any of the other guests!"

"Why, Reginald," said Madeline, "so good of you to arrive after everyone has had a chance to taste everything. We knew, as always, that you would be here when you didn't respond to our R.S.V.P. I believe you met the Baron at our pushball match last winter."

"Bottom of the evening to you, sir," said the Baron. "I believe I have made your acquaintance when you weren't looking."

"Well, more power to you," Reginald replied while looking about the room. "Say, do you think anyone here knows how to install a fuel pump? That guy over there in the white shirt, perhaps? I know it's late, but I just got it this afternoon and I'm eager to show it off..."

"I'm sure Motley will be more than happy to call the Auto Club for you if it's an emergency, Reginald, but won't you relax and fill your glass first? The Baron was just sharing some news about his travels with me, and I'm sure he'd enjoy having a new addition to his audience. You'll find the glasses stacked up on the top rung of the stepladder, the one with one foot resting inside the cat box. Or you can tell Motley what you want and he'll get it for you. You'll have to excuse Reginald, Baron, but he is ever so crepuscular at times."

"Yeah, okay, I suppose someone could mix me a Benguela Current, or something close to it. What you got for munchies?"

"Oh, look around at what some of the guests brought—no one else is eating it. The trawlers brought in a fine catch of plaice and trumpetfish that I believe you will find very well disguised. It's supposed to be very good for one's brain, you know."

"My brain and I haven't been on speaking terms lately, so it might be a nice token of good will. Hey, Baron, do you know your purple Volkswagen out front is being towed?"

The Baron laughed. "My good man, anyone who would mistake that for a Volkswagen will fantasize about other things as well. The car I arrived in was a 1986 Courtier—at least double the dimensions of a Volkswagen, if I estimate correctly."

"Well, perhaps it was before it needed to be towed, but as I was pulling in there were some problems with distribution of space. It's okay, though, I don't mind giving you a ride home when you're ready. That's some great music you have playing, Madeline—is it copyrighted?"

Reginald's words hadn't even reached the floor yet when the circuit breaker blew and all of the Philcos were silenced.

"Interesting ending," he observed. "Very adventurous. It does tend to take one's mind off of his own thoughts, though, and I do so detest passivity. I suspect you are very lucky this has occurred. I say, Madeline, would you like me to fill the silence with a piece of my own composition? To play it, I shall require the assistance of your tomcat Jacob, as it falls under the category of performance art. I dare say I was practicing it all afternoon at the local dog pound, to rapturous reviews."

Madeline was incredulous. "Jacob was let out some time before you arrived, and I dare say you would be ill-disposed to entice him back inside for one of your performances. Motley will have the circuit breaker replaced in short order. Do get yourself some food and drink so you can join me in giving audience to the Baron's reminiscences. I am so sorry, Baron, for being unable to grant you my undivided attention, but some guests have acquired the habit of showing up just before something like this happens."

"Not at all," the Baron assured her. "In fact I should be most interested in seeing this piece which Reginald claims to have constructed. Have you need of a sideman, dear boy?"

"Oh, no, it's quite succinct really. The only audience participation I require—because, as I have said, one must encourage the active role at all times—is that all guests finish their drinks and set the empty glasses out in the center of the floor. I shall then proceed to make music without filling any of the glasses with water nor, indeed, even touching them."

"Your knowledge of acoustics would appear more extensive than mine, then. But very well." The Baron extended his glass, thus capturing the attention of everyone present. "I hereby propose a toast to the enrichment of the arts and humanities within our very circle, as we are treated to a sampling of Sir Reginald's very own home-grown theatre in the round. Will everyone please join me in quaffing the drink of his choice."

Reginald delighted as the guests emptied their glasses; he mentally guessed at the number of brain cells he could take credit for destroying in a single moment. His intention, of course, had been to impair everyone's power of perception before assuming the role of cynosure.

"My dear panel," he intoned, "I shall now treat you to a modest little dithyramb of my own concoction, wherein I shall cause these glasses to produce sound without so much as touching them nor, indeed, creating any sounds from within me. To do this, I shall exploit my knowledge of the acoustical qualities of this lovely game room of Madeline's, which knowledge has led me to ask that the glasses be placed where they are. And now that I have managed to obtain everyone's courteous attention, I shall proceed with my demonstration."

Reginald then raised his right leg, reached underneath his trouser cuff, and pulled out a defanged diamondback he had acquired from an animal-loving acquaintance in the neighborhood. He flung the snake into the area of greatest congestion.

The resulting pandemonium did indeed produce sounds unlike anything Reginald would have been able to imagine solely on his own. The screams of the women, combined with the stumbling of the men as each tried to maneuver everyone else into a position of safety, broke enough glasses to keep the local recycling center in business for days afterward.

Reginald was not invited back to any subsequent parties held on the estate. His ideas were regarded as too avant-garde for the aristocracy to appreciate fully.

"It is so like them," he laughed, "to prefer one variety of venom over another."


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