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The Party's Over Now

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John wishes almost every day that he had danced with Larita, that night.

It’s a constant kind of wish. He’s not sure if he deserves to wish it, even, not after the events that took place at his house – at his mother’s house – not after his father warned him, not after all the signs pointed that way. He feels like a fool, negligent, a bad husband. He hates feeling this way. He’s never felt this way before; not with Sarah, not with anyone, and he doesn’t know how to reconcile it.

Larita standing in the doorway, a cigarette lit and dangling from her fingers, her eyes flickering from him to the dark hallway of her apartment doesn’t help much.

It had taken him almost a month to track her down. It was remarkable how unhelpful all his contacts became the second he put a foot in London, added to the fact that his mother kept coming up with new and time-consuming chores to do on the farm itself, and Sarah’s constant presence. Although Sarah always seemed apologetic, like she didn’t know what she was doing there.

He slept with her once, three days after Larita and his father had taken off in the dead of the night. Her lips weren’t like Lari’s; her body was thicker, softer, less defined, her breasts bigger, her movements more like a horse and less like a cat. Afterwards it was awkward, even though his mother practically rewrote her will to include Sarah that day. There were no secrets on the Whittaker estate. John feels a certain sense of remorse about it, not because he was still married, but because afterwards it was even more like she was a piece of the scenery, furniture, topography. Larita always stood out.

And she’s standing out now. She’s wearing trousers and braces and she looks lovely, even with the touch of sadness that he wishes he could take away from her eyes. “I’m sorry it took me so long,” he begins, as though it’s a proper excuse. “No one would tell me where you were,” he adds, as if she doesn’t know.

He knows she knows. He knows she knows because on the tail end of the first week one of her friends took pity on him and took him for a drink, and explained that Larita didn’t want to be found. That she had asked them not to help.

But surely that was for his mother, not for him. For his mother who should have been looking for her wayward, wandering husband, but who hadn’t, who had firmly explained that well, the fool could do what he liked but that she was not leaving the farm again, that she wasn’t wasting another second of breath or agony on a man who clearly did not love her.

John hates the word love, when it spills out of his mother’s sour mouth. It’s amazing he never noticed it before.

“John,” Larita’s voice isn’t as weary as he had expected, and there is a rise of hope in his throat. “Go home,” she says, after a minute, and it is a long one. A minute like the world is rearranging, but John is long used to it. His world has rearranged too much recently for him to take notice of it moving beneath his feet.

Instead he puts one hand on the doorframe because it will make sure that she will have to hurt him to close it, and despite the fact that when she left the pain was ridiculous, he was sure he couldn’t hurt him where the scar might actually show. “Come with me,” he asks her.

She tips her head and her profile is beautiful. He loves her. Why can’t she see that? She lifts the cigarette to her lips and takes a deep inhaling breath. “And your mother?”

“We can live in London. We can live here.” He knows he sounds desperate but he almost doesn’t care.

“Sarah?”

John hates himself for sleeping with her but he would hate himself even more if he couldn’t be honest about it. Maybe Larita was right, he is like a little boy, fresh and naive and innocent but he doesn’t care. “I slept with her,” he says, and it doesn’t seem to move his wife, who just looks at him, her eyes fixed on his face, her lips twitching. It strikes him then that Larita knows that too, that she probably knew it would happen the second she left him the foyer that night. “It didn’t mean anything,” he insists, wishing his voice wasn’t so plaintive, but he doesn’t know how else to sound.

Larita is calm, and she leans her hand against his face. “You could love her.”

“I came after you.” John doesn’t know how else to prove it. Hilda and Marion had thought him insane. He struck Marion across the face when she called Larita a harlot, and it had surprised him. He had never hit anyone before. He had never even considering hitting anyone before. But Marion’s words had made him angry, and he had already been angry. It seemed fitting, but that wasn’t a fair reason. He hadn’t apologized afterwards. Marion still wouldn’t speak to him.

Larita takes another drag of her cigarette, and her hand moves away, and John knows she’ll ask him to leave, in a minute. “Lari,” he says, and he sings, softly, “Let me live 'neath your spell, do do that voodoo that you do so well.

For the first time since he’s been there, Larita smiles, and her own voice, a little more assertive than his sings back, “For you do something to me that nobody else could do.”

John is about to push his way through the door, his hand moving to go around her waist, when a voice – a voice he knows, a voice he can’t not know even if he tried calls out Larita’s name, and he pulls back, away, first in shock and then in recognition as he sees his father’s frame emerge from the darkness of the hall. John sees the dressing gown, the look on his face, the look on Larita’s before the door closes, softly. Smoke from the cigarette billows against the door, pushing at it, but all John sees is the hardwood as the door clicks shut.