Chapter four: Party time
I carefully make my way down the steps with a crate in my hands, kicking my skirts out of the way with every step.
The box is heavy and I was told by the lady of the house to be very careful with it while getting it down to the ground floor.
One of the guests wants to throw a little ‘birthday bash’ at the hotel. And I’ve been told this is a big deal and now the dining room needs to get decorated in his honour.
I guess for humans making it past another year truly is an achievement.
It seems a bit short to me to have a party over that.
Maybe with a decade?
That’s a real achievement.
I kick at the door with my foot, then shimmy myself past and into the room.
It’s just past lunchtime, meaning the dining room should stay empty until dinner.
I open the box and pull out a long garland made from colourful paper only to hear a thud and the sound of something rolling away.
Did I pull something out by accident as I pulled on the garland?
I look around but I don’t see anything.
Maybe under the cupboards?
I kneel down and try my best to distinguish something against the dust.
And naturally, that’s the moment the door to the dining room opens and I’m addressed by a familiar voice.
“Uhm, there’s a doll at the front desk to see you?”
I jump up from the floor. “Thank you, Harmony. I’ll be with you in a second.”
She nods and I scramble to get my things together.
Then follow her to the front desk where the doll has already picked up a bit of an audience from the guests.
“Kregaya, what are you doing here?”
“I haven’t seen you in what, four weeks, I thought it was time to visit you.”
“You can’t visit me at my job, I have work to do.”
“Well, then when’s your break?”
“Uhm, I don’t know I just sort of work until the family goes to bed.”
“Unacceptable.” She wags a finger in front of my face to accentuate her point “Just because you don’t eat doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a midday break. Show me to your boss, I’ll tell him what’s what.”
“Please don’t.” I groan. “We can just, take a little break now okay?” I look behind me at the front desk “Right?”
Harmony nods pleasantly “I’ll explain if dad comes down and asks.”
“Thank you, I’ll be back within the hour.” I then grab Kregaya’s hand and pull her out of the building leaving baffled faces behind.
The air is crisp. Spring is setting in but it’s not quite there yet.
The people passing us by on the street are still wearing their coats and capes.
“So where are we going?” I ask and Kregaya shrugs in response.
“Where do you want to go?” She counters.
“We can go bother Zjeliah or Jaxogeras?”
“Actually I was thinking just you and me for a bit.”
“The park then? It’s a lovely day.”
She nods “The park it is.”
The patch of grass in front of the theatre is more like a field than a park. But if the wind is right you can hear the music on the breeze and if not it’s still a great place to watch the people go by.
Laying on the grass is the best way to enjoy any park, but of course, neither of us has a blanket on us on a whim and I can’t go back to work with grass stains on my skirt.
We sit down on one of the benches as a compromise.
“How have you been Kregaya?”
“Oh no darling, you first. How’s the job?”
“It’s mostly just cleaning and dragging suitcases around.”
“Do you enjoy it?”
“I think I do. I like the people, they’re strange but very friendly.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“How’s the singing?”
She groans “The singing’s fine but finding an audience to listen to it is a chore and a half.
“Can’t you sing over there?” I point to the theatre ahead, she scoffs at it.
“They don’t want me, trust me it’s one of the first places I tried but I’m not sure they even understood the question.”
“What do you mean?”
“Means they looked at me like I was crazy and then gently urged me to leave.”
She sighs “It is what it is. But I didn’t come here to feel sorry for myself. I’ll figure something out don’t you go worrying about me.” She ruffles my hair and that reminds me-
“Missus Viola complimented me on my hair on my first day.”
“Yeah, thank you for helping me pick. It took some time getting used to it but now I really like this colour.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Also, you’re nearly as indecisive as Zjeliah, if the two of you had to actually pick by yourselves you’d have been forced to go to the job interview bald.”
“I could have tried wearing the old wig?”
“You mean with, or without the dough hook still attached?”
“Maybe I could cut it out.”
We have a laugh at this.
Then the atmosphere changes “Delaylah I must admit I came here with a bit of an ulterior motive.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Got a present for you,” Kregaya tells as she pulls her bag onto her lap.
“On no not again.” I let out a sigh but she hands me the beige envelope anyway.
“You’re going.” She tells me resolutely.
“But I don’t want to.” I turn the letter over and grimace at the bell-shaped seal on the back.
I don’t like Tiborah or his parties and especially not the death-day party he insists we have every year. Father’s death was a tragedy, it feels in bad taste to go have a ball around it.
“I know but Karokko is coming.”
“Karokko is coming?” I don’t think I’ve seen her at all since we left home.
“Yes, and she has to come all the way from Asheru so we’re going.”
I glare at the envelope some more, then sign and crack the seal to pick out the contents.
You are hereby invited to Father’s 62nd death day party. It will be held in the usual place at the usual time.
I hope you’ll be able to make it.
“I’ll have to ask my boss if I can take some time off to go there.”
I fold the letter neatly and push it back into the envelope “I will, but for Karokko, not for that weasel Tiborah.”
“Honestly, I don’t get what you have against him. He’s a nice guy.”
I shrug “I just don’t like him.”
“Fine, just be polite when he lets us in and then you can proceed to ignore him like you do every time.”
“I don’t ignore him every time, but the one time I tried to be polite and ask how he was doing he turned the conversation around and turned it into a hearing,” I explain putting the letter in my skirt pocket.
She raises an eyebrow at me “Oh my, I wonder why.”
I look at her blankly for a bit.
“You know he doesn’t mean ill by it right?”
“I do, but just because he doesn’t mean to annoy me doesn’t mean it’s not annoying to me.”
Kregaya’s eyes dart around for a bit as she dissects that sentence “I guess…?”
“Well, anyway if that’s all I’ll be going back now, I told Harmony I’d be done within the hour and there’s still the main room that needs decorating for tonight-”
“One of the guests is celebrating his birthday and having a ‘couple of mates’ over. And I think he’s paying good lodis to do so? Which is why everyone is suddenly in panic mode.”
“So what you’re saying is that I chose a terrible timing with my invitation?”
“Yes but also no because I don’t have time to be annoyed about it.”
“I will take that as a win then.” She wraps her long arms around me and hugs me tightly for a moment “Good luck with the party tonight and please let me know when you know whether you can come to the death-day party or not. Last time the train conductor wasn’t thrilled to see a bunch of dolls show up at random so this time we wanna make a reservation first.”
“Aren’t you supposed to always make a reservation?” I wonder.
“Really? Well, if so that explains a lot of the annoyance that poor man was having. I think we may have ruined his day back then.”
I chuckle at the image, then wish my sister a wonderful day and make my way back to the hotel.
Where it turns out people have gone exponentially stressed.
Mister Viola almost jumps towards me, his face pulled into a mask of distress “Delaylah where have you been!? You didn’t decorate the dining room like I asked and when I ask Harmony I have to learn you’re ‘on a break’. This is not the time to start breaking, we have a party to prepare for.”
“I’m sorry mister Viola, but my sister came over to see me. And she was shocked to hear I don’t get breaks. She says just because I don’t eat doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to rest and relaxation once every so often.”
This knocks the wind from his sails for a bit.
“Right, well.” The man stammers “We’ll discuss that later, you’ve had your break for today, please go decorate the dining room now.”
I nod “Right away sir.”
I hurry to the dining room.
About an hour later the door opens again.
“How are things here?” Melody asks.
“I think they’re all right?” I say looking around the room. I already replaced the tablecloth and put up some ribbons.
“You didn’t touch the baubles yet?”
“Right, they’re…fragile.” I admit awkwardly, “I’m afraid I might break them.” It’s hard to gauge my own strength sometimes, especially when holding something precious.
“Oh, really? Well in that case can you fetch me that stool and set it by the window? I’ll help out.”
“Really? Thank you.” I pick up the stool and move it while Melody selects her baubles.
She strings three of them together with ribbon and hangs them carefully above each of the windows. The way the light catches them fills the room with little lights.
It looks magical.
“That was pretty great you know, the way you stood up to dad back there.” I look up at her, whiplashed by the change in subject.
It didn’t feel great. It felt like a panicked excuse that miraculously worked. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it if my sister didn’t come by to get me in trouble first.”
“You have a sister?” She sounds surprised by this.
“I have several, all dolls were made by the same man so we’re all related.”
“Oh, right of course.” She chuckles at that “Silly me.”
“Maybe I should ask Harmony to get me in trouble so I’ll find the courage to stand up to him
That evening, the girls are tasked with a list and making sure that only the guests get into the party and no one else.
While I’m tasked with making sure anyone trying to make a fuss is out before anything bad can happen to the girls.
which actually goes quite well.
Melody ticks the names off the list, Harmony wishes them a good evening and I stand behind them ready to stop any silly business.
“So that’s everyone right?” Harmony asks around nine in the evening. The party is in full swing but Melody shakes her head “Actually, three guys are still unaccounted for.”
“So we wait?”
“Guess we should. But I’m not standing around here.” Melody grabs an extra chair from the wall and sits down behind the desk. She then pulls a deck of cards from the drawer “I say it’s time for some jinx.”
“Family rules or sister rules?” Harmony asks.
Melody shrugs “Have you ever played jinx Delaylah?”
I shake my head.
“Definitely sister rules.”
“Are you sure?”
“Just for a bit.”
“What’s the difference?” I ask.
“I’ll explain that in a bit but first the base rules,” Melody says as she signals us to grab a chair with her. “You get eight cards, you keep these cards for yourself so no peaking at the neighbours’ got that?”
“Now the objective is to have either most of the same suit, the longest street that’s consecutive numbers in a row or both. You get points depending on how many cards meet the criteria, but it’s not really one-to-one and the list is a bit much to remember so let us do the scoring for now okay?”
“Of course, the game would be kind of boring if you just immediately started scoring right after you got your cards so you have three rounds to swap out cards you don’t like against the deck on the table. But here’s the trick, the moment you discard a card you have to put it onto the table face up before you get to draw another one, and if you put down a card someone else wants they can discard a card of their own and grab your card instead of taking from the deck. Now if you’re done with your hand you can pass the swapping and even knock on the table to-”
“Maybe skip the betting part for now.” Harmony cuts in.
“Fine, you got all that?”
“Eight cards, three rounds of collecting as many of the same suit and/or the longest street. You can take cards that other people put down.”
“We have a quick learner I see.” Melody muses “Then let’s get started.”
The cards get dealt around and the moment I pick up the cards I find two of each colour and a wide range of numbers, none of which nicely match up.
Hmm, well I guess I should make some decisions then, I can start gathering hearts, and see if I can get some high cards.
It’s a strategy I guess?
I put down an eight-of-clubs and pull a four-of-clubs from the stack…which isn’t great.
But then Melody puts down a jack of hearts that I can use!
That Harmony scoops up in her turn, putting down a three-of-clubs.
So maybe I should start collecting clubs then?
I pick up the card and discard a ten of spades.
“Oh, I can use that, thanks.” Melody smiles as she puts down a two of heart, takes my card and adds it to her deck.
“I’m good,” Harmony announces.
“Well okay then, Delaylah your turn.”
I swap out my last card and look at my score. I ended up with three clubs. It would have been four if I didn’t discard one at the start, and a street of a similar length.
“All right time to reveal.” Harmony announces as she puts down a six-long street made almost entirely out of hearts.”
“Nice.” Melody puts down a hand of similarly impressive proportions.
Then they both turn to me. “Well uh, looks like I still got a lot to learn. I put down my cards.”
“It’s a very luck-based game, so don’t feel too bad.” Melody assures me, “Another round?”
For a luck-based game, it feels suspiciously strategic, and for a strategic game, it feels suspiciously random.
One thing is certain though, after getting thoroughly beaten four rounds in a row.
I’m not good at this game.
And it’s kind of annoying.
“All right, all right, I invoke family rules,” Harmony announces.
“Already?” Melody huffs.
Haromy points to me “Yeah, Delaylah looks like she’s close to quitting.”
“Oh, uhm, I didn’t mean to…uhm.”
Harmony smiles kindly “It’s fine, you should have a better time under family rules.”
“What are the family rules?” I ask.
“They’re the same as the sister rules but with a twist, we’re not allowed to cheat anymore,” Harmony explains cheekily.
Melody lets out a delighted cackle and I’m not sure if this should be funny to me as well or just to them.
“Oh…” I respond softly.
At this Melody stops laughing and adds “Sorry for making you the butt of the joke. It was just too good to pass up.”
“You wanna try the game with the family rules now?”
The door opens up and three men come rushing in “Is this the Viola place?”
“Did you know you are a chore to find? We’ve been past this block three times.”
Harmony jumps up from her chair “Our apologies, I’m glad you’ve found us. Can I have your names please so I can check them against my list?”
“Proper, Elk and Butler.”
“That checks out, welcome, the party is through that door.”
The guys tip their caps in thanks before going through the door.
“Well, I guess that’s our task done then?” I wonder aloud.
“Yup, so do you wanna play some more?”
“You still want to play cards?”
“Of course, can’t let someone leave the table on a bad streak,” Melody explains.
“Especially a bad streak that’s technically our fault,” Harmony adds.
“That is if you wanna play still? Of course.”
I sit down, not quite sure how to feel.
But eager to find out.
“Sure, let’s give it a go.”
So it turns out that if you take away the cheating jinx is just a luck game.
There’s a bit of strategy I suppose in what cards you discard and what you keep but who wins is mostly decided by the hand you’re dealt.
It’s also fun, the dumb fun you don’t need to overthink too much and it’s just an excuse to spend time with people.
The sisters chat among themselves about stuff I don’t understand and it’s nice to listen.
That is until Harmony turns to me and asks “What do you think Delaylah?”
“Well we all know that dead souls get brought up to heaven on a butterfly’s wings, but is the butterfly an actual butterfly that already lives in the world, or is it merely a shape the soul takes so it can impart on the journey.”
“Your souls get carried by butterflies?”
“Yes, you didn’t know that?”
“It’s a human thing.”
“So wait you just don’t go to heaven when you die then?” Melody asks flabbergasted.
“Melody!” Harmony hisses insulted on my behalf.
“It’s okay, dolls don’t die so we don’t need an afterlife.”
“Oh, must be nice being a doll then.” Melody remarks.
I shrug “I guess it’s hard to compare if you don’t know what it’s like being human.”
“Well we’re mostly squishy, slimy and fragile so personally I wouldn’t recommend it.”
“It’s not all bad Melody, our shorter lifespans give us reason and heaven to strife for.”
“You’re just saying that ’cause you wanna brag about how well you remembered last week’s sermon.”
“No, it’s true, what reason do you have to chase your goals if you have eternity to do it? With no offence meant of course.”
“Of course on the other hand, you can make changes that mean something to the world at large, human life is just a blip in time, you spend your first eighteen years making sense of the world, then have what, until you’re fifty to actually be productive and then after that, you’re already starting to break down. That’s what, thirty years? So even if you make it to ninety which a lot of us don’t you spent two-thirds being useless.”
“That’s not true, the pastor is seventy-one and he’s still doing his job.”
“Yeah, mumbling a lot and walking around with a cane.”
“Yes, but he’s still doing it, just because you’re not in your prime doesn’t mean you’re suddenly useless.”
Melody shrugs noncommittally “I just think if people had more time they’d change the world for the better.”
“Maybe, but we can’t really know so it’s best not to think about it.”
“Says the one who wanted to know what soul butterflies are made of.”
“Right, good point. Although I guess it doesn’t matter where the butterflies come from, as long as they do their job.”
“I like to think they’re real butterflies if it helps. If it was just a shape the soul takes it makes no sense we’re forbidden from hurting butterflies at large after all.”
“Unless we can’t see the difference.”
Mister Viola tumbles down the steps “What are the two of you still doing down here it’s half past ten?”
“We were keeping an eye out to see if any more people would try to come in.” Melody tries but she doesn’t sound too convinced herself.
“It’s time for bed, both of you, Delaylah can keep an eye out.”
Melody collects the cards with a “Fiiine, goodnight Delaylah.”
“Sleep tight Melody.”
The girls rush up the steps, Mister Viola sighs “Next time they make it past their bedtime send them up for me okay?”
“When is their bedtime?”
”Ten in the evening.” He sighs and wipes his forehead with his handkerchief “I don’t need my children hanging about during a party where all of the patrons are male and drunk.”
“It’s…a human thing, don’t worry about it. Just make sure everyone gets up to their room or into a cab by the end of it and all is well. You know how to hail a cab right?”
“Excellent. I’m going up to my office again, if you need me just knock.”
The man nods briskly at me and then goes up the steps again.
And I wait patiently for the party to wind down.
Around midnight the first people start getting spat out by the noisy party. Men with undone ties and a glazed look in their eyes. The moment they see me one of them opens their mouth and loudly hollers “Oh look issa doll!”
“Please be more quiet, people are trying to sleep upstairs.”
“Ah sod em! You come here often beautiful?”
“Allow me to hail you a cab.” I smile kindly then rush to the door to try and get these idiots out here as soon as possible.
“Aw don’t be such a spoilsport darling.”
“Give it up Slammer, there’s no fun to be had with a doll, I heard they have no holes.”
“Is about more than holes Tonky, besides you ever checked?”
“That’s gross even by your standards.” One of the men loudly proclaims and hiss at them to be quiet “I must insist gentleman, please be more quiet.” I push my head out of the door and wave my hand to hail a cab.
“The doll sounds like your mom, maybe that’s why you like her so much.”
There’s uproarious laughter and then one of them loudly proclaims “Hey nothing against his mom, she looks great for her age.”
“Ewwwww.” The guests unanimously decide.
Thank heavens one of the cabs has an empty backseat and stops right in front of the door “Evening miss.”
“Good evening, I have some passengers for you. Wait here.” I turn around “The cab is here, please get home safe.”
“Half the men make their way to the door without further need to push, but of course, the two most annoying customers feel a need to stick around.
“I don’t go unless you go.” The creepy one, Slammer was it? Proclaims.
“I must insist.”
“Well two can play that game I insist as well.”
I roll my eyes.
This is taking too long, and it’s quite tiring.
“That it miss?” I hear the cab driver holler.
“Just two more, one second.”
“Two more? You think I drive an omnibus lady?”
“Just pile them up, they don’t mind.” And I’m not looking for another cab. I step up to the men and pick them up, one in each arm.
One of them struggles to get loose while swearing profusely, the other coos and laughs delightedly as if having the time of his life.
I toss them both on the back seat. “Have a good evening gentlemen.”
I shut the door.
And mentally prepare for a long night.
Lucky for me, it turns out that ‘drunk’ goes in phases.
And people are most annoying in the early phases when they’re creepy and argumentative.
But then after they’ve had a certain amount, and I’m not sure how much that is. They become very docile, sleepy and generally easy to handle.
Why one would strive to be in that state though is a mystery to me.
I’m going to leave it as ‘not my problem.’
I open the door to the dining room, the place reeks of cigars, sweat and booze. Empty bottles are strewn all over the place, all the ashtrays are filled beyond capacity and surrounded with ash.
I’m glad Melody hung the baubles high up, looking at the state of the place I’m not sure they would have survived otherwise.
The host is stretched out over the sofa, one arm laid across his eyes.
“You should go to bed,” I tell him.
“Huh? Oh, yeah sure…but it’s so far away though. Can’t I just stay here?”
“You’re room seven right?”
The man chuckles “I’m Mister Grace, but yeah I stay in room seven.”
“Great, just stay quiet like that and I’ll carry you.”
“Yeah, but just this once, I’m not a taxi service.”