Seating Arrangements
going-out clothes, underdressed for the cold and, like her, catching their heels in the divoted ice and the grooves between the bricks. Each group of girls was a single, shimmering consciousness, like a flock of birds or a school of fish, moving together in an elaborate, private choreography, their sequins and silks tossing back the streetlights. The boy at the club’s door hesitated when he saw her, but she pushed past him.
    She thought she heard him say that Teddy wasn’t there, and she said, “Fuck Teddy,” to no one in particular. She made a tour of the rooms, tripping on the nap of the Persian carpets and the knotty floorboards. Pounding hip-hop filled the clubhouse, at odds with the ponderous, old-fashioned interior, which was all tufted leather, dark paint, carved wood, and grim brass light fixtures. The décor suggested a nostalgic, appropriated Englishness, as though the Ophidian had once possessed faraway colonial holdings. Framed photographs of members, letters they’d written or received, doodles they’d made on cocktail napkins, and other inscrutable ephemera crowded on the walls. “You’re all dead now,” Livia muttered to the class of 1918, “eventhough you were in the Ophidian.” The club, she thought, was an institution that existed for little purpose other than to select its members. Once you were in, then what? Then you sat around drinking and gossiping until it was time to choose new members, with whom you sat around drinking and gossiping until the time came to choose the next batch. There was no point to it, not really. The Ophidian was a decoy, a façade, a factory that produced nothing. Her father loved that stupid snake swallowing its own tail. He said it was about self-sufficiency, renewal, and rebirth, shedding skins but persisting, having no beginning and no end. She thought it was about going nowhere, about finding no better option than to devour yourself.
    People were looking at her, she knew, and she leered back at them, at the looming faces she knew or seemed to know. She found herself sitting on the arm of a leather couch and laughing at something the boy beside her was saying. She laughed so hard she couldn’t catch her breath. She took a sip from the plastic cup in her hand and realized it was full of water.
    “This is water,” she announced. “I didn’t ask for water. If I wanted water, I would have asked for it.”
    The boy on the couch looked embarrassed. She wondered how she had ever thought he was funny. “Stephen thought maybe you’d had enough.”
    “Oh, is that what Stephen thought?” She was standing now. The room went quiet around her, and she swung left and then right to get a good look at it. “What?” she said. “You think I’m drunk? Stephen thinks I’m drunk? Well, you can tell Stephen that I’m drinking for two! Know what I mean? But don’t wait for Teddy to tell you and don’t send any cigars!” Water slopped out of her glass and onto her toes. “Shit.” When she bent down to wipe it away, she lost what was left of her balance and tipped forward, arcing toward the oriental carpet. As soon as she hit (or was it before? did she even fall?), she felt a pair of hands on her sides, righting her. One of them zipped up her dress. “Teddy?” she whimpered.
    The hands did not belong to Teddy, though she spotted him then in the doorway, still wearing his coat, flushed pink under his orangehair, staring at her in a way she knew neither of them could recover from. His contempt radiated from across the hushed room, and she could only send back contrition and animal desperation.
    Her rescuer was the despised, vodka-withholding Stephen. “Okay,” he said. “That’s enough party.”
    He took her to a back room, and together they went through her phone until they found a soberish friend who agreed to come get her and walk her home. “Bring a coat she can wear,” Stephen said into the phone. “And a pair of boots.”
    As they sat and waited, Livia

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