Thursday, September 4, 2008

An Exercise in Class


A short story by Ben Sloan


The place smelled of sterility, oak, and over-applied perfume. Dan caught many stares as he made his way through the living room, dodging short black dresses, khaki pants, and tucked in shirts. His holey jeans had an open flap in the back that he had forgotten about, which lay open exposing the cheap underwear beneath. The hanging tail of his worn black teeshirt covered it only partly.

There was a slight pause in conversation as he entered the kitchen, all polished granite and brass, until a booming voice greeted him.

“Daniel! How great to see you!”

“Yeah,” Dan said to the suited man before him, knotted tie and shining teeth. “How you doin, Josh?”

“Joshua, who is this?” A slim woman came to the dark suit's side, an elevated mass of hips and breasts and sparkling earrings.

“Daniel, meet my wife Providence. Honey, this is Daniel Gray.”

“How nice to meet you,” she said, holding out her hand.

“Yep,” Dan said, shaking it briefly.

“So you graduated with Joshua, then?”

“That would be why I'm here,” Dan said, gesturing to the banner above him, which read Happy Reunion, Class of --. Providence laughed.

“Hard to believe it's been five years, right Daniel?”


Joshua's eyes shifted away as the front door swung open, and he glided off with his wife in tow, greeting some other late arrival. Dan continued on to the long table set in the dining room, shiny and covered in various hors d'oeuvres, cocktail shrimp, and tiny pastry cups filled with green paste no one liked but everyone ate. At the end of the offerings sat a large ornate punch bowl, filled with pink fluid floating with fruit chunks, acidly sweet.

Dan tried one of the shrimp, but it was lemon-salted rubber in his mouth, and he spit it into a trash can. Losing interest in the food, he made his way into the adjacent library, where several people stood in small groups, holding glasses and making conversation. The books were of no particular interest, bought for uniformity in height rather than substance, and though they had words in them the spines popped as they opened, indicating that they had never been read.

On tables placed sporadically about there were conspicuous stacks of magazines laid out, perfectly casual, systematically thoughtless, intelligent works on medicine, science, and the latest political inanity. Not a page was wrinkled, not a corner folded, not a single loving coffee stain.

The first group of talkers received him willingly enough, but they were only discussing who might own the Aston Martin out front. The next little trio were a bit flushed, and recognized him almost instantly, but they too were of no interest because they kept asking him what he had majored in.

“I didn't go to college,” he said, to which they responded as if he'd stated he had taken up heroine. Blank stares, followed by, “Well, what have you been doing?”

“Hanging out. Reading.”

This seemed to blow their circuits, so Dan did them the mercy of leaving, not looking back to their pitying head shakes, knowing glances, and hesitant discussion.

In the back yard, those that had deigned to leave the air conditioning were standing in the perfectly mowed grass, enjoying their rural Americanism, watching Joshua demonstrate his new golf clubs.

“Haven't had a chance to take them out yet,” he said, holding one up in his white leather gloves, “But I keep in practice right back here.”

He followed this statement with a perfunctory swing at the ball teed at his feet, hitting it square and sending it sailing over the expanse of uniform green, through the trees, into the woods beyond. Over the years the balls would accumulate there, not retrieved, while Joshua just bought new ones.

Dan watched this with sleepy eyes, debating on whether to stay and inebriate himself or just leave. Then a small scream erupted, and one of the women jumped back, pointing to the moving grass where, like the red sea to Moses, the blades gave way to a slithering snake.

“Just a garter,” Dan said, stooping forward to scoop it up, when from above him came a smiling whoop, and a golf club came down on the creature, crushing it just behind the head. Letting out a startled gasp, Dan fell back to avoid the falling bludgeon, and watched as twice more it was brought to bear on the squirming snake, breaking it at the neck, separating the head from the body.

There were several cries of encouragement, some laughing, and then Joshua said, “Don't worry, the bastard's dead.” With that, the people receded back into the house, leaving Dan, who looked down at the snake and touched its writhing body, held it until it no longer moved.

The sun was beginning to set, and Dan stood with the dead snake in his fist, carrying it into the house like an everyday accessory. There were more people there now, gathered around, exchanging blandishments about their accomplishments and mating partners, items bought and papers won. None of them noticed the dead he carried at his side, no one registered the low sloosh as he dropped it into the punch bowl, where it sank to stand company with the exotic fruit.

Leaving them behind him, Dan continued to the exit, where he stopped to consider locking the doors and burning the house down, but he'd left his lighter out in the car and didn't want to go all the way out there just to come back. So he left and went to his Aston Martin, which he took to the airport, intending to pay his agent a call.


Jenny Ashford said...

I loved this. The part where Dan was horrified at the reactions of the partygoers over the killing of the snake really hit home for me... I've always rather liked snakes, and I was very traumatized by seeing my grandmother chop one in half with a shovel. Anyway, great story.

Candace said...

I loved how Dan's disdain for the nitwit party-goers turned to disgust over the snake incident, then to contemplation of their murder, then a shoulder shrug: eh, they're really not worth the effort. Great surprise ending, too. Well done!

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Anonymous said...

Wow all I can say is that you are a great writer! Where can I contact you if I want to hire you?

Ben Sloan said...

Whoever comes across this: I am the author. You can find my website at

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