December was a dangerous month. Invite anyone anywhere and they assumed it was a Christmas party. Even my house at 3 in the afternoon - on a Tuesday. Now I know. A bit late. It's all over but the forensics. How did it happen? What went wrong? Why did they all show up?
First, I will hop on my good leg to my weak defence. It wasn't all my idea. Tunia the travelling troubadour was passing through town and stopped by the homestead when El Amigo Spanish karaoke bar was mysteriously "cerrado."
On my telephone he spoke to Don Felipe the coffee grower, who'll be returning to Colombia soon, and made a date with him chez moi (en mi casa). Upon leaving my house, Tunia said, "I'll see you tomorrow."
I got to thinking, well, it would be nice to surprise Tunia by inviting some other Toronto friends to clap eyes on him before he's gone again. I dialed numbers, reached nothing but machines, left tentative messages, waited around a few hours and went back to bed for the winter.
Midafty, second day of others' work week, I'm tucked up in my Honest Ed's pyjamas (cartoon-hillbilly-style all-in-one hatchbacked long underwear) dreaming of a hotel in Mexico when Tunia comes a-knocking.
Soon after, Gigi turns up with a priceless volume dumped by the Toronto library, Plantas Utiles De Colombia. "I've been phoning and phoning you," she says, which is odd for someone who usually keeps in touch via postcard. Then the busiest musician-actor-etc I know finds the time to drop by, and the kitchen is getting so crowded I have to leave the room. While I'm in the bathtub, more people arrive.
By the time I've thrown on a few layers of cotton, angora, wool and embroidery, it's too late. A real-life actress (she doesn't bother with the stage) has made her entrance bearing gifts. Wrapped gifts. Gifts with cards. Christmas gifts.
A Christmas party?! I can't have a Christmas party. Like I can't have children or a job. Those are things other people have. Not me! Nogless, out of wassail, not a cracker in the house. I am the hostess with leastest.
A lifetime of solitary eking means I can't even gauge what an off-season party would require, let alone provide it. Rustling up a few chipped mugs of watered-down hot cider just about exhausts my nifty yuletide party ideas.
Luckily, the actress has come equipped with a bottle of fine homemade wine. Instead of the bottle being graciously accepted and quietly added to a well-stocked holiday liquor display, it's seized upon and divided as fairly as possible amongst egg cups and Mason jars.
Down a long hall from the kitchen is a room that I realize now is a "summer room," a windowed addition that looks enclosed but manages to maintain a winter temperature a good 10 degrees colder than the air outside. (The rest of the house is only 5 below.) The move to this room to accommodate the crowd is, in retrospect, the real test of friendship.
"It's cold in here, isn't it?" I offer. I suppose if we all bunched up together.... But, then, I would never have touchy types for friends. So everyone sits on their own hands. After my fifth offer to bring a heater, Gigi finally remarks, "Well, no one said no!" Oh. So no answer equals yes? I've barely attended any parties as a guest (crasher), never mind thrown them. The subtleties of etiquette are all Cantonese to me.
"OK, so I'll go get a heater." As I get up to do it, then it's a chorus of No! No! It's better without electricity. This would be the time to fetch more candles. I have some. But this little action that could have improved the atmosphere and warmed the room slips away at the idea stage.
Just about everyone has a bag of Don Felipe's first batch of freshly roasted coffee. I really must get a coffee pot. The contents of the few bottles of black beer are distributed in what must appear a miserly fashion. Ingrained caution and superstition are not qualities best suited to conviviality. A full glass in a house of short supply invariably gets knocked over. But espresso cups of beer have yet to catch on.
The food front harmonizes with the rest: it's disastrous, too. The kitchen is so far away, and empty anyway. "I know. Olives. Do you want some olives?" No answer. But this silence, unlike the heater silence, signifies assent. Worldly Mike the musician gently explains that you don't ask. You provide whatever it is and then they eat it if they want. Sure enough, no sooner has Gigi produced a can of stuffed grape leaves from her pocket than they're gone.
She and the actress keep offering to "replenish" empty bowls. A Christmas party and a magic show, too! I did put almonds in a dish, but I put some walnuts in the shell in, too, so after one walnut it just looks like a dish of broken shells. I don't know who got the fig.
On the bright side, there is music - until people's fingers become too numb to play.
After I instruct the actress on how to get a dial tone out of my rotary phone and chastise her for losing the rubber band that holds it all together, Tunia decides he wants to see Rosie the dog and her faithful manservant. So I phone them to come over and maybe get the dog to lie across our feet.
After that, the actress goes outside for a smoke - so she says. She never comes back. She leaves a Zen guide called Expect Nothing. Glad to know I can live up to someone's expectations. More than I can say for the book, which is, disappointingly, not blank.