No matter how Sylvia pleaded with her parents about staying up and joining the grownups in a get-together, Zahara and Xavier would not budge.
“You can read in your room for a bit before going to sleep,” Zahara said as if reading was ranked on par with staying up late and entertaining guests.
Sylvia lingered at the table, arguing with herself whether she should tell her parents that all her friends were allowed to stay up and mingle and that it was unfair to treat Sylvia differently.
“Now,” Xavier concluded sternly.
There was no arguing with Father. So, left with no choice, Sylvia moseyed upstairs to her room, but not without a plan to come up with a plan to attend the soiree anyway.
When the doorbell rang some fifteen minutes later, Sylvia sat up straight in her chair and put “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” back on her desk. Normally, she inhaled books, but that night, she had to read each paragraph two or three times before actually understanding what it said. I’m old enough to sit with adults, 10-year-old Sylvia huffed.
A jolly voice could be heard from downstairs – Mr. Yafens, the neighbor. Sylvia liked him. He was friends with her dad, but he was always very polite to Mother – kissing her on the hand and joking with Sylvia whenever she saw him.
Sylvia imagined that her mother was making tea or coffee in the little ceramic cups they bought on their trip to China. Zahara had asked her daughter to bring them in from the credenza earlier. The two of them had also arranged some cookies and an assortment of cakes on a 2-tier plate. To balance out the sweetness, they also dished out some chips and pretzels.
“Not these,” Sylvia tried to argue as the sour cream and onion were her favorites, and she had been planning on snacking on them the following day.
“We’ll get some more tomorrow.” Her mother dumped the chips into a bowl without pausing, which made Sylvia realize that her objection would never have been considered anyway. “IF you’re a good girl,” Zahara added.
Ongoing chatter downstairs let Sylvia know that her parents would not pay close attention to her for a while. Gently, she pressed on the doorknob, cracked open the door, and held her breath – so she can make less noise and hear better at the same time. There were two male voices with an occasional addition of a female one coming from the kitchen. Mother was probably trying to put some savory appetizers together – she always made sure that everyone had what they wanted and more.
Very slowly, making sure to avoid the parts of the floor that creaked, Sylvia tip-toed to the stairwell. She stood there for a while, making sure that no one was coming upstairs and she did not have to retreat. Then, she crouched down and finally sat down on the top stair. It was a winding staircase, so unless someone decided to come up, Sylvia should remain undisturbed listening in.
When the doorbell rang again, Sylvia plastered her hands over her mouth, having almost gasped. She didn’t realize more people would come, and the doorbell made her jump. Greetings ensued downstairs again, with Mom asking the usual: “Tea or coffee?” Mr. Declogg always chose coffee – dark roast, no cream, no sugar.
As soon as the guests sat down at the table, Sylvia heard her father’s lighter clink. All three men loved to smoke, and soon enough – the smoke billowed in the room and rose up the stairs. Sylvia was used to her father smoking, but three cigarettes make more smoke than just one, so she had to pull her pajama top over her nose.
The next sound Sylvia heard was her father shuffling cards. That’s what he and his friends did whenever they met – smoked, drank, played cards, and talked about everything and anything. As if on cue, father yelled out for mather to make them some drinks.
“Comings!” Zahara answered with enthusiasm in her voice.
Sylvia had heard her mother tell her father to pour it himself in the past, but the guests had just arrived, and she was still in good spirits.
Once Mother brought over all the food and drinks, she sat down with the men and asked to be dealt in. The four of them talked about mundane things like politics, work, and day-to-day life. Sometimes, one of them would ask if the others saw something on the news or a certain movie, and they would discuss that. Whenever someone lost a round, they would raise their voices, curse, and accuse others of cheating.
Some friends, Sylvia thought, her eyelids heavier and heavier. Sylvia sat on the stairs for what felt like half a night before opting to go to bed. When she got up a few hours later and went to pee, the gathering downstairs was still going strong. She crouched for a moment to see if it got any more interesting than before. It had, and it hadn’t. The smoking, the drinking, and the card play continued. Only then, everyone was slurring their speech, and Mother was yelling at Father to stop drinking. Sylvia felt bad for her mother – she knew Father wouldn’t listen.
What do my friends see in this? Sylvia wondered before creeping back to bed, where she promised herself not to hurry into adulthood. Her life seemed a lot more fun than what she had witnessed that night.
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