It was a gesture for formality’s sake. Every one of them knew he wouldn’t... couldn’t refuse. And felt a twinge in their hearts… pity, empathy, frustration. Not one of them, though they envied him at random moments, really wanted his job or his life. It therefore came as no shock when he accepted the invitation to the party and the only consolation was that he’d never be accused of doing so, cheerfully. Not that it was going to absolve him later of course. That was out of the question. But at least history would decree that he was consistent.
Or so he hoped.
At the party itself, he found himself with his usual group. They seemed unusually tense, but he put that down to the rather hostile atmosphere that palpably floated around them. He wondered why the whispers & sniggers seemed so loud, but fought the feeling of panic by passing it off as mild paranoia. He’d never really liked coming to his relatives’ place, but couldn’t say so because etiquette had been drummed into him practically since he was in the womb, resulting in him being regarded as an excruciatingly polite man in later life. He hoped his cousin wouldn’t drink too much and create a scene. Somehow though, he knew it was inevitable that ‘something’ would take place… it always did. He thought back to the various slanging matches, accusations, counter-accusations, threats and tears that had marked previous family gatherings. God! He was tired of it all. He often wished his father had never inherited all the property and money. It had effectively alienated his uncle, who, being rather stubborn to begin with, had now also become rather bitter and stomped around as if he couldn’t see a damn thing… even issues that were staring him in the face. These feelings, his uncle had passed on to his kids which ensured that his cousin loathed him. A feeling he reciprocated, even though he wouldn't admit it to his most personal confidante.
He heard his name being called and felt his heart drop into his stomach. The voice belonged to the one person he loathed above all others, a man who was his uncle by marriage. Words like ‘snake’, ‘oily bastard’ and other less charitable ones always flashed through his mind when he was forced to interact with this loathsome specimen. Taking a deep breath, he turned around and his eyes widened in shock before he could help himself. Not only was the old sod worse for drink, he was arm-in-arm with his cousin, who was similarly tipsy.
He sighed as they made their way over and steeled himself for the verbal barrage that was sure to follow. And he wasn’t disappointed either. The conversation, or what passed for it, began politely enough; after all, expensive educations have to express themselves somewhere. But he could feel silence sweeping across the room to be accompanied by a sense of foreboding as they began to harangue him over his work, finances and social life. His cousin, especially, seemed to have come prepared with a list of innocuous-sounding but effectively cutting remarks. He didn’t allow his temper to rise, however… kept telling himself that they were drunk and it would blow over soon enough. And then, it happened.
His uncle said something about the party being rather boring and his cousin, almost as if on cue, suggested they have some fun and games. This of course involved high-stakes gambling, which all & sundry knew was his only weakness. Or maybe, it was a compulsion. Being aware of this, he politely excused himself, all the while aware of the dull thumping of his heart. As he turned to leave, his cousin asked him in a voice that attempted to sound casual but was shaking for some reason, “How about you… you are playing, right?”
He froze… and so did everyone else in the room. And the feeling of foreboding that had been present all evening suddenly made it difficult for him to breathe. He felt his fingers trembling and couldn’t say whether they did so because of excitement or fear. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his younger brother frantically shake his head but did not acknowledge his presence.
His cousin’s eyes were narrow slits as he asked him again… “So, yes or no?”
Even time seemed to stop and watch the spectacle... and then, his shoulders sagged & he thought then that the day could just end badly, for himself and everyone and everything he cared about. Maybe it would not be so bad...
He hoped they would understand… and forgive him… he was just doing his duty. It had to be done, yes?
Refusal was out of the question, after all. Wasn't it?
He had to be consistent, no matter what the outcome. History would validate his actions. Wouldn't it?
His cousin asked him a third time, knowing all the while what the answer would be…
Song for the moment: Roadhouse Blues - The Doors