This story is by Jessica McCarthy and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I feel particularly wise when I go by the name of Sherrod Champagne.
But Sherrod Champagne is more than a name, it’s a whole character I play. Sherrod Champagne is a 60-year-old retired professor with a very distinguished mustache and the ability to tell a Fino apart from an Amontillado. I don’t know many professors – it’s a new character – but I’ve always pictured a professor in a tweed suit. So I like to dress Sherrod in a tweed suit. To me he looks wise, and so acts wise.
By contrast, I’m flighty and sweet when I’m assuming the character of Polly Plumb, a 22-year-old hostess with a love of all pets, peonies, and baking pies. Polly prefers purple to tweed, and non-fortified wine. I’m much more used to playing characters like Polly Plumb.
When I’m Arti Vulpus I’m a quiet wildlife expert specializing in arctic foxes who lacks in the desire to hold an audience for long enough to chat about them, and I feel reckless and rapaciously rowdy when I’m Robin Ross the racecar driver…
Truthfully, I’m none of those people, and none of those professions. But I feel like they’re real, and the faces truly are. The same person on the inside with a supernatural ability to create boundless external facades. A doppelgänger, or shapeshifter, or… something to that effect. Never really changing, and always changing, over the years. Wearing a new face, or two, or twelve, every decade.
Given this limitless ability, I’m proud to say that I have not become greedy or used it for evil or to manipulate myself into great positions of power. In my experience any power gained grows as old and boring as the face on the body that holds it. No… I have become a student of life, studying all people, places, and things. Working on my master of disguise. An actor in the ultimate amateur theatre. Reveling in life’s constant mysteries.
Little did I know, a small mystery was about to unfold at Mimi’s annual summer solstice luncheon. A mystery that would be entirely my fault.
Mimi’s annual summer solstice luncheon was very popular event. People RSVP’d months in advance. I had RSVP’d immediately after the last party in a-little-more-than-tipsy state of post party euphoria. It was, in few words, always a fun time. Mimi was a favourite person of mine, a person I liked to keep an eye on, and I didn’t get to see her as much I liked. I made a point to involve myself in any event she held, sometimes, if need be, as different people.
I arrived about an hour into the event holding a box with a set of purple port glasses Mimi had lent to me at the party last year, and I was very late in returning.
I stood outside as my taxi drove away and took a moment to watch the party. Mimi did not serve a formal meal, and the party-goers were spaced out across the lawn, and – from what I could hear – the pool. I recalled, very fondly, that Mimi had a lazy river in her backyard.
There was a group of people chatting by the beautiful double stained glass front door. I walked towards, and through, the group, noting glasses of crystal champagne glasses in most hands. A glass of champagne in one of those crystal glasses suddenly in hand – Sherrod likes champagne I repeated to myself. I went to find my hostess.
“So wonderful to see you, darling.” A woman approached and gave me a hug. Gracie, who called everyone darling.
I was once someone who called everyone darling. Dana Dover, who liked…
This was not important. I could see my hostess near the kitchen at the other side of the house.
“Are those Mimi’s port glasses?” Gracie asked. “She’s been talking about those all year!”
“Yes, yes. I’m off to finally return them. I’ll see you later, darling!” I threw one of Dana Dover’s signature little waves at her as I separated myself to continue my mission.
It’s okay, she never met Dana. There won’t be any confusion.
The kitchen was through the dining room, a sunny room full of wooden antiques, and guests that did not currently want to swim in the pool. More glasses of champagne filled liberally were positioned on trays withing reaching distance in every area of the room, should a guest find themselves in a sudden dire need of a drink.
“Sherrod Champagne, heh heh…” A short lady with spiky hair and an empty crystal glass tapped me on the shoulder. “Do you like champagne? I thought you only drank sherry, heh heh.” She laughed loudly at her joke, and grabbed two full glasses off a tray.
Yes, Nina, Sherrod does like champagne, and also sherry, and most non-standard alcoholic beverages.
“Indeed, thank you.” I sat down my now empty glass, somehow emptied in the walk from the door to the dining room, and replaced it with the one Nina handed to me.
“What’s in the box?” Nina gestured haphazardly with her drink. The pale liquid sloshed precariously close to the rim.
“A box of port glasses I borrowed from Mimi last year.” I lowered my voice, I’m being a little too dramatic for Sherrod’s character, but Nina won’t notice. “I’ve been holding them hostage until this year’s party.”
Nina let out another very loud, and long, laugh. I studied it, the way it exploded at the start and trickled off at the end, and the way she tilted her head away, not up…
I might use that laugh in a character someday…
Nina started talking again “Wait, didn’t…”
“Nina,” I stopped her “I’ve got to go return these while I have Mimi in my sights. Don’t leave without saying goodbye!” Don’t disappear before I can study that laugh.
Nina laughed again, and I escaped the dining room.
Finally, I approached Mimi in the kitchen.
“Sherrod!” Her eyes widened as she looked at me and then at the box of port glasses at my side. “What are you doing here… are those the purple port glasses I lent Polly Plumb?”
Sherrod Champagne, with his distinguished mustache, did not feel wise at that moment.
That feeling came from the simple fact that Sherrod Champagne was not meant to be at that party.
Sherrod likes sherry and champagne and other drinks, yes. But, Polly Plumb likes purple. The names, though childish with the alliteration, usually help me remember. Usually.
It was Polly Plumb that had been invited. Polly that had RSVP’d, not Sherrod. And Polly who had borrowed the set of purple port glasses at the end of the last party.
“Ah… yes, yes. She had to take a call outside.” I handed the box over to my hostess, and excused myself, pushing through the crowd of the party to escape.
There really is no good way to explain a mix up like that.
I ducked into the small powder room, closed the door, and opened a window. The warm air created an invisible humid wall in the air-conditioned space.
Best to ignore it, usually people forget quickly.
I checked that the door behind me was unlocked, should anyone need to use the room after me, turned myself into a very unrecognizable bird, and flew away.