Class of ’69 The reunion dance had started only an hour ago, but already a good many of the dancers were tipsy, and most others were well along, and now the gossip was flowing and confessions were under way and old flames were being extinguished and rekindled under cardboard stars in the Darton Hall College gymnasium.
Amy Robinson was telling Jan Huebner, a former roommate, about the murder last year of Karen Burns, another former roommate. “It’s such a Karen sort of thing,” Amy said. “Getting killed like that. Nobody else. Only Karen.” “Right,” Jan said. She waited a moment. “Move your tongue, sugar. Details.” Amy made a weary, dispirited movement with her shoulders. “Nothing new, I’m afraid. Same old Karen story, naive as a valentine. Trust the world. Get squished.” “Poor girl,” Jan said.
“Poor woman,” said Amy.
Jan winced and said, “Woman, corpse, whatever. Still single, I suppose? Karen?” “Naturally.” “And some guy — ?” “Naturally.” “God,” Jan said.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Amy.
Earlier in the evening, they had liberated a bottle of Darton Hall vodka, which was now almost gone, and both of them were feeling the sting of strong spirits and misplaced sentiment. They were fifty-three years old. They were drunk. They were divorced. Time and heartbreak had exacted a toll. Amy Robinson still had her boyish figure, her button nose and freckles, but collegiate perkiness had been replaced by something taut and haggard. Jan Huebner had never been perky. She’d never been pretty, or cute, or even passable, and at the moment her bleached hair and plucked eyebrows and Midnight Plum lipstick offered only the most dubious correctives.
“What I love about men,” Jan was saying, “is their basic overall cockiness. That much I adore. Follow me?” “I do,” said Amy.
“Take away that, what the heck have you got?” “You’ve got zero.” “Ha!” said Jan.
“Cheers,” said Amy.
“Pricks,” said Jan.
They fell quiet then, sipping vodka, watching the class of ’69 rediscover itself on a polished gymnasium dance floor. Unofficially, this was a thirtieth reunion — one year tardy due to someone’s oversight, an irony that had been much discussed over cocktails that evening, and much joked about, though not yet entirely deciphered. Still, it made them feel special. And so, too, did the fact that they were convening on a deserted campus, in the heart of summer, more than a month after the standard graduation-day gatherings. The school had a forlorn, haunted feel to it, many memories, many ghosts, which seemed appropriate.
“Well,” Jan Huebner finally said. “Bad news, of course — Karen’s dead. But here’s some good news. Gal never went through a divorce.” “That’s a fact,” said Amy.
“I mean, ouch.” “Ouch is accurate,” Amy said.
Jan nodded. “Twenty-nine years, almost thirty, and guess what? That slick ex-hubby of mine, Richard the Oily, he grins and waves at me and strolls out the door. Doesn’t walk, doesn’t run. Strolls. Talk about murder. Am I wrong about that?” “You are not wrong,” said Amy.
“We’re discussing the male gender, aren’t we?” “We are.” “Well, there’s your moral,” Jan said. “One way or the other, they’ll kill you dead. Every time, flowers and gravestones. No exceptions.” “Stone dead,” Amy said, and leaned back to scan the crowd of aging dancers. Thirty-one years, she thought. A new world. After a time she sighed and freshened their drinks and said, “What say we get laid tonight?” “Yes, ma’am,” said Jan. “By pricks.” “For sure.” “Big, dumb, bald ones.” Amy raised her glass. “To Karen Burns.” “To divorce,” said Jan, and then she turned and waved at Marv Bertel, a come-dance-with-us motion, but Marv shook his head, tapped his chest, and leaned back heavily against the bar.
Marv was recovering from a dance with Spook Spinelli, wondering if his heart could take another hit. He doubted it. He doubted, too, that he should risk another bourbon, except the drink was already in his hand, cold as a coffin, and might quiet the jump in his heart. Partly the problem was Spook Spinelli: those daredevil eyes of hers, that candid, little-girl laugh. Over half a lifetime, through two tepid marriages, Marv had been massaging the fantasy that something might develop between them. Pitiful, he thought, yet even now he couldn’t stop hoping. All those years, all that wee-hour solitaire, and he was still snagged up in Spook Spinelli. Also, of course, there was the issue of a failing triple bypass, the butter in his arteries, the abundant flab at his waist. All the same, Marv reasoned, this was a goddamn reunion, possibly his last, so he knocked the drink back and asked the bartender for one more, on the rocks, double trouble.
Across the gym, under a flashing blue spotlight, Spook Spinelli was dancing with Billy McMann. They were hamming it up, making faces, being sexy for each other, but Billlllly did not once take his eyes off Dorothy Stier, who stood talking near the bandstand with Paulette Haslo. After three decades, Billy still hated Dorothy. He also loved her. The love and the hate had hardened inside him, one reinforcing the other like layers of brick and mortar. In a few minutes, Billy decided, he would treat himself to another drink, or maybe three or four, and then he would amble up to Dorothy and explain the love-hate dynamic to her in all its historic detail.
Dorothy knew Billy was watching. She knew, too, that Billy still loved her. Later, she told herself, there would be time to take him outside and admit to the terrible mistake she had made in 1969. Not that it was a mistake, not in the long run, because Dorothy had a sweet husband and two incredible kids and memberships in a couple of smart-set country clubs. Still, if Billy needed a lie, she saw no harm in offering one. Almost certainly she would kiss him. Almost certainly she would cry a little. For now, though, Dorothy was busy telling Paulette Haslo about her breast cancer, which thank God was in remission, and how supportive her sweet husband and two incredible kids had been.
It was July 7, 2000, a humid Friday evening.
The war was over, passions were moot, and the band played a slow, hollowed-out version of an old Buffalo Springfield tune. For everyone, there was a sense of nostalgia made fluid by present possibility.
“So sad, so bizarre,” Amy Robinson was saying, “but so predictable, too. The old Karenness, that’s what killed her. She never stopped being Karen.” “Who did it?” said Jan Huebner.
Amy wagged her head. “Nobody knows for sure. Some guy she had a crush on, some creep, which is par for Karen’s course. Never any luck.” “Never, ever,” Jan said. “And the thing is, she could’ve been a knockout, all the ingredients. That gorgeous red hair, tons and tons of it. I mean, she was a knockout.” “Weight problem, of course,” said Amy.
“So true,” said Jan.
“Plus her age. Face it, she was piling up the mileage like all of us.” Amy sighed. “Total shame, isn’t it? The golden generation. Such big dreams — ki...