Violet Epps stood before the maitre d' in the lobby lounge of the Algonquin Hotel, waiting to be noticed. She cleared her throat and he looked up, glancing right past her.
"Who's next?" he said.
Me, she thought. Me. But before she could summon the courage to get the single syllable across her tongue, a young man behind her spoke up.
"We have a reservation," he said, putting his arm around the pretty girl at his side. "Dr. Walker."
Doctor my ass, Violet thought. Guy was maybe twenty-three years old, probably a waiter who just walked over from his afternoon class at the Actors Studio.
Violet closed her eyes and tried to find the gumption she needed to speak up and tell the maitre d' she was there first. But as usual, social anxiety paralyzed her vocal chords. Too bad she couldn't channel Dorothy Parker the way she did at work.
Violet Epps was a 37-year-old movie critic whose withering zingers were inspired by the famous wit who had made the Algonquin Hotel her home for many years. Dorothy Parker was Violet's hero, and not just for her scathing reviews, clever jokes, quotable poetry, and insightful short stories, but for her potent social courage. The diminutive Mrs. Parker, as she was often called, was so commanding that even her friends thought of her as larger than life.
So far, Violet had only been successful in summoning her muse when writing her movie reviews. In her personal life, she was held captive by her own timidity. Today, she hoped, would be different. She was meeting her boyfriend, Carl, for dinner, and needed to tell him it was over. She had tried this once before—just a few weeks ago—and failed. Worse, Carl had a made a strong case that the only problem with their relationship was that they didn't spend enough time with one another. He even managed to convince her that if they were together more he would drink less. And so she caved, agreeing to let him move in with her. In two short days it would be happening. Everything in the "apartment" he rented in the basement of his parents' home would be loaded into a U-haul and moved to her house.
As the maitre d' led the young couple to their table, Violet glanced inside her oversized handbag, where a tiny bundle of fur lay sleeping. It was Woollcott, a funny-looking little dog who had survived the car crash that killed her sister and brother-in-law. Violet had petitioned for temporary custody of her 13-year-old niece, who had also survived the accident, but wound up with the dog.
Violet knew that Dorothy Parker, whose most famous quotes were uttered right here in this room, would have made a glib joke about the trade-off. After all, it was life's most painful events that brought out Mrs. Parker's famously wicked sense of humor—like the time she responded to an unwanted pregnancy by saying, That's what I get for putting all my eggs in one bastard.
Violet gave Woollcott a pat. He was, she had discovered, a mellow companion who had a calming effect on her nerves. That was why she had decided to sneak him in to this meeting with Carl; if she couldn't channel Dorothy Parker from the hallowed walls of the Algonquin Hotel, at least she had this little dog to help steady her.
A grab from behind gave Violet a start. It was Carl. She pulled his hands from her waist.
"Hey, babe," he said. "Where's our table? Didn't you tell them who you were?"
"You scared me," she said.
"But I was just horsing around."
Violet sighed. What did one thing have to do with the other? Surely she was entitled to be startled regardless of the intent.
But that was Carl. He was so sure he never did anything wrong that you couldn't suggest otherwise without feeling like you had done something truly villainous.
Violet shook her head. This relationship was not just dead. It was starting to rot.
They had met three years ago at a crafts fair in Stony Brook, Long Island, and Violet was immediately intrigued, as he was the opposite of her rigid ex-husband. Carl McDonald was an artist and looked the part, with a messy mass of long wiry locks, parted in the middle. He was thickset with large hands and bitten nails, which usually had paint embedded deep in the cuticles. Carl had carved out a niche for himself painting nostalgically kitschy designs on small pieces of furniture, and eked out a living selling his work in cramped booths at local shows. Recently, he launched a website to try to broaden his customer base.
He was handsome in an offbeat way and Violet, God help her, loved his disheveled artist look and the intensity of his dark blue eyes. Yes, he was different, but that was why she felt so immediately electrified. Here was a man with passion—someone who could love. But when they met, she was still on the rebound of her failed marriage and got involved way too soon. What seemed like disarming emotional honesty in the beginning revealed itself to be nothing more than a self-involved kind of neediness. And then there was the drinking.
Reprinted from FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER by Ellen Meister with permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of The Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright 2013 by Ellen Meister.