Basic Rules for Party People by Margaret Spilman

The trick is finding who to be like. It’s a natural inclination to admire those loud, flinging their arms up types, those who like how their own voice tastes. They get fat off it, spill their drinks and call for more. No one will remember you next to them.

Don’t worry. You’ve just got through the door, plenty of time to find your place. You spot the standard rows of women ringing the edges of the room. Leaning different angles, their eyes won’t focus on anyone in particular. They look good. They make bangs work somehow. They are ornaments, attached to more mobile types that will be back soon with drinks. They don’t hunt for themselves and they don’t need you either.

Someone will be making drinks, there is always someone making drinks. If there isn’t, wait. Don’t make your own drink. You’ll have to poke around places you don’t know looking for ice tongs. It will make you feel lonely. You’ll put too much inside the hollow red cup to compensate. Wait until some long-limbed joker is shaking empty bottles like church bells to let everyone know that the ice is melting. Let him choose your drink. Smile when he names it something like “Shit-storm”, or “Gets It Done”. Some of the leaning girls will have their elbows on the counter top, blocking you from joining their conversation. If you can, edge the scattered ice cubes against their bare elbows. The bite of cold will make them yelp. They will seem delicate; you will seem strong, drinking lukewarm tequila.

On the couch, a tangle of limbs, smoke will puff up. Couches are good places to start. These are comfortable people, and you’ll need that ease if they are going to believe you belong here and put their hands on your shoulder and their knees near your knees. Couch people are tightly knit. You’ll have to wait your turn until someone has to pee. When someone gets up you can take their seat and adjust your shoelaces, like your only staying a moment. Make a joke about it. Beg a pardon. If they offer you anything take it, take it confidently like you’ve always been on this couch. Forget to offer the seat back, forget to be polite. But they will ask for their seat back, and you will have to get up because the tone of their voice is all ownership and you are small and moveable.

Beware of sober faces counting the time against the alcohol in their veins. When can we go home? That’s what they’re thinking. It can become what you’re thinking. Stay away from couples. Sip your drink slowly. Getting drunk won’t make anyone notice you.

Back at the bar, everything will be covered by sticky, laughing people who need to be close to their courage’s source. It will be all backs and elbows and no way to slide in. You took too long moving round the room. Too many couples. Too much tequila makes listening to your shoes easier than acting natural.

Outside the air will be cold. Or maybe humid this time, maybe it’s summer instead of winter, right before the Fourth of July instead of right before Christmas. There’s fog though, always fog, makes your skin match the damp in your palms. You’ll see couples climbing into cars, sharing secrets. You’ll know the bus will be there in 10 minutes. Hopefully there will be something to lean on while you wait.

Margaret Spilman was born in Milton, West Virginia, raised on the plains of Wichita, Kansas, and currently reside in Los Angeles. I received my bachelor’s degree from Vassar College and was recently accepted into the California State University, Long Beach MFA Creative Writing program starting in the fall. I am a 2013 James Kirkwood Literary Prize winner and a 2014 PEN Emerging Voices Fellow.

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