Lucille arranged the smokey topaz necklace, bracelet, and rings on her body as if she were adorning a Christmas tree. “This is smokey topaz,” she said to her son’s girlfriend, Beth, a petite brunette she didn’t particularly like. Her beautiful boy could do better than that. After all, her husband was a full colonel. “It’s my favorite stone and the colonel always buys it for me on our anniversary.” Her dress — a two piece Duponi silk number handmade for her in Seoul, their last posting — matched exactly the smokey topaz ring on her right hand. “I had this made before we came back to the States,” she said. “Why be in Asia at all if you’re not going to have some silk dresses?” She reached back to be sure her French roll was perfectly smooth.
Downstairs the colonel had plunked a couple of ice cubes into a highball glass and was pouring a few fingers of Scotch over them. He swirled the glass around a few times and took a drink. “Here we go,” he thought.
She’d be down any minute. The house was brand new. She’d “absolutely LOVED” the stairs. “I can just SEE myself coming down the stairs in a beautiful cocktail dress, can’t you?”
Whatever he thought of his smokey topaz wife, he never said. “Loose lips sink ships,” that old war slogan, applied to marriage, too. And Roland? That insipid drip of snot that was their child and heir? Definitely his mother’s boy. The Colonel didn’t even know how to talk to him.
“Doll!” he called up the stairs. “Are you about ready? A progressive party means we progress!”
“You don’t need to be sarcastic,” she answered back. “I’m putting on my shoes. I’ll be down in a minute.” She slid her feet into black pumps.
The colonel took another drink from the highball glass. Whatever. He didn’t want to go anyway, but Lucille had to show off all that topaz. It was their first social event in the new community.
Beth, Roland and Lucille came down the stairs. The colonel set his drink on a coaster on the glass-topped coffee table and picked up his wife’s mink-collared cashmere coat from the chair. “You look beautiful, darling,” he said holding the coat.
“Thank you, love.” She reached behind her and patted his cheek. “I don’t know when we’ll be home. You kids be good.”
As they walked down their street, the colonel wondered whatever happened to a nice sit down dinner or good old potlucks like in his parents’ day. “This is it,” said his wife, looking at the invitation. “The Oberhausers. Appetizers.” An overdressed woman opened the door, invited them in.
“Come in, come in. Introduce yourselves to everybody — we’re all new here, you know, just like the neighborhood!” A portly older man reached out a hand to shake, “What’s your poison?”
For the next hour, they stood around the appetizer table. Decorated for Christmas, it was replete with the julienned carrots, celery and spinach dip, shrimp and cocktail sauce, mixed nuts, melba toast and cheese spread. They all made small talk with the same people with whom they’d make small talk at the next stop — entrée.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Roland had opened the back of his bass speaker and pulled out a bag of weed. He took out a few pinches and rolled it neatly into a joint.
“My dad has NO idea I brought this back from Korea,” he said, proudly, lighting it and taking a hit. “Here.” Roland hoped it would help Beth overcome her hesitancy. Perfect moment. Parents gone, plenty of weed, leopard print bedspread, him in little blue underwear. What could be sexier?
“I’m going home,” she said. “See you at school Monday.” She let herself out the front door and headed home through a neighborhood that had been open fields only a year before. She didn’t know much, but she knew she didn’t want to end up smokey topaz or anything like it. And Roland? He really did have little squinty-piggy eyes. Her brother was right.