Every year, Margrit tells herself that this is the year she’ll stay home on Friday nights. Every single year, since she left Berkeley her junior year and began to spend life in nice clothes, in other people’s houses. Every single year, since she began to deprive herself of privacy and peace, and instead spent herself for the benefit of others and the addictive reward of their company.
Some years Margrit has more than one resolution. In 2010 it was to make a friend and stay home nights. That year she met Tyler, who went to see Battle Royale with her, gave her expired perfume, and taught her how to light a Marlborough. In 2012 it was to get a raise and spend evenings alone. That year she walked into her boss's office January 7th and told him she'd worked there five years, hard, and deserved more money. He gave her five percent and she left work and celebrated by eating steak at J&M's BBQ, alone.
Margrit has a black dress hidden in the corner of her closet. Though she goes to parties, contra dancing, drinking, spinning the night away every weekend, she hasn’t worn the dress since sophomore year at Berkeley when she wore it for Jess's New Year's party. It's slim and velvety, even though it's made out of silk; it’s strapless, and sheer on the sides. It has a slit on the left where she imagines her calf might peek slyly out. She dreams about that dress sometimes, but then she pictures herself in it, drinking another glass of red wine, kissing someone she’s never met, headache raging while she wishes she were alone. That picture is the reason Margrit hasn’t worn the dress since sophomore year.
Last January, almost twelve full months ago, Margrit made a resolution to stay home at night, to have some peace and quiet. She has not done it so far.
She is afraid of being alone.
A month after she made her resolution in 2018, the second day of February wakes up chilly and ornery. It’s a Friday and Margrit tells herself that this is her chance to stay home on a weekend and make good her resolution.
After work, she goes home and drinks a glass of red wine sitting alone in her living room with a yellow T-shirt and sweatpants on. She picks her nails and tries to read the memo her boss sent out the day before. Her head isn’t aching for the first time since… since she can’t remember when. She makes it until 7:30, then swings her legs down from the curled-up position on her chair, grunts, and heads to her room to change. She puts on a nice white sweater dress, makeup, and thin leather boots, and gets in her car and drives. Her head begins to ache the farther away she gets, but she drives to the nearest biergarten, orders æfterealo, and drinks the night away until she can barely see and her head aches so fiercely she thinks she’ll die.
By one in the morning Margrit realizes she’s already failed. She’s failed herself and her resolution.
On the way home, crawling through the cold, dark streets at 10 KPH because she’s afraid she’ll have a wreck, Margrit starts to cry hot, shameful tears through her blinding headache.
Two days later, Margrit tries to stay home again. She eats a can of Campbell’s for dinner at half past five, and then calls Tyler up in Qatar.
“Hey, Ty,” she says, genuinely cheerful. “How are you?”
“Hi, Marge,” Tyler says, sounding tired. “I’m okay. What are you doing?”
“Well, I made a resolution I’d stay home, time to myself, Friday nights and things. So I’m trying it out.”
“Oh, good for you.”
“Well, it felt like I was spending myself like money, for other people, for their company.”
“Am I bothering you?”
“No, I just got home from the first day of the semester. Tough, you know.”
“I should let you sleep.”
“Thanks. I’ll call you back tomorrow maybe. It was good to talk to you, Marge. Stay home, hear?” She heard him chuckling, that familiar guttural laugh, always contagious. Margrit giggles too.
Tyler hangs up and Margrit sits in her empty living room, a faint smile on her face. Hearing Tyler’s voice reminded her of the good times, going to movie theaters and sitting outside afterward in the cold darkness, a Marlborough between her fingers.
She heaves a sigh and stands up.
The good times.
Margrit clicks her tongue against her cheek.
Then she strides to the door, pulls on her shoes, and heads to the car. She drives to the Chesterfield Theater and buys a single ticket for Good Will Hunting. Margrit sits in the middle of a loud group of friends, and spends the night talking and laughing with them, watching the movie sometimes, missing Tyler, and fighting a raging headache.
Ten months later, Margrit puts on makeup and goes to the office on New Year’s Eve. It’s this behaviour that got her that five percent seven years ago, and a four percent out of the blue the year before She’s alone in the office and gets a few things done, a few documents filed, and answers a call about the warranties on last year’s TX9 printers.
Margrit handles the problems herself, though back-to-front printing problems aren’t her specialty. She tells the customer that a tech guy will give them a call the next day, wishes them a Happy New Year, and hangs up, satisfied.
After lunch, about ten past two, Margrit gets a call from Emma.
“Hi, E,” she says, more gaily than she’d intended.
“Hi, Marg,” Emma says back. “I’m having a New Year’s party tomorrow night at my place. Want to come?”
“Don’t you usually have that party on December 31st? That would be today.”
“I was sick as a dog this morning, Marg,” E says cheerfully. “I called it off and Joe said I should invite you instead of him, since he thinks you’re lonely.”
“So thoughtful,” Margrit says, but E doesn’t pick up on the sarcasm. “Doesn’t he know I have parties almost every night?”
“That’s what I said. He just raised his ugly bushy eyebrows at me -- you know Joe. He’s like that.”
Margrit is silent.
“Wear that black dress you had at Jess’s party. Remember that?”
“I’m surprised you do, E,” Margrit says.
“How could I forget? That dress was hot.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow night, I guess.”
E hangs up before Margrit can say goodbye, and she sits there in her office biting her lip. E is one of those people whose character and behaviour prompted Margrit to find new, better friends in 2010. Margrit starts to realize it, too, sitting there and thinking about her black dress. A headache begins to pound behind her temples. It’s a familiar feeling.
She heads home at 4:30, later than she’d wanted to; but the same customer called back at 4:15 saying their printer was now spewing explicit photos. Margrit told them to check the printer’s backlog and hung up with a relieved sigh.
At home that night, a Thursday, Margrit sits in her closet with her sleek, rather dusty black dress, and plans her outfit for tomorrow. Dress, silver heels, silver bracelet, hair in a complicated sweep. She even starts writing out a list, pulling her short dark hair up into a ponytail, crossing her legs comfortably, scratching words out on a piece of paper in the silence of her small closet, her small apartment.
After a few hours in her closet -- she’s moved on to thinning out her sweatpants and comfortable clothing, which she rarely wears -- Margrit pauses and looks up. Her apartment is silent but not eerily so. There’s a slow, constant sound and it takes her a few minutes to figure out what it is. It’s the kitchen faucet dripping in the silence of an almost-empty apartment. It's comforting. She doesn't move to turn it off.
Margrit holds her clothes in her hands and walks out into her bedroom. She leans against the door frame, curls a foot around her ankle, and stands there. An ache starts up inside her near her heart, a feeling of loss or regret, like she shouldn’t be doing this. It’s a feeling as familiar as a headache.
Margrit shakes her head and goes back into her closet, stepping on unprotesting, faded T-shirts and lonely-looking sweatpants.
It's now 2019, a frosty first night in January, and Margrit gets out of her car, shivering in her thin black dress. Snow falls softly on her shoulders as she walks up the pavement toward E’s house. It’s dark and chill and lonely, but E’s house, lit up and loud and overwhelming, doesn’t look much better. The black dress is a little snug around her waist but fits perfectly on her shoulders and under her arms. And she has a matching purse. Margrit walks inside without knocking.
The entryway isn’t too crowded. A handful of people in black tuxedos and glittering red dresses tell raunchy jokes between sips of white champagne. Margrit smiles a little painfully at them and goes to find E.
She sees E across the living room on the other side of a group of paunchy men who are talking about someone’s wife and a burglar.
“The bastard came climbing over the fence, about midnight it was. Rick was out of town, I think, and she took one look and got the shotgun. She went out to the porch and was gonna give a warning shot, ten feet above his head or somethin’. Woman was a terrible shot -- hit him right between the eyes! If she’d been aiming for him she’d’ve shot ten feet up!”
The group bursts into laughter. Margrit smiles painfully again and pushes her way through the crowd. As she walks she feels the black dress move silkily on her skin and she tries not to think about the men looking at her as she walks away from them.
She turns to the punchbowl on the way to E and looks furtively behind her. Sure enough, at least three of the still-chuckling men are staring after her. Margrit swallows hard and glances at E, who’s talking animatedly to someone very drunk.
Her heart and head pound even though she hasn’t had anything to drink yet. It’s like every pounding of her heart, every throb behind her temples, is another reminder that she’s not doing this right, and then she finally realizes. Margrit whirls around, pushes through the group of men again, and jogs through the house toward the door. She cuts through the group of joke-tellers, brushing away hot tears trickling down her cheeks, stumbling through the light snow on the ground.
She collapses into her car crying in earnest. She wants to rip the dress off and put on something inferior, something she’s worn to other parties like this. She feels like she’s tainting the dress by wearing it to so dirty, so lewd, so shallow a party, a party with shallow people and shallow jokes and shallow thoughts; the dress deserves more, and she knows it’s insanity to think that but she knows it deserves more, and all this, all this, is running through Margrit’s mind as she starts the car and drives away as fast as she can.
Away from E’s house the urge to take off the dress begins to die. In fact Margrit feels more comfortable in it than when she first put it on. It feels natural and pretty. She pulls into her apartment’s parking lot and takes her time walking inside. It’s cold outside and she shivers, but looks up fearlessly at the dark grey sky streaked with black and peppered with bright stars. Snow catches in her lashes and melts slowly on her dress and bare skin.
Once inside, she makes a single cup of coffee rather than her nightly glass of wine, kicks off her high heels, and sits at her dusty white kitchen table to wait for the coffee machine. When the coffee is ready, Margrit takes the cup and sits on one of the soft paisley chairs in her small living room, running her fingertips over the engraved quote on the coffee cup.
Love, Joy, Warmth, Laughter it says. It’s a New Year’s quote. She wishes it said Courage or Confidence, because that's what she thinks she needs right now, not realizing she's just shown she has both.
Margrit curls up in her silent, cold living room with her long black dress on. She realizes that she has finally done what she’s always wanted to do: Stay home. Peace and quiet. Her head no longer aches. Her dress is no longer tainted.
It’s the first day of the year, fresh and bright as a new-minted penny, and as Margrit sits alone in her peaceful, quiet room, headache subsiding, she realizes that she’s happy.