“A Night to Remember” Extended Short Story

Anonymous Student

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” The printed words sound in my mind, their black lettering dancing across the yellowed page. The “Collected Writings of Edgar Allen Poe,” authored by Georg Müller, is my first gift in the New Year, given to me by my father in honor of my recent promotion. My mother had always said that Poe was her most beloved writer, a man who truly captured her imagination. With her death last year, I think my father wanted a little bit of her with me as I grew up. But, just like everything that woman likes, I despise it. 

Some book of stories by a long-dead poet collected by a long-dead historian printed by some long-dead printer. Page after page of depressing bemoanings of beautiful dead women. No wonder my mother liked it, she always did like to imagine herself as an Ophelia, captured gracefully drowning in a Pre-Raphaelite painting. God, she would have loved to be a victim for all time, on display for the world to pity. 

Why did he give me this absurd book? But, what can I expect, my parents were a match made in heaven, both shallow, ignorant, superficial creatures. I really shouldn’t have thought that fool would have given me anything else. He would be my mother’s passive-aggressive partner in crime even after her death, ensuring that she guilted me about my life beyond the grave. I’m sure that in whatever hellscape she currently resides in⁠—or perhaps rules given her track record⁠—she sees me throwing her book out the car window. 

She has no bearing on my life, not now, not when everything is going so well for me. Unlike those around me, I don’t play the poor victim 24/7, and I’m not about to start now, not at such a pinnacle moment in my life. I⁠—not her, or him, or my colleagues, or “friends”—am the senior international journalist at the Monroe Times. Me. Not them. Me. 

I can travel anywhere in the world; interview warlords and bombing victims and dictators, all as a senior member of the most prestigious publication in the world. All those poor little victims out there, constantly whining about their lives will now be mine to write about. Their insufferable tears will flow through my writing, as I extoll their bravery in the face of tribulation. One lesson my mother did teach me was how to pretend, how to play the consolate interviewer, how to form pent-up tears, how to put my hand over my heart and shake my head in sorrow. In fact, I’ve played the role so well that I was awarded for it: The Phyllis M. Crane Media Ward. And be assured, I gave a moving speech about the power of human connection and the struggle against injustice and all sorts of headlining issues that would be sure to receive applause.

I shook hands with all the best people, forming connections that would doubtless move me up the ranks. I drank champagne and told anecdotes of childhood, ate caviar as I described in moving detail how my grandmother dying inspired me to become a journalist. Of course, I had never met my grandmother, but they didn’t need to know that. They just wanted to nod their head and frown and pat me on the back for succeeding so far—in granny’s memory, of course. They were too shallow to imagine anything different. Just like everyone else.

But now the award ceremony was over and I was heading to a party, where my “friends” and I would have dinner and drinks and toast to my good fortune. I use the word “friends” lightly, of course, as I feel no real kinship with them, not any real companionship. They are as superficial as anyone else, lacking any truly formed inner life. But, they’re reasonably tolerable, and free dinner is free dinner. 

And so when my Uber pulls up to a smart little Brownstone, I’m not in total despair. It will be a decent end to my night before I can go home and dream about my trophy and promotion for hours. Before I can even exit the car the front door pushes open, and out pops the head of my colleague, Erin, a fellow journalist. 

She’s rather irritating with her constantly grating smile, her bubbly personality. She reminds me of my mother, always putting on a picture-perfect face. She looks like her too, with huge eyes and pinned-up black hair, never a strand out of place. I find her physical perfection off-putting, and from time to time I will admit I have imagined with glee throwing a drink on her cashmere sweaters. Though, obviously, I’ve resisted. It would have totally ruined my reputation.

And so just like mother I put on a good face and step out of the car, waving good-naturedly at her annoyingly bobbing head. At her side, her husband, Richard, a mildly attractive man of about thirty, with graying hair and a constant air of superiority. He’s a professor of philosophy at Columbia, and he is sure to never let you forget it. There’s no smile on his face, only his constant brooding frown which he believes makes him look like the consummate intellectual. 

But, like a good little guest, I keep my mouth shut and smile as they hug me and usher me inside. Their house is gorgeous, decorated in Parisian style with a maximalist chicness. Something I’d buy for myself, maybe with my new promotion money. Neither Erin nor Richard bought it, of course. Erin’s rich socialite parents passed it down to her, just like with everything else Erin has. But I hold my tongue as I’m led to a finely furnished dining room, where plates, glasses, and silverware are set. 

Sitting down I exchange pleasantries with the couple, as they give the expected compliments for my promotion. I see a flicker of a grimace from Erin, but it disappears so quickly that I think that I imagined it. I silently wonder if she’s bitter that she has been passed over for promotion, but her happy veneer deters such thoughts.

“To Octavia,” Erin smiles as she stands and raises her wine glass. “You deserve this more than anyone I know, and I’m excited to see you succeed on this new journey of yours.” 

Her smile strains wide, and her voice seems peculiarly forced, in a way it didn’t earlier. To her side Richard says nothing, only giving a tight-lipped smile in light of the toast. He seems particularly intense this evening, more so than unusual. Erin starts to sit back down, but stands back up again, her drink splashing slightly as she does.

“And one more thing,” her laugh is verging on shrill and her eyes seem glassy, she must’ve been drinking before I arrived. I hadn’t noticed. She’s beginning to look like a mess. How embarrassing. 

“Octavia, you came in early every day, left late every night, took every assignment and wrote every store, and did everything there was to do. I mean, God, you nabbed everything up, I barely had any chance to do anything.”

 With this proclamation, she gives a small laugh and shakes her head, as if it’s just a funny little joke. Richard continues to do nothing, not even looking up. I continue to eat as if it’s any other toast. Besides, I don’t want the food to go cold.

“Y’know, what does someone have to do to succeed? I guess I should be asking you,” she laughs, waving her hands at me. “You just get everything don’t you, but not me, no, not me. Erin gets nothing, Erin gets no promotions, Erin gets no awards.” 

She’s begun to refer to herself in the third person, so I know she’s totally off her rocker by this point. Her speech is beginning to slur and her movements are jerky. I’m not sure if her behavior is just alcohol, because how could she have drunk this much before without me noticing? 

I give no reply to her whiny speech, merely smiling condescendingly; I hope it irritates her. This is all rather funny, to be honest, I never thought she had this much emotion in her. She always just seemed like those stock characters that are perpetually happy at all times, no matter the circumstance. I suppose I was wrong. What a strange thing to be.

Her funny little tirade continues, as all semblance of it being a joke disappeared. Richard, finally doing something, tries to grab her hand and pull her down, but she helps it away. I feel my eyebrows raise in surprise as I notice her finger doesn’t have the usual wedding ring on it. Such a display of marital strife reminds me of my parents. The picture-perfect little couple isn’t so perfect after all. How nostalgic.

“No! You can’t tell me what I can or can’t do. Not after last time, Richard! I can say whatever I want to Octavia, can’t I? Can’t I, Octavia? It’s all in good fun!” 

Richard is now trying to push her back down to the chair, but she moves out of his grasp each time, ignoring his pleas to not bring that up now. She looks deranged, like one of those freaks you do your best to ignore on the Subway. 

And she just keeps going, her words incomprehensible as she points at me. I’m gathering that she’s upset at me for gaining the promotion and not her. The fact that she even entertained the idea of being promoted is seriously deluded considering the work she does, or lack thereof. All she ever does is waltz through the office and annoy people, especially me. She had always seemed like a little fly to me, buzzing away her life with no thoughts to be found. That’s how most people are. Mindless little creatures, mindlessly running about their day.

But her screaming tells me she has something in her brain. I hadn’t ever considered such a possibility before, and it’s a welcome surprise. By now though her very dull husband is pulling her out of the room, ruining her moment. Grabbing the garlic bread, I make my way out of the Brownstone and down the path, waiting for an Uber. 

What a night to remember. A promotion, an award, free dinner, marital drama, coworker jealousy. I wonder what else the night has in store for me, perhaps I’ll get into a car accident on the way home. If I lived, I could use it as a pretty good sob story at my work, my very own triumph over the odds. I can almost feel my mother laughing. She would’ve loved pulling something like that. I bet my boss would like it too, I bet I’d get another promotion. What an eventful night!