The remnants of the holiday were still present, evidenced by the occasional stray piece of tinsel that Janet found curled around a dining room chair leg, or rainbow confetti scattered on the marble stairs leading up to the second floor. Yet the warmth of friends and the history of their common bond felt like it had long disappeared. It felt odd that only a few days had passed. The quietness of the place unsettled her as she thought about how long it would be until she next had visitors within this massive vaulted ceiling chamber. In a way she had dreaded the stress of hosting this holiday season’s annual gathering. Yet, when the day had finally arrived, the company of friends had been exactly what she had needed to keep at bay the untenable void and loneliness that had become her daily life these last four years. Ever since the death of her eldest sister Joyce, these twice a year events had become crucial to retaining her sanity and her ability to engage in intelligent conversation. The time in between always seem to drag on for an eternity and she often wondered whether she had lost her voice as the upcoming event drew near. With no human being to connect with but twice a year, the anticipation of social interactions often became unbearable. And then, once fellow members began to appear and create the expected group dynamic, she somehow managed to pull it off without letting on to anyone that she had fallen more and more deeply into the vortex of solitude. Without daily engagement, she often felt that her skills of communication and the cadence of her interactions were halted, jarring and limited. She wondered if there might come a time that she would succumb to her urge to cancel her involvement in the Holiday Foray.
Up until now, Janet had maintained her membership in the group to ensure that she at least had this bi-annual connection: once during winter and once during summer. WIth this last surge of anxiety leading up to the event, she thought this might be the one: the cancelled event that would seal her fate as a member of The Perpetually Solo Exister Group; the off-shoot roster that continuously evolved from those members that decided to initiate the inevitable cutting of ties. She had overheard Phyllis mention that Muriel had just recently joined that membership: Muriel, too, had become a Perpetually Solo Exister. Janet had always like Muriel- she was one of the more genuine members of the Holiday Forray. It always felt like she was one of the only ones that when she engaged socially, she was completely present. She was listening- truly taking in whatever it was one was saying. And, afterwards, Janet would generally recall the encounters as quite pleasing and memorable and would actually look forward to seeing Muriel again the next time. She would definitely miss Muriel. And she wondered, would anyone in the Holiday Forray ever really miss her? If she should send her own official notice of cancellation, would anyone actually notice her absence? There was an unspoken rule which meant that all members had agreed to resist any idea of reaching out to contact someone who had cancelled. Cancellation suggested a decision to relinquish all rights to friendship and social interaction. The membership guidelines required that members honored the choice made to cancel by another member and this agreement was understood by all, and rarely did anyone ever break this rule.
The notion of joining the Perpetually Solo Exister Group had Janet in a twirl. What would it mean really? Authentic living? Not having to pretend that social norms were important; this actually felt appealing, in a way. Not having to force herself to figure out how to interact with others after long stretches of solitude, seemed quite a relief. The only issue really was what would the end result be for Janet- would she shrivel away into nothingness? Would her brain turn to mush as the social manners books she had been raised on suggested? Would she die and dissolve all alone with no one to sweep up her pieces? No- no the idea of living in the void uninterrupted was not viable for her. She had to continue with this membership because the alternative was too scary. And, for now, the stress of getting ready for the event was by far much better than the idea of not having an event for which to prepare. The preparation alone filled so many of her days – for both events. Actually, months of anticipation were filled with activity and duty in preparation for the bi-annual gatherings. Without them, what would she have for a life a purpose. No, this was the way to mark her time on the planet. An important, indeed- critical part of her life. So, she walked to the study to pull out the annual diary in order to make the necessary recordings of this past event, and begin the journal process for the next gathering. She felt a release as she found herself making this bi-annual decision following the most recent event- stay in the group. It is the best and only way to maintain a sane and reasonable life. And, after all, she would not be called upon to host again for another two years. So at least she would avoid the anxiety of hosting duties. Rather, she would be able to focus these next 48 months on simply preparing to make her entrance, dazzle with conversational etiquette, focus on her ability to smile demurely and prepare to engage and listen. Those skills were enough for her to focus on for now. These skills were practically absent in this last event, since her primary focus had been on the catering, the decorations and the schedule of the evening. Truly, she had not had much chance to engage at all. So really, if she thought about it, these next two years would be a great diversion for her- unlike the last year which was draining of all of her resources, financial and otherwise.
She looked out the panoramic floor to ceiling windows of her two story foyer which overlooked Arthurian Falls in the distance, from the very position where she had stood as still as an Olympian Statue only just a few nights before, greeting her guests, providing them with their Bulletin listing for the evenings entertainment and then directing them to her ever ready Master Butler for their preferred refreshment. She focused on the view before her, she tried to re-engage her senses and recall the peace she always felt whenever she walked through Paradise Garden located on the perimeter of the manor. She imagined herself walking down the fifty step entrance staircase that bordered the fountains and rose gardens which lay just beyond her front door The staircase led to the terra cotta colored gravel pathways that swepth through her five hundred acre property, winding through various meadows and hamlets. This was her very own Caldicot Mansion. A place of total harmony and peace, filled with hundreds of bird species and exotic wildlife. Perhaps she should take her afternoon stroll now.. she could use a break from all of these anxiety provoking thoughts, none of which she could fully resolve right now anyway. She would enjoy meandering through one of the five labyrinths that Joshua had designed all those years ago, before he had disappeared somewhere in Connemara.
She whistled and Bijou appeared, her most trusted canine companion. “Come” she called to her, “let’s go for our walk.” Bijou happily led the way through the open front doorway, and her tiny little body daintily pranced down the staircase, looking much like the best trained quarter horse in the most competitive riding show. Janet followed Bijou across the black and white gloss of the checker board tiled foyer, through the bevelled glass front doors and down the staircase into Paradise Garden. A fresh thought of utter blessing swept through her body and she acknowledged in that moment how little she actually needed visitors. She had all of this, and sweet Bijou with whom to share it all. Maybe moving over to the Perpetually Solo Exister Group wouldn’t be so bad after all. Did she need the superficial twice yearly relationships that were maintained in the Holiday Foray? After all, no one in the group really knew one another on a deeper level. It was all surface. Was it worth it in the end? She had a lot to ponder, and she worked through it in her mind as she made her way onto the gravel pathways and slowly walked towards the head of the labyrinth entrance. The meditation of the labyrinth would certainly help her work it all out