Katerine hosted the most glittering party on the night before the Visitation and had done for as long as anyone could remember. She lived in an apartment that seemed like it would be too small for proper hostessing but if people thought that upon arriving, they never thought it upon departing. Inside, visitors were greeted by warm damasked walls, tulip shaped lamps with rose and cream shades, and crystal bowls heaped with spiced nuts, candied currants, and delicate nougats. Drinks were always kept full but somehow no one could ever remember being ill afterwards.
Talking business at Katerine’s was forbidden but politics, money, and romance were all fair game. This year, she had invited Hernando, who was newly arrived in Town and held to be a prickly character.
“I do love a man in evening wear,” hissed Sabeline as Hernando shrugged off his overcoat. Claudette clucked her agreement and the two exchanged significant glances over their cocktail glasses.
“Doesn’t look like much to me,” Dramyth muttered, smoothing down his own glimmering dark blue lapels.
Katerine greeted the newcomer, fetching him a gin and elderflower cocktail and offering him a bowl of paprika roasted crickets. From across the room, Eulalie boomed, “Is that the boxer? Bring him over here then!”
Hernando looked around awkwardly but Katerine was already steering him toward Eulalie, one hand on her cane and the other tucked into his elbow. Hernando bowed stiffly to Eulalie who chuckled heartily. “Different from what you’re used to, I imagine. It’s not always like this. We’ve got our gladrags on because of the Visitation.”
Hernando’s reply was inaudible. This was another peculiar effect of Katerine’s parties: one could sometimes hear others perfectly well and sometimes not at all, seemingly irrespective of proximity or volume. (This effect was made more noticeable any year that the guest list included Eulalie, whose presence caused spines to straighten and interlocutors to end most sentences with ‘ma’am.’)
Katerine tilted her beak up to Eulalie and Hernando, both taller than her, and said something in her sharp and raspy voice. Whatever it was caused Eulalie to guffaw and a coral pink blush to colour Hernando’s cheeks. Katerine patted Hernando’s arm and moved away, ready to smooth over a brewing disagreement or spark a dull conversation into a lively one.
“How does she do it?” asked Hernando, later that night, having observed his host for several hours. Her particular charm had worked on him and he now felt curiously at ease. He was speaking to Mentet, who Eulalie had introduced him to. They had discovered a shared interest in philately and were deep in conversation, comparing their collections and the treasures they’d seen in other collections.
“Katerine is Katerine,” Mentet said simply, “It is her way. I’m glad she invited you this year. It’s your first Visitation since being here, isn’t it?”
“It is,” agreed Hernando, “And it’s not really the same anywhere else. I didn’t go to any parties like this before.”
“I’m glad you came to this one,” said Mentet shyly.
Hernando blushed again. “So am I.”
At the darkest moment of the night, Katerine went around, turning down the lamps and handing out the long dark green candles that were only used on this occasion. When every hand and paw and wing held a candle, Katerine lit her own. From hers she lit her neighbour’s and the ripple of candlelight spread around the apartment. This signalled the end of the party and guests started to leave, in ones and sometimes daringly in twos. They snuffed their candles at the front door and left them in a cedarwood box left beside the door for that purpose. The Visitation was over for another year.