When Joe Popodopolous started to dance there were already eight or ten couples out there, the living room floor vibrating with the movement of feet. They were all doing some kind of Greek dance. A handkerchief dangled from Ted Riley’s mouth. Betsy was weaving under and around it, Dave yelling at her from the other end of the room to sit down before she fell on her face.
Joe apparently knew the dance. “Goddamn it, I’m a Greek!” It was true that despite his legs which buckled now and then, he danced fairly well. He threw out his chest and made an effort to hold in his stomach as he bent his knees and rocked his head with the rhythm. Most of the people were not watching, now and then some laughing and turning away.
“Look here,” he said, interrupting his own dance. “You never saw this before, damn it.” He took a glass and filled it halfway with Sonata’s punch and showed it around the room. “Look. You see it?”
No one paid him much attention If anyone had known what he intended to do, it would have been different. Later, Willie blamed himself that he hadn’t realized what was happening. Somewhere years ago in a West Side bar he had seen a guy do the same thing with a glass of water.
Joe ceremoniously took a place in the middle of the room and leaned far back, almost parallel to the floor. The music was playing, but the dancers stopped and moved away from him when he put the glass on his forehead. It was by their moving back, pressing closer to the walls to give him room that the accident happened. It was Betsy who veered suddenly when Joe Popodopolous swerved towards her. “The crazy fool! How can he see where he’s going with his knees leading him around instead of his head!” But it was Paul Dobrin, veering away from Betsy, who actually knocked Study in Blues off the wall.
Everything happened so quickly after that, it was hard to say who did what. The glass fell off Joe Popodopolous’s forehead—he claimed it was absolute perfect balance—” Someone knocked it off! I done that professionally for Christ’s sake!” It fell against the frame and broke and the purple punch spilled over the canvas and then Paul, or perhaps it was Betsy since they both lunged simultaneously in an effort to catch the glass, lost balance and stepped into the canvas, ripping it in the middle and thereby ruining completely the four-foot painting that had won first prize for oils at the Venice International Biennial.
Willie scrambled to his feet, his hands pressed to his head, not knowing how or what or whom to rescue. Ruth knelt on her knees beside the mutilated picture, shoveling glass into her shoe and cheerfully telling everybody that everything—absolutely everything—was perfectly, perfectly all right, that Bert Kossoff opened the door and entered his home.
The guests stared at Bert. His jacket was slung over his shoulder and his shirt was disheveled. His dark hair looked wild and his lips were wet and slack.
Dazed, Bert looked out at the crowded room. For a moment there was confusion, broken images that he tried to reconstruct: people, a face and another face, recognizable, familiar. He began to understand that they were here in his own living room and it was a drunken whoring hour in the morning and he was coming home. But they were waiting for him to come home. And when he understood that the strained and awful smiles of Willie and Orenson and Dobrin and Tanninger and all the rest were on him and for him, he felt a rage beating against the inner wall of his chest.
How dare they wait for him? What have they done here in his own home? He saw Ruth on the floor by the shambles of his painting, kneeling over the ruined, bleeding body. How dare she open his life to them! He had no idea how long he stood there or what he did or what he said, if indeed he said anything. For the first time in his life he felt a total collapse of his control over it. Blindly, he stormed up the stairs.