“I’m not sure I can do this,” I say, behind my snowy egret mask.
“Of course you can,” says Betty, the pink cockatoo. “You look amazing. I wish I had your legs.”
“Nice plumage,” says Ralph, opening the door for us, “save me a dance, will ya?”
The Gala is at Viscaya, a mansion built like a Venetian palace, all tapestries and mirrors. Now, it’s glowing with the night arrival of the South Florida elite, each costume more elaborate than the next, each a celebration of the best plastic surgeons, the most sparkling diamonds.
Betty insisted on paying for the limo, even though she can’t afford it, so we could make a grand entrance.
The path leading to the palace glows with lanterns and the scent of freshly cut gardenias floating in pools. Gardenias again. I make a note of this, but try not to read too much into their overpowering perfume.
“Mademoiselles Egret and Cockatoo,” announces the masked wild duck at the foyer. I take a deep breath and step out into the crowd, as Death Cab begins to play Soul Meets Body.
Cause in my head there’s a greyhound station
Where I send my thoughts to far off destinations
Sometimes I think the music I hear is not a coincidence, or an accidental soundtrack. Songs appear and disappear, like lights in the darkness.
“Let’s grab some punch,” says Betty, steering me towards an elaborate parrot ice sculpture. As I’m staring at it, a real parrot with a bright red tail glides down and lands on the table, unseen by the Woman in Feathers, ladling punch.
I start towards Max, but Betty grabs my arm and pushes me towards the punch.
“Drink up,” says Betty, handing me a fizzing glass. “Then, we’re gonna dance.”
I look around for Officer Khost, but it’s impossible to find anyone in the masked crowd. I make eye contact with a sinister-looking raven, leaning against a column. He bows in my direction.
As if on cue, the crowd (flock?) of birds starts to murmur and turns to face the entrance.
“She’s lovely,” whispers the Woman in Feathers.
It’s impossible not to recognize Eva, radiant and show-stopping as the pink flamingo. Brad, the noble falcon, takes her arm. Behind them, the unmistakable figure of the Mayor, dressed, rather ridiculously, as a peacock.
The Mayor steps forward, her tail swatting the guests on either side of her. She raises her hand to quiet the crowd of revelers.
“On behalf of the Queen, one of Miami’s finest, I want to welcome all of you to the Queen’s Gala. The Queen regrets that she cannot be with us tonight, but she had a...family emergency. Though we live in difficult times, dark times, perhaps, it is a tribute to this great city that we can come together with music, laughter, and love.” She squeezes Eva’s shoulders.
“And now, please join my son and his new fiancé, Eva Delgado, for the First Dance.”