“You don’t look like an Ishmael,” he said, an eyebrow arching. But it was a costume party. She could be anything in there.
She laughed, throwing her head back and revealing the hollow of her neck. She looked very thin, he thought. “I guess not,” she said, “but I’ve always wanted to say that when someone asked my name.”
“Ishmael it is,” he said. “You better call me Isaac, then.” His seventies afro shortened while his moustache grew, and the loud disco suit he’d been wearing morphed into a ship’s dress whites. A martini shaker appeared on the table next to him and he gave her the pistol-finger.
“Very clever,” she said, shaking her head in what he imagined was admiration. He mentally made a list of all his friends who liked — or at least had an awareness of — cheesy old television. “But isn’t that cheating?”
“You’re the first person I’ve talked to tonight,” he said, “no one else saw the other outfit. Besides, this one’s better.” He tugged the jacket down and grinned. “So, Ishmael.” He sipped from the red plastic cup in his hand. “You appear to have me at a disadvantage.”
“You’ve got me figured out, but I can’t tell who you are supposed to be.” He took in her utterly generic jeans and pale blue t-shirt adorned with a line drawing of a sparrow.
She leaned in toward him and looked around as if fearful that the other partygoers might overhear. “I’m the Empress of the Universe.”
“I see,” he said. “I must say, you look almost as much like the Empress of the Universe as you look like an Ishmael.”
She grinned. “I’m in disguise.”
He barked out a laugh, spilling his drink in the process. He grabbed a nearby napkin and dabbed at her arm, revelling as always in the simulacrum of touch. It wasn’t exactly right, he remembered that well enough. But it was so close.
He was disappointed when she took the napkin from him to finish cleaning herself up. “In disguise,” he said. “Very good. You might even win with that one.”