“Do I look OK?” I ask, fastening the clasp on my necklace, and turning to face Oliver.
After a desperate couple of hours yesterday in Macy’s, I’d bought a lipstick red, off-the-shoulder dress to wear to tonight’s torturous party. Now I’m zipped into it, I’m pleasantly surprised at how I look. You know, considering I’ve had twins and everything this year.
And while red isn’t normally my colour, I’m damned if I’m going to a party where Melissa will be acting like a tramp and flirting with Oliver while her real clandestine lover makes speeches about “proactively engaging interdependent results” or some such corporate-speak nonsense, and the other wives whisper and point and stock up on gossip for their next coffee morning.
No. If anyone’s going to play the tramp around Oliver, it’s me.
Oliver looks me up and down, apparently agreeing that this dress is an improvement on my usual uniform of jeans and T-shirt, and gives me a leer that suggests our evening won’t be over when the party finishes.
“You look fabulous,” he says. “You never get any older, did you know that?”
No, I didn’t. Inside, I feel ancient; withered beyond my years after the ups and downs of the last eighteen months, and the last six in particular, but nevertheless, it’s good to hear that I carry Life’s burden well on the outside. Even if it means a heart attack from built-up stress farther down the road, at least I will die looking good.
Downstairs, I hand a fussy, teething George to Maggie, who is babysitting tonight.
“You go off and have fun, both of you,” she says. “It’s pleasure and not business, isn’t it?”
Oliver pulls a face.
“Depends how you look at it. I’d rather go and see the new Bond film, to be honest.”
You and me both, Oliver. In fact, I’d rather lie down in the road and be run over by a slow-moving truck.
“We know everyone there, though,” Oliver goes on. “That makes it less of an ordeal. And it’s at the Golf Club, so the food should be good.”
Yes, I know everyone. Let’s see…Anita, Julia. Caroline. Caroline’s husband Terry, the boss, who’s offered Oliver a job (the one I’m not supposed to know about) as a bribe because, if my womanly intuition is correct, Oliver knows something about Terry’s antics with Melissa, who is also coming to the party.
No, Oliver’s right. It won’t be an ordeal. It will be a minefield. No matter how good the food is, I’d better not drink too much and tread on any mines.
“Take no notice of him,” I say to Maggie. “We’ll have a lot of fun.”
She looks at me, a little frown on her face.
Maggie always knows when I’m lying.
* * *
“You stayed near Bath, right?” Anita asks me. “How was it?”
We’re at the Golf Club just outside Woodhaven, the posh one where Oliver takes his customers when they visit. This function room is trying to be Upper Class Olde English and failing miserably.They’ve got the horse prints right, but the carpet would look more at home in a cinema foyer. Also, Upper Class Olde English would never, ever fix fake beams on a popcorn ceiling.
I hold a glass of Pinot Grigio in one hand and a paper plate of appetizers in the other, feeling light-headed already, despite my earlier vow not to drink too much. It’s so much easier to take a sip of wine than it is to gracefully negotiate dim sum towards my mouth.
There’s definitely a gap in the market for quality liquidized hors d’oeuvres. Baby food shots for adults. Pureed Peas and Sun-Dried Tomatoes with Pernod. Avocado and Duck Coulis with Cointreau. That kind of thing. Come on — it’s no worse than pineapple and cheese on a stick, is it?
“Oh, you know.” I shrug. “English. Cold, wet. Full of people with fixed opinions of life in the USA because they once spent a week in Florida.”
After a few days of our English vacation, I realised I was no longer quite one of “them”. “Home” wasn’t where I used to think it was. I’m not sure when it happened, exactly. Perhaps it was the evening when I had to concentrate on the accents on TV, used as I was to a nasal New England voice reading the news. Or perhaps it was when someone in the pub started to criticise “the bloody Yanks” and I couldn’t stop my rage rising, or myself from rushing to America’s defence. It’s the nearest I’ve ever got to being in a bar fight.
But, somewhere, I’d changed. That much I knew.
“And how about–” Anita moves in closer so that our plates of dim sum overlap. “How about you and Oliver?”
I deliberately misunderstand her.
“Oh, Oliver had a great time in England. We’ve never been to that part of the world before. It was spoilt a bit because his mother turned up early, but then mine couldn’t make it because she and my dad caught flu, and –”
I look around the room. Where is Oliver? He’d been nearby when Anita first started talking to me.
Anita leans in even closer.
“Don’t look now,” she whispers. “But Melissa Harvey Connor just arrived. She’s wearing a dress exactly like yours.”
© 2012 Kate Allison