When she finally arrived at book group she had ruffled feathers and stepping into Maria’s giant house on Eaton Place, Chelsea didn’t make her feel any better. It was huge, with massive ceilings and art everywhere, expensive art, not just crappy prints.
In the white hallway there was a huge glass staircase that curved round, with statues of monkeys crawling through the railings. It smelt of lavender and peach. She looked up to see a giant chandelier twinkling above her head. It was the one she had wanted to buy but Dominic wouldn’t let her; he said pink crystal was naff.
“But it’s just so sparkly,” Sally thought to herself.
Rows of porcelain cheetahs and eagles lined the marble corridor leading to the drawing room that was home to a life-sized porcelain elephant eating some leaves.
“My husband has a passion for Africa” Maria explained as she threw herself on a gold chaise lounges. Above her were mounted an array of ancient agricultural tools which book grouper regulars Tilly Woods and Jessica Rilling-Bonds were admiring from afar. She rested her head upon the most beautiful cushion Sally had ever seen.
“Great cushion where did you get it?” she asked.
“I don’t think I’ve been there, is that on the King’s Road?”
Before Maira had time to correct her Venetia stormed through the door clutching a pile of Browns Focus shopping bags. “Hi everyone!” she said, making her usual fresh faced entrance. “Sorry I’m late, awful traffic. Isn’t your house just wonderful Maria?”
Sally suddenly noticed a Swarovski crystal telephone twinkling in the corner like a shooting star.
“It’s the most beautiful house I’ve ever seen!” she blurted out.
Venetia sat down and poured herself a cup of tea. She was wearing brown slacks, a lime green jumper decorated with little cherries and some really cool Todds loafers. Sally looked on in admiration but in her opinion it didn’t even compare to Maria’s red cat suit.
Sally and Venetia were old friends. They first met in the Hairdressers years ago when Sally was having her highlights done but they had messed up the dye, turning her silky locks a strange shade of green. Venetia was sitting next door and had some tissues in her pocket: the rest is history.
Venetia opened up her handbag and a Jo Malone candle fell out, followed by a bottle of Chanel nail varnish. Sally couldn’t help but notice the striking shade of red. “Great colour! What’s it called?”
“They should have called it Really Red!”
Venetia erupted into laughter. “Gosh poo face you are too funny!” She started handing out some of her delicious home made biscuits. Venetia was an incredible cook and Sally set about eating as many as she could.
“Venetia I’ve had the most awful day” Sally explained munching her fourth. “Pilates was cancelled, Fran embarrassed me, my patient was late and someone told me that Dominic’s having an affair.”
Venetia put down the biscuit tin and took Sally by the hand. “Why Sally that can’t be true. Dominic is like the nicest guy ever.”
“I know.” Sally took another biscuit. "Of course my husband isn’t having an affair.”
“Exactly. Isn’t it your anniversary today? You've probably just got the jitters.”
“You are so right.”
She got up and felt much better, she was just making herself worry about nothing. Her life was perfect. Okay sure, there had been a few hic-cups but nobody’s perfect. Besides how could her nightmare be coming true when she wasn’t having her period?
She positioned herself next to Maria to try to make small talk. “So is your husband African then?”
Maria didn’t reply but shrugged her shoulders and started stroking her cushion. She evidently did not want to talk about her husband, but Sally was insistent.
“What does your husband do?”
“He works in M & A”
“Don’t you mean M & S?”
“No M & A” she snapped. “It means mergers and acquisitions, he’s a banker.”
There was a little giggle from across the room. Sally frowned.
“Right girls, before we begin I just want to say a big well done to Sally whose having her 13 year anniversary today!” Venetia cooed.
Sally thanked her friend, smiled graciously and made a little speech, but underneath it all the jealousy was mounting. Why didn’t Dominc get a job at Marks and Spensers? Could a younger, better-looking version of Sally Pooper even exist, and if she did, was she sleeping with Dominic in Hollywood? She suddenly remembered that she wasn’t that rich. Her life wasn’t looking so good: a powerless woman trapped in a marriage of lies, deprived of nice things!
“Today’s book is Madam Bovary.”
Everyone fished out their copies. Most editions were published by My Little Slack Brain. The cover showed a picture of Emma Bovary wearing a beautiful satin ball gown holding up a diamond necklace and smiling, surrounded by scarves, but this imagined scene was encircled with a thought bubble and one could trace the little puffs of clouds back to the head of the real Emma who was dressed in rags and crying.
“So what did everyone think?” Venetia asked.
There was some general mumbling. Tilly thought it was as shame the heroine had to kill herself and Jessica found it quite boring but liked it when they went to Paris because it reminded her of when she went to Paris. Venetia really liked the imagery but had to confess she’d only read the first chapter. Sally loved the story but didn’t find Madam Bovary very convincing.
“That’s interesting why do you use the word ‘convincing’?” Venetia asked.
“Oh sorry I forgot to say I didn’t have time to read the book so I watched the film instead.” Sally was nervous her eyes kept glancing at the Swarovski telephone.
Maria stepped in. “Well I just think that if the husband hadn’t been so lazy and given her what she wanted then she wouldn’t have topped herself. The poor girl thought she was going to be rich.”
“Well it’s strange that you mention that because I stumbled across a word the other day and it made me think of this book,” Venetia said. “It’s called patriarchy.”
The girl on the sofa finally spoke. “I disagree with you,” she said. “The book’s not just about her desire to change her life, it’s about her inability to change it for herself. Don’t you think?”
No one replied. What was she talking about? Show off.
“Do you seriously expect me to answer that?” Sally asked in the bitchiest tone she could muster.
“Emma is an oppressed woman lost in a patriarchal society,” she continued. “No one can buy their way out of that. I mean look at today, all these ghastly women thinking that if they only had the right pair of shoes everything will be fine. It’s ridiculous!”
Book group stopped andlooked up at the new girl, and then from the new girl to the new pair of shoes that Sally had just taken out for show and tell. The ladies awkwardly sipped their tea, giving each other knowing looks. The atmosphere was so tense you could slice it up and serve it on bread. The poor girl on the sofa looked embarrassed, she was just about to leave when Maria rejoined.
“But all those lies,” she said. “I mean she literally couldn’t go to the shop to buy some loo roll without telling a lie.”
“I think that was kind of the point Maria,” Venetia pointed out. “They didn’t have any money.”
“Oh how annoying. Okay so the rich man she sleeps with, Rudolph?”
“You mean Rondolpe?”
“Yes him. She does not know how to keep a man. You must give a man what he needs and play hard to get at the same time. She knows nothing of flirtation. If that had been me I would have got myself to Paris a long time ago.”
Sally was becoming extremely jealous of Maria. This was a woman who had it all, big house, pink chandelier and a Swarovski telephone. Sally had to pull herself out of this incredible ‘green ey’d monster’ knawing at her heart.
She walked into the exotic hallway where she hit speed dial for Dominic’s office, Systems’ Businesses Business, a business for business systems. Hearing his voice would make the world right again, thank god for Dominic.
“Hello Systems Businesses Business. Dominic speaking.”
“Hi darling how are you? Happy anniversary.”
“Honey it’s so good to hear your voice!”
“Nothing: I just called…to say…I love you!”
They both giggled.
“Happy anniversary honey. Honey you haven’t been on any business trips recently have you?”
“Business trips? No why?”
“I knew it! I love you baby poos!”
“Why do you ask?”
“Oh I just bumped into that stupid Sylvia Bloomingdale and she mentioned something. It’s not important.”
“Sylvia? What Old Salmon Bags?” he chuckled.
“Yes,” she laughed. “Well the stupid bitch is lied to me saying she met you in Universal Studios. She was just stirring things up so I told her to fuck off-” Sally paused, the line was silent. “Dominic?”
“Yes, I’m still here. Listen darling I’ve really got to go there’s an important call. Don’t forget about your special surprise now, I think you’re going to like it.”
“My special surprise? Oh I haven’t forgotten, see you at seven.”
“At seven. Oh and darling,” he drew the receiver close to his mouth; close enough to hear his breath. “You know how much I love you don’t you?”
“Yes I know. I love you too.”
“Goodbye then darling.”
“Goodbye.” Sally hung up and squeaked when she closed her flip phone. But her happiness was soon quashed when she turned round to see the new girl standing in front of her. She had her coat on and was holding a backpack.
“I’m just off” she said clutching her backpack.
“Goodbye then.” Sally’s eyes followed her across the hall to the door. She decided to blackball her from book group. “I never got your name?”
Her nightmare! First the famine, then Finnegan and now this strange ‘Shirley’ girl. Was this a sign for Sally to save her? She did seem pretty mental. Everything about her was so…wrong.
“Shirley?” she called.
Shirley, who was opening the door paused and turned round. “Yes?”
“Are you having your period?”
There was an awkward pause and the door closed. Shirley had departed. All those hours, days, years and that poor girl could have been saved, but now it was too late. Poor Shirley.
Sally felt sad when she walked back into the drawing room but was instantly thrust back into a sense of reality when Venetia started screaming, “No Sally! Get back!”
She looked up to see a huge pitchfork coming down over her head. Venetia, who had been doing an impression of a farmer, had been holding the ancient Kenyan artifact high in the air, but lost her balance the moment Sally entered the room.
Sally screeched and threw herself in front of the coffee table where Tilly Woods, who was painting her fingernails, accidentally spilt the entire bottle of Chanel ‘Blood Red’ all over her bottom. Luckily the pitchfork missed her, landing just a few inches from her feet. Sally rolled over. “NO NOT MY CARPET!” Maria yelled.
But it was too late; nail polish the colour of blood was everywhere. What was once a well put together, glamorous book group had descended into a team of gaggling maniacs. Then, as if from nowhere, a small crucifix appeared from the sky and plopped onto Sally’s head.
“Where did that come from?” she asked.
“Witch! Witch!” Maria started running around the room throwing her arms all over the place.
“Did you see that? The crucifix; it came from the air! Jesus wants to kill you!”
Sally was ordered out of the house. It had literally been the worst book group ever. It later materialised that the crucifix belonged to Tilly Woods, well I say crucifix but it was actually a Vivienne Westwood earring that fell off in the midst of the confusion as Tilly made a quick dash for the loo.: she often wet herself in stressful situations.