Graceís soiree in honour of her desperate to nab a man sister Anna turned out to be to be the nearest thing to the mad hatters tea party Iíve ever been to. Funny how I never noticed it before but Grace has inherited by mothers ability to be so obviously transparent in her attempts at subterfuge and subtlety that it borders on the totally obvious and consequently ridiculous. I was put at the top of the table overseeing the whole charade of look at how lovely Anna is, in comparison to the rest of the ugly duckings gathered here tonight as a comparative study of the female species, doomed ducklings destined never to turn into swans, not now not ever. For at that point in time, apart from the perfect Grace I was the only presentable female in the room which could only mean that I would shine by default.
"Anna this is Harriet, Sheís a friend of Carmel who lives in the next block. You remember Carmel and Harriet? They were at Lauraís christening?"
"Yeah," I say not having a clue who Harriet is. Harrietís handshake is limp and insipid so I withdraw not too rapidly I hope. Not one to be put off Harriet follows me into the kitchen for a drink. I wonder if she smokes or is asthmatic or perhaps its due to the extra seven stone she carries that she is wheezing, a deep rattling sound coming from her chest. For Harriet is huge. All over. I wonder if she has some disease or if there is a problem with her glands that my mother swears causes you to swell up uncontrollably. I decide to give her the benefit of the doubt and get to know the person behind the flab. She pours herself into a chair and almost immediately starts to fill me in on the problems she has been having with her bladder. Only last week the doctor inserted a ring but the pain of having such a foreign object in her body has made her most disagreeable and tired. I make some sympathetic comments that make her confide in me more. She whispers something so low that I have to bend down as I struggle to hear her.
"I was engaged once, you know butÖ" her chin wobbles with the memory.
"He ran off with my sister Marjorie who was already married."
"How awful " I say. Harriet regains her composure and says without rancour "They fell in love and ran off together to America. Iíve not seen them for over four years now. I miss my sister but Iíve forgiven her."
"Thatís very good of you," I say thinking I would have chopped my sister into minute pieces and fed her to the alligator in the Zoo.
But Harriet had only just begun. Her treble chin wobbled as she said that she hoped that prick of a bastard of a fiance rotted in hell forever. Sheíd given up men in the past few years but now had decided to get back into the dating scene. Hence her enthusiasm for Graceís party. I gave her some nuts and twiglets that she began stuffing into her mouth before I made my way to meet the next guest. The poor creature has to comfort eat. There but for the Grace of God and the fear of thundering thighs go I.
"Anna this is Kylie, sheís my hairdresserís sister who livesÖSorry where do you live at the moment?"
In a skip I thought by the look of her. Kylie had hair that was so gelled into place that it looked lank and greasy. Her chiffon dress clung to her what seemed to be a miserable emaciated body that looked in desperate need of a soap fix. Her nicotine stained fingers were adorned with cheap rings that did nothing to deflect from her dirty nails. How on earth did Grace invite her along? What about the germs she harboured ?
Once I had met June I had some idea about what was happening. June, although perfectly clean with neatly clipped and painted nails was also overweight, and spotty and had an annoying laugh like an hyena. June was her Avon lady. Rent a crowd. June a recent divorcee no children attached was back on the market, on the hunt, on the prowl, gagging for it.
For once in my life I was the most beautiful, most interesting and the most available person in the room. For once I could look through the looking glass and everything was the opposite to the way it has always been. All the balls were in my court and so if I failed to impress then I was a very sad case indeed. Pathetic in fact.
With the arrival of the male species Grace turned into the perfect hostess. She steered every new arrival towards me with a resume of who they were and what they did. All I could do was nod and say hello before they were introduced to the others.
"Anna you must meet Joe Thorpe, heís filthy rich and single and I do believe ready to settle down. Heís an absolute darling," whispered Grace before he made a bee line for me.
"I never knew Grace had such a lovely sister. Where have you been hiding all along?" croaked this remarkably frog like creature that seemed desperately trying not to burst at the seams. How I hate small men with supercilious eyes that chart my every move. Joe, a leading solicitor in the city seemed to inherit pre cro magnon amphibian type genes. Amazing what can come through some people but there was no way I could trust his genetic heritage? Congratulations Mrs Thorpe on the birth of your frog, er baby. No definitely would not risk it, it wouldnít be fair on a child, especially when I would want to give him/her the best possible start.
What Joe lacked in height he made up for with ego as he immediately launched into a diatribe on his successful practice that he ran practically single handedly. He handled a lot of property and real estate cases that necessitated him working from 8 in the morning til sometimes 9 at night. I wonder if he expected me to clap or to tell him how diligent he was when he was just a plain old workaholic who had nothing else in his life but work. Sad bastard. He incessantly guffawed at his not very funny remarks and seemed not to notice that I remained mute like and paralysed with boredom.
Harriet all twenty stone of her rescued me from the frog and all but took him under her wing for the evening. I watched her as she listened to his every word and praised him and offered him advice on anything from problems with his incontinent mother to his ungrateful staff who failed to appreciate him. After an hour of her nurturance he looked like a very happy frog indeed.
By nine oí clock everyone was seated at the table. I was at the top, so felt like the chairperson of the company, important though totally surplus to demand. On my right was Adam, 36, a business associate of Marcus, tall, angular and as my dear mother would say full of education. Adam had not only a business degree but a masters degree in Business. He was now embarking on his PHD with a view to being a lecturer somewhere in the States. I felt the beginnings of a headache coming on somewhere in my right temple. For Adam only spoke about himself. I could have been a wall or a flower or a mottled Chinese Vase.
He never once asked me anything about what I did, so I listened and nodded but felt like telling him where to shove his degrees. I mean who cares about all this degree shit? What does it prove? That you have the memory to regurgitate some other personís terrible innovative and important facts. And what is this addiction to continuous education? A lot of these guys never have an original thought in their lives and if they do itís usually in the beginning of their academic life Ďcos after a year or two they become zombified within the cloisters of academia and vegetate. I know as I was there and saw through the incredible pomposity and bull shit. You got your degree if you gave back what they told you and forget originality.
You must be the same as everyone else so you can get the same degree. One professor stood out in my eyes, a philosophy professor who applauded and rewarded originality of thought and speech. A friend of mine who was quite the rebel had the audacity to write two words in an essay for her final exam. The title was " What is Courage? " She wrote "This is" and received an A. My kind of Professor Mr Blake.
To my left is thank God not the frog but Clive. How do their mothers know when they choose as name like Clive that the son will turn into one. A Clive that is. Clive is a self absorbed narcissist who thinks that all women including me are in love with him. He is impeccably dressed in tight black leather jeans with a somewhat loose fitting white cotton shirt, opened almost as far down as his navel. Clive works in advertising and has become so used to the world of creating illusion that he has evolved into a typical cardboard cut out person himself.
"Marcia and I worked on the latest Guinness advertisement. The concept was so interesting. Ice cold Guinness."
"Why icy cold. I prefer it warm. It feels comforting warm, a bit like motherís milk." I say.
Clive looks at me as though I need chemical arranging. "Nonsense Anna. We have to go with what people want and cool is in. Have you seen it?"
"Well what you see if a set of twins, one of whom orders a Guinness and the other the same only extra cold."
"So the one whoís drinking the normal Guinness spills it down his front and makes a fool of himself; while the twin who drinks the extra cold stays cool and calm," Clive explains.
"Why thatís horrible. Making fun of some poor guy just cos he likes it warm. I like it warm and so do lots of people. What sort of message are you sending them. That they are incompetent and inept cos they prefer it a different way, which in fact is the old way. My Dad for instance wouldnít dream of drinking Guinness warm. It would go against the very tradition of his drinking culture," I admonish to the now very put out and about to erupt in anger Clive.
"You donít get it do you? He sneers. What we are saying is and incidentally this is explained in our slogan 'Guinness Extra Cold: same drink, just a little cooler'."
"What about the people who like it warm? " I ask.
"I just work on the advertising campaign, thatís all. We have to come up with an idea that fits in with the new market the Guinness guys are trying to target. Weíre not paid to think of the old Guinness drinkers but to focus on attracting a nouveau genre of drinkers."
"For what itís worth I think you are going against the tradition of the drink itself so it could very well backfire you know." I wanted to add incompetent shit but I bit my tongue.
You donít appreciate the work thatís involved. Nobody does. " Clive moans as if expecting sympathy. I have read the Celestine prophecy and donít buy this poor me victim routine. Poor Clive. I donít think so. Clive looks like heís never done a days work in his life. His hands are practically manicured which makes me wonder if Grace got some cross wires with regards his sexuality. I have to admit he is very good looking but a bit too perfect for my liking. I wonder how long he spent blow drying his hair or how much he spends on clothes. As I've said before I like a man to be a man, not some diluted creature that ponces around some advertising office so full of his own self importance that he becomes blinded by image. Have to fight sudden feeling of wanting to use Cliveís fingers as a fondue stick. Honestly Iím going to have to try to curb my emotional reactions to these types of people, the sort when you knock, knock there is fuck all there.
Harriet has now started to feed Joe who is beginning to make noises like an overgrown baby. Perhaps he really is a baby in search of mummy. Yeuch. I donít want to be anyoneís mummy. Lover yes but not mummy. How many other Joes are out there in search of their maternal roots. I dread to think. June is laughing at one of Cliveís stupid jokes. She is now beginning to sound like a castrated Hyena but Clive seems not to notice as she is swooning over him in what I would construe as mock appreciation of his humour but obviously that is all that counts in his synthetic life.
Just before I wanted to scream and made a mad dash to get away from all this charade Mrs Dunne and her sister in law brought in a selection of deserts, small cream filled pastries and strawberries dipped in chocolate sauce. May as well seek refuge in food and enjoy myself. Gorging therapy. Mmmmmm.
Grace excusing herself leaves the table to check on Laura.
"Anna, could I have a moment?" as she hovers at the dinning room door.
Oh oh. I hate it when she asks for a moment for her moments are liable to contain some about to change your life for ever remedies which I could well do without as I want to enjoy my food and emotionally disconnect for a while.
We go outside the room and Grace beckons me to follow her up stairs.
"Anna what do you think?"
"About the meal? Itís fabulous, you really have surpassed yourself this time."
"Not the meal you silly girl, the men. Which one do you like? "
"None so far. Joeís not my type. Adam is too nerdy. Clive is too in love with himself."
"Anna listen to me. You are 29 years old and coming up to your sell by date for the men in this country. You cannot afford to be too fussy. You need to foster some tolerance when it comes to men," She says in a teacher tone voice.
"But not creeps," I retort.
"Theyíre not creeps Anna. They are perfectly eligible young men who are approaching their need to marry and settle down. You are by far the most eligible woman in the room so do try to make more of an effort instead of getting lost in some unproductive fantasies. Have you spoken to Sinbad?"
"No not yet."
"Sinbad is a dote. Heís a brickie darling."
I was wondering if I heard correctly. A brickie. Grace my sister inviting a brickie to one of her dinner parties and actually calling him a dote. Has she suddenly developed a social conscience or has she found religion?
"Donít look at me as if I have two heads sweetie. Brickies are ever so socially acceptable today. They are paid by the brick which makes them one of the top earners in our developing economy. Sinbad is on 1,500 a week."
"Seriously? Since when?"
"Since brickies are in demand. They earn more than university lecturers and some consultants. So get to know Sinbad fairly lively."
"Heís got a tattoo on his arm "I say trying to deflect her sudden enthusiasm for brickies.
But Grace ignores me as she is wont to do when she doesnít want to hear something. She puts a blanket over Laura, places a kiss on her forehead and blesses her. I notice for the first time how tired Grace appears, her eyes are sunken and despite the multitude of beauty treatments or maybe in some way because of them there are crows feet etched under them. I wonder if she is as happy as we think she is. After all she has everything, wealthy husband, huge expensive house, money for whatever she wants. Yet somehow in that moment I felt she was restless as if there was something on her mind that she wasnít telling me.
I go downstairs and finish my strawberries and chocolate sauce and under the supervisory gaze of Grace I mingle with Sinbad.
"What are you drinking Sinbad?" I ask in my low sexy voice.
"A beer darling. How about you?"
"The same as you. " I say trying to psychically link with the tattooed high earner. Total overthrowing of all social stigma. I love it.
Sinbad as it turned out happened to be the nicest person there that night. Only thing that blotted the horizon is the fact that Sinbad was a man who wanted to become a woman. I tried to picture him in a two piece floral number but I failed. Sinbad is a hefty beefy man who has more of a popeye look to him than Olive oil. Heíd make a very ugly woman indeed. Bit like a fish monger and thatís on a good hair day. Iíll say that much for him Sinbad has lovely hair, black and lustrous that could lend itself to a tight perm and due time to a blue rinse.
"Iíve started phase one of the changeover already," he says as he sits on the settee and looks intently into my eyes. Why oh why do I seem to attract people with an overwhelming need to confide. Still this was obviously going to be the best story I have heard in a long time apart of course from Harryís viagra experience.
"What does phase one involve?" I ask rather discreetly.
"I need to take a course of hormones to develop my breasts and to change my voice. Itís very very intensive. "
"How long has it been since you knew you wanted to be a woman"
"Ever since I saw Mrs Doubtfire I knew there and then that I was a woman trapped in a manís body with a womanís feelings and mentality."
"Fascinating. And how has your family reacted to your decision?" I ask while I can imagine the shock, horror and absolute disgust his parents would feel, especially when they would feel personally responsible for birthing a sexual deviant.
"Thatís just it. I havenít told them yet."
"Donít you think you had better do that before you proceed any further?" I add.
"I know but I keep putting it off. I mean what can I say to my Dad. Dad the next time you see me Iíll be Sindy instead of Sinbad. The same person just a different sex. Heís a real macho type whoíll go psychotic."
"Well for what itís worth I think the sooner you take the bull by the horns the easier it will be in the long run. Iím sure that your parents want you to be happy and if changing sexuality is what you want then Iím sure theyíll be ok." I say knowing Iím saying all the right things to poor tragic about to be more likely personally castrated by his father Sinbad. He seems so visibly upset that I put my arms around him and as I do so I see Graceís eyes light up in a calculating I wonder what designer dress I Ďll wear to Annaís wedding. Poor Sinbad, at least the guy isnít afraid to stand up to his beliefs and if deep in his heart he feels he is a woman then I say go for it.
"Phase Two will take place in three months time so I guess I should start preparing family and friends. " He sighs and crosses his legs towards me which is a good sign, meaning he feels comfortable with me and wants to say more. I love this. Every bit as good as the stories in the Enquirer except this is for real.
"What does Phase Two involve?" I ask incredulously.
"You know, fixing me up down below."
"Wonít that be a bit complicated. What exactly do they do?" I enquire.
I can see that Sinbad is delighted to be able to vocalise the procedure to a receptive and understanding audience.
"First they have to remove my penis."
I grimace in response to the pain that would involve.
"Then they have to leave sufficient skin in order to create a vagina. Offically after that Iíll be a woman but I wontí be able to have children. "
" Gosh! Gosh are you sure you want to ahead with such a radical procedure?"
"Absolutely. Now you must tell me what are the best brands of panti hose and have you tried the water bra yet?"
Sinbad and I had a good old girl talk. He/She is such a sweet caring person with an open loving and honest heart. Bit like a really nice woman friend yet even. Sinbad seems to be incredibly emotionally in tune so I tell him about what Iím looking for and the problem of knowing who is right for me.
"Darling you will know when the right one appears on your path for heíll have the key to your heart and to your soul. " says he as leans closer to me.
"What if nobody appears on my path?" I say in growing desperation.
"I feel you will Anna. Youíre beautiful and smart and kind. A man would want to be mad not to notice that. But you need to wait for the right one and not the first one that pops the question. That is where you will need to tune into your intuition and let the answers come through."
"But how do I do that? My intuition may well be as disorganised as my mind and I might get cross wires and then Iíll be desperately unhappy and Ö.."
"Hush I promise you that you will know. Listen to your heart only and donít whatever you do let the mind take centre stage. "
I want to kiss this wonderful she-man who has given me hope to believe in my inner wisdom and my ability to feel the truth.
The rest of the party members got very drunk and very stupid. The conversations oscillated from the sublime to the absolute ridiculous. I felt strangely at peace after talking to Sinbad so for the rest of the night I sat back and listened and laughed. I was Alice peering through the looking glass without being able to touch or feel the characters that had come to this party. Apart from Sinbad of course.
The more drunk Harriet got the more she revealed about her medical problems. Clive was all agog which was strange considering heís supposed to be a man. Maybe heís a new man who likes to hear about smear tests and lubricated gloves and so could empathise with the embarrassment thatís involved..
"So there I was siting in her surgery when in she walked. Her hair was all greasy and she smelt, can you believe it. She stank. I decided to just lay back and think of what I was going to have for tea that night. I had just bought in some of the new Markís and Sparkís meals and was trying to decide between chicken curry or Mexican chilli. I noticed she had forgotten to put on gloves but in my uncompromising and uncomfortable position I was rendered speechless. Can you imagine bare raw fingers"
"You donít say!" say Clive and Joe in unison.
"The hygiene left a lot to be desired I must say. But she told me I was clean as a whistle below." She points to her nether regions as she explains. I try to imagine what clean as a whistle actually means. Aids free. Genital warts free zone. Or just clean cos you washed yourself so vigorously and put on some much talc that you smell of orchard meadow or country gardens?
"I wanted to say youíre a dirty bitch but I didnít. I pulled up my jeans and went to pay her. I told her she had some green stuff in her teeth and what did she do? With the same two fingers she removed the straggly bits of cabbage from between her teeth."
Joe and Clive feigned disgust at the doctor who had dipped her fingers into Harriet and who had put the same fingers in her mouth. I wondered if this was the truth cos what I learnt after that night is that nothing is as it seems and maybe after tonight nothing will ever be the same again. It wont be for me anyway for never again as long as I live will I ever come to such a contrived gathering without bringing my own real man. It had taken a she man and obviously a much more evolved person than I to make me realise that I needed to rethink my priorities when it came to what I truly wanted from a man. How could I choose someone as a meal ticket if I failed to love him. For in doing so I would commit the greatest crime of all as I would fail to be true to my heart.
In Graceís eyes seeing as June and Harriet copped off with Joe and Clive I was a loser when it came to men. The bitch knows exactly how to turn the knife to create maximum effect.
"Youíll be just like Aunt Maud from Valentia. She had no interest in the guys who wanted to marry her and thatís where youíre heading my dear girl. I will say no more but will leave you to your own devises. Goodnight Anna. Please have a think about what I said." Said she in a frosty tone of voice.
"Look Grace I truly appreciate all you did for me tonight but I didnít ask you to do it. You organised it because thatís what you like to do best. But you canít organise my life and pick some suitable man that you feel would make a good husband. Your priorities Grace and mine are poles apart so how on earth do you think you could decide on my behalf. To tell you the truth Iím sick of both you and Mother putting un necessary pressure on me to marry. It may not be the nadir of lifeís experiences at all so try to butt out Ok?"
"Anna I do believe that you lack the practicality and the ability to choose suitable husband material. Marriage is not some romantic fairytale. Itís a contract and I know the rules. From what I see you donít. "
I cannot believe Iím hearing this. Grace is declaring herself to be the supreme authority on marriage and she expects me to accept this without question.
"What about love and feelings?" I ask incredulously.
"Love is an over rated emotion Iím afraid."
"So youíre saying that love is not the primary emotion when it comes to marriage."
"What is it then if itís not love?"
"First and foremost it is security, that warm comfortable feeling you get when you have no fears for your financial future. You also know that you will have enough money to enable you to have children and to bring them up properly. So you see when you have a secure base you grow to love the person who has provided it all for you."
"But where is the romance and magic and the feeling that the world would come to an end if that one special person was not in it?"
"Magic and romance can be bought. Look at me. I have trips to Paris, Milan, romantic cities where I stay in top class hotels and indulge myself. Look Anna with marriage you need a hell of an amount of compensation."
I really cannot believe I am hearing this.
"Compensation for what?"
"For having to put up with living with a man dear. Itís not a bed of roses you know," said she rather wistfully.
In that moment I realised that my sister the perfect Grace was not happy. She was seeing her comforts as compensation for having to live with Marcus. Some thing was going on between those two.
"Are you happy with Marcus ? Do you love him? "
"Havenít I got Laura and another baby on the way. Yes I suppose I mean I must love him."
"You donít sound too convincing Grace. Is there something wrong between you two that I can help with?"
No well yes I mean I do everything. Marcus doesnít know where anything is or how to look after Laura. I sometimes feel as if the walls are closing in and I canít breathe."
"So why are you advocating Marriage for me, for Christ sake? "
"Because at the end of the day it all comes to this, children, responsibility, husbands whose egos need constant massaging so why have all the shit with no money. Money makes it bearable Anna. Believe me."
Maybe this pregnancy and its rampant hormones is making Grace so drenched in reality that she has forgotten how to dream or God forbid maybe sheís right. I mean she has it all, the perfect life but she makes it feel like she is trapped in some golden cage. Forgive me for being confused and a little scared right now.
Marcus being the gregarious person saw each person off as they left the party. .
"Delighted you could come old chap. We must do it more often. Caoi!"
"No no Harriet it was our pleasure. Weíll see you again soon."
I watched him as he made each guest feel they were special and wanted and wondered momentarily if it were all an act. Marcus on the surface goes along with what Grace decides but deep down does he object to her intrusion into his life and has just learnt to stay quiet and go along with it all. I need to go back drinking alcohol as am being tormented by philosophic questioning thoughts that are meandering into an endless maze. I cannot live at this pitch and be happy. Will go back to being a social drinker who can handle her drink and not drink enough to loose my inhibitions and morals. Reasons for starting to drink again.
- Iím a lot and I mean a lot happier.
- Other peoples sad lives donít bother me.
- I have less anger and rage against the world as feel more loving to everyone in general.
- Feel less tense, more optimistic and less traumatised by reality.
- In fact depending of course on how much I drink the dispelling of reality and the growing realisation that that when I wish upon a star it comes true every time.
- Believe in true love and the possibility of finding that special one who will see me on the toilet and continue to love me, well maybe not on the toilet as perhaps true love is also unable to cope with too much realism so will see me in a bubble bath and know that I am a Goddess, other worldly and is consumed with desire and lust by my beautiful body, the cellulite seen as attractive dimples that enhance rather than detract from my physique.
Maybe all of this thinking is a prelude to madness and when Iím fully there nothing will bother me anymore.
Marcus came into the hall and asked Grace if she wanted him to help clean up the lounge. She insisted she would do it herself, saying he wouldnít know where anything went anyway. I felt a sense of quiet desperation bordering on despair engulf me so I left the two of them in their dollís house and got a taxi back home. For the life of me I couldnít dispel thoughts about Grace and Marcus that night. Does the bird sing in its cage 'cos it wants to or because it has to? Nothing is as it seems. Absolutely nothing. Sod all men, women, he women, she men and children, animals plants and all things inanimate. Sod the whole bloody lot of them. I need a drink.