The night was lit by the smiles of pinstriped men and feathered ladies. Their hands flailed and bodies mashed together like a cluster of bees. Crack. Glasses shattered and skirts flew, as champagne spread silently across the shiny marble floor.
I swirled my glass. The champagne spun like a golden tornado, contained in my gloved fingers. With one swift flick, I created a natural disaster.
I picked at the jewels that rested on my skirt. I was mesmerised by the beauty and admired the diamond like sparkle of the gems. I had found the dress in a second-hand store, it was most likely off cuts from a show-girl’s night time get up. My eyes were suddenly drawn to a grotesque stain that swallowed a portion of the skirt’s trimming.
How could I let this happen?! If only I was born into money. Mother couldn’t even come out tonight because she is a slave to her job. Our desperation for money chains us. A hand coated in gold jewellery grabbed my arm and shook it. I turned towards its owner, and realise that it is my sister in-law, Elizabeth.
“Matilda, I’ve been trying to find you all night. I was so gosh darn worried that all this glitz and glam would have you stunned, considering that you’re usually used to seeing nothing much back in the countryside or wherever. Anyway, I would like to introduce you to my dear old friend, the ‘It Girl’ Sandy St. John.”
I glanced at the ‘It Girl’ in question and noticed her mole, it was scrawled on, an inch lower from her left eye. It was drawn on in a lopsided manner. In fact, every part of her seemed lopsided. I realised that her eyebrows were sketched hastily, drooping far too low to be considered beautiful. Her bosom was uneven, and her pout resembled a smudge of paint. She was the spitting image of Picasso’s Dora Mar.
She was the typical upper-class woman. You know the type. One of the poor fools who grappled onto the wallets of rich men, young or old, available or not. Long strings of pearls wrapped over and around, suffocating their necks as they swayed to the cool jazz of Edward Hopper. Their put on, breathy voices were tainted by the tobacco that filled their lungs and echoed through the hall.
We made eye contact, and Sandy breathed imperiously, “Hopper’s music is simply the bees knee’s. You know, my brother in law’s uncle fought alongside Hopper in the war. They were quite close.” She paused and adjusted her pearls, simultaneously flaunting her bejewelled fingers.
She went on about her husband, adding embellishments to his financial triumphs. She poured on about her large estate, and her many connections. I quickly grew tired of her exaggerated drawl and the sudden urge to counter welled up within me.
“I too have an estate, a rather large one in fact. Yes, it’s all rather a bore really. I can’t wait until our sojourn to Venice in July.” I lied in the snobbiest voice I could muster.
I began to perspire, I had satisfied my itch to lie but the risk taken was a large one and I soon realised how stupid it was to come up with such a story, with Elizabeth sitting next to me.
“Oh really?” Sandy glanced at my sister in-law, and then back at me again. I hear from Elizabeth that your family is struggling to make ends meet. You know, you should be grateful that my dear Lizzie even invited you to this party. Her kindness truly knows no bounds and…”
Moving in, as if for the kill, she whispered into my ear,
“…she married your brother out of sheer pity.”
Sandy had shot me down with the truth. A wave of regret washed over me. I tottered with slight trepidation, a rusty anchor sat in the pit of my stomach, making my footsteps difficult, heavy and heaving. I admonished myself. Why did I have to lie?
Amidst the laughter and mockery of Sandy and her circle of friends, I ran outside and sat on the drenched sidewalk. The rain ran down the road in rivers, gleaming dark gold under the streetlights. My tears became one with the rain as they rolled down, peppering kisses along my stained dress. It couldn’t my wounds. My hair, limp and soaked like my mother’s mop, hid my face. My make-up washed off by the cleansing water. No more the socialite I claimed to be, I was now an urchin of the street. I was being stripped bare and the revelation of who I really was began to hit home hard.
A tap on my shoulder. “Excuse me, Miss…” I looked up. It was a young man, a chauffeur, with a handsome, compassionate face, holding an umbrella over me. “Are you alright? You’d better come sit in me lady’s car for a bit, to get dry. You’ll catch your death.”
His piercing green eyes mesmerised me and I took his hand as he led me to the grand, white Oldsmobile.
“Thank you for your kindness, sir.” I uttered.
“Sir? I’m not one of them, Miss.” Pointing at the grand building behind us.
“It’s Ernie. Ernie Pike”
“Matilda, please call me Matilda. I’m not one of them either.” I said, with renewed confidence.
“Think nothing of it, Matilda. I couldn’t leave a damsel in distress in the rain and do nothing.” He smiled. I was smitten. There was an instant connection. I could see it in his kind face.
“Besides, I could do with a bit of company while the grand dame is in there swanning herself. She’ll be hours yet, showing herself off.”
I was surprised at the candour of this man I hardly knew. It was brave of him to speak of his employer in such a forward manner, especially to a stranger. He could tell I was shocked at his honesty.
“Don’t worry. I knew her before she was the ‘It Girl”, when she was plain old Sandra Pike, chambermaid from Duluth; before she got her hooks into that old man. But I suppose some people hide themselves to forget their past, don’t they?”
“But it’s all just a lie.” I smiled.