“Oh my God he’s brought the Ferrari.”
Delia half closed her eyes and waved an arm towards the drive. Everyone in the room stared through the open patio doors and across the garden towards the far end of the driveway. If she hadn’t pointed it out nobody would even have registered the colour of the car let alone the make.
“I told him not to.”
At least half of those listening immediately thought “I bet you did” but none of them said it. They should have done, Rachel thought sourly. Somebody needed to break through the web of self justifying twaddle which Delia had been spinning around herself all night. She wasn’t consistent, that was the annoying thing, she contradicted herself all the time, yet nobody ever picked her up on it. She was allowed to say what she liked, claim what she liked, and fill the room with hot air about herself. Why were some people allowed to do that and others not? The woman wasn’t fooling anybody. Every single person at this party knew that most of what she said was a giant web of candy floss with just enough truth in it to help it cling onto the stick. Nothing more. All right, people would be telling each other as much later, but just this once it would be good if that happened right now.
Derek, Delia’s husband, had crossed the lawn and he was making his way loudly across the room, heading towards the drinks table. You would need to point out the Ferrari if you were married to someone like Derek. He needed more hair, less paunch and an honest friend to tell him that he should never, ever, put those trousers on again. He grabbed a glass and poured himself a large whisky from the bottle he was carrying while his wife watched sourly.
“Bloody hell. Looks like I’ll be driving home.”
He shook his head.
“In the Ferrari? You must be joking.”
She smiled thinly.
Rachel walked over to the table and refilled her glass of red wine. Derek looked her up and down, decided that she was of no interest, and wandered off, leaving her standing so close to Delia that she was going to have to say something.
Delia rolled her eyes.
“Oh yes. Lara always pushes the boat out.”
That was why Delia had been cranking up the volume on the showing off of course. Lara and her husband had money, plenty of it, and they liked to make the point very loudly each time that they had a party. Not with words, that would have been vulgar, but with tangible objects that drew attention to themselves quite easily on their own. Objects like a pair of hallmarked silver salad servers thrown artlessly into a heap of rocket and watercress, a little Bernard Leach bowl filled with kumquats, and the kind of wine that was never, ever, on offer for a fiver a bottle in a supermarket. Kumquats………….. who the hell ate kumquats? The only time that Lara had ever needed to blow her own trumpet was when she had picked up a little Chinese blue and white bowl with a crack in it and explained to Rachel that it had been dredged up from the bottom of the sea as part of the Nanking cargo, worried that it might look as if she were serving crisps in a cracked old bowl. She hadn’t been too pleased when Rachel had known what the Nanking cargo was. Oh well, she had better say something to Delia.
“You look very nice.”
“Thank you. So do you.”
Delia passed back the compliment quickly and looked down at her plum coloured, crushed velvet dress. She had lost a bit of weight, the long slim skirt now hung perfectly, and she would have liked to be told so.
“This is vintage of course. Ossie Clark.”
“It was a present. I’d have preferred one of his trouser suits at the time but what can you say? Lovely, lovely man.”
Rachel shook her head. What can you say? Absolutely nothing in the face of a blatant lie. Clearly she was expected to take in the hint that it had been given by the designer himself and say nothing more. That wasn’t going to happen this time.
“How did you get to know Ossie Clark then?”
Rachel waited, enjoying the moment of panic as it flashed across Delia’s face. Her bluff had been called. Oh she might have seen him at some event or other in her modelling days, maybe even spoken to him, but that was all.
“Oh, you know, around.”
She gave Rachel the benefit of a bright empty smile.
“As you do.”
Rachel looked at her sharply.
“He’s been dead for a while now.”
Delia frowned, trying to work out whether this was an indication that Rachel didn’t believe what she had just said. If she tried to justify herself it would mean admitting that she was indeed old enough to claim acquaintance in her youth with someone who had been dead for maybe fifteen years. She didn’t want to go there.
Rachel enjoyed her moment then let her off the hook, enjoying toying with her and seeing the half hidden relief.
“I’ve no memory for dates.”
Things were going well. Rachel decided that it was time to play her trump card.
“How is Hugo?”
She was almost ashamed of herself. Almost. It was too easy a hit.
“Oh he’s doing very well. He’s starting his own business down in Southampton. So proud of him.”
There was a short silence. It wasn’t excellent of course. If it had been then Delia would have been offering up more details. The fact that Hugo was hanging around a port town made Rachel wonder if this new business might be along the same lines as the last one. It had taken some very clever editing from Delia to make that debacle sound like a success.
“Miranda is out in the Gambia at the moment. Doing VSO.”
“How brave. So difficult for them to get a start in life these days isn’t it.”
Delia had effortlessly managed to turn a gap year before going up to Oxford to study law into a sign of failure. How did she do that?
“She’s loving it.”
“I thought she was applying to university?”
Big mistake there Delia, do your research, Rachel thought sourly. This one is going straight into the back of the net.
“She goes up to Oxford next October. Newnham college. On a scholarship.”
Delia stared down into her glass of wine.
“Isn’t it. We’re so pleased.”
They beamed at each other sending out waves of fake goodwill and mutual congratulations.
“Of course Hugo could have gone up to Durham. If he’d worked.”
“I’m sure he could.”
It was unlikely. Years of prep school followed by an expensive minor public school which Delia and Derek could ill afford had failed to uncover any evidence of serious potential in Hugo. Both of the women knew that very well, even as they were nodding earnestly at each other. Delia looked over Rachel’s shoulder. She could see Derek talking to a young blonde woman in the far corner of the room. He was standing too close and she was laughing.
“Well, nice to catch up. Better circulate.”
“Yes. Speak soon.”
Rachel picked up a small piece of toast with pate and cucumber on it and looked around wearily. All over the house and garden it was the same. As she wandered around idly, nursing her glass, she could hear snatches of conversation.
“It’s a wonderful house. Jacobean encased in Georgian.”
“Of course I’m glad we went out there when we did. You wouldn’t want to holiday there now.”
“We’ve been given a backstage pass. Which is nice.”
“I don’t know where she gets it from. It’s certainly not from me.”
“Yes, walking already. Unbelievable.”
So many perfect lives. So many perfect people. An endlessly shifting kaleidoscope of carefully edited existence. Words glittered out, advertising themselves, sending out their signals of success like a turning twisting lighthouse blinking out across an empty darkened sea. No reality. No depth. No honesty. It was time to leave. Rachel picked out Lara’s dark chignon across the room and went over to say goodbye.
“I must go I’m afraid. Have to be up early in the morning.”
Lara turned and held out her arms for a hug.
“Oh, such a shame.”
Rachel accepted the hug and drew away.
“Thank you so much.”
“Oh it’s a pleasure. Thank you for coming. I hope you’ve enjoyed it- even without Jonathan. So sorry he couldn’t be with us.”
Jonathan had refused point blank to get up from the computer and leave the house. The word wanker had been mentioned in connection with Lara’s husband.
“Oh it’s just a twenty four hour bug. I’m sure he’ll be fine soon.”
“Give him our love.”
“And you haven’t been too lonely?”
Lara made a concerned face and put her head on one side. Rachel shook her head.
“Oh no. It’s been marvellous. Really.”
“Oh my God he’s brought the Ferrari.”