Herbert knew about the cocktail party long before Mary. “How did you find out about it so soon?” Mary said. “I don’t know, I just did, I guess,” replied Herbert. “Hmmm,” was all Mary could manage, as she walked away from the kitchen table, tossing her hair over her right shoulder, in anything but a state of contentment. Herbert could offer a wan smile to no-one in particular. He was never one to ‘compete’ for attention with others, especially not Mary, a young, attractive, brown-eyed brunette everyone knew could have had anyone she wanted. Why she chose Herbert was anyone’s guess.
And so it was that Herbert turned up to the cocktail party feeling a little sure of himself. Self-satisfaction didn’t sit well with him at the best of times but he tried to walk it through the door with a graceful belief he could carry it off. Needless to say he wouldn’t try too hard that night to make new friends. Rather, his strategy was to stay close to those he already knew and make for harmless chatter whenever it was deemed necessary.
Mary was on his arm that night. There was no way she was going to miss this one. The book launch had been something she’d been looking forward to for months, as she thought the author would still remember her from their high school days together – especially the days they spent behind the toilets by the sports grounds.
Mind you, she had room to make up, Herbert starting streaks ahead as the invitation had been to Herbert and partner rather than to Herbert and Mary – a slight, to be sure, but one she would shrug off with ease once in the surroundings she found familiar and to her liking. She started by walking about the room, purse in hand, as she tried her very best to make as many new friends as she possibly could.
Her strategy was to shy away from Herbert at every opportunity, preferring to be around guests of interest, to her and to others, pseudo-celebrities, so to speak. As Herbert’s old mate, David, Dave to his friends, came over to say hello, Mary whisked herself away from the impending gloom Dave brought with him to find her preferred company. Her dress that night was red, short but elegant, as if she wasn’t attractive enough already. She saw Jonathan and made a bee-line for him;
“Dear Jonathan, how are you this evening? I haven’t seen you in far too long. How are Elizabeth and the girls?”
Jonathan Reedy was a reasonably well-known weekend broadcaster on the local radio station where Herbert worked. At the last moment, Mary’s name came to him. “Well, thank you Mary. Sadly they couldn’t make it tonight.” Struggling, he found he was lost for words. What should he say to keep the conversation going? What did he know about this woman?
He had an idea. ‘You’re looking beautiful this evening, if I may say so. And those shoes.” “Oh, thank you. Yes, I haven’t worn this before. I bought it especially for the occasion. It cost an arm and a leg but I’m sure Herbert can afford it. I tried it on a couple of weeks ago and, Jonathan, it was like it was meant for me and me alone. The woman in the boutique at Double Bay was anything but helpful but by the time I’d finished with her I had her eating out of my hand. The shoes were just a last-minute thing. I just threw them on five minutes before I left the house. I think they look perfect, though – don’t you?”
Jonathan knew he had a cocktail guest for the rest of the evening if he couldn’t find a way to prize himself away from her. But for now, not thinking fast enough, he said; “And the girls? Who’s minding them tonight?” “Oh, Jonathan, I found this place called A+ Minders. They were recommended by my good friend Daisy Fairchild, you know, the news anchor at Channel 8?”
Mary was keen to drop the odd famous name, raising the stakes of her credibility with Jonathan and other guests he’d speak to (about her) later in the evening. Before Jonathan could get a word out, she was back on the job; “Oh, yes, they advertise on Channel 8. A+ says it all really. Of course, I had to interview the ‘minder’ a few times before I could be satisfied they weren’t some troll or tripe or something – you know, Jonny, the usual teenager who’s more interested in their mobile phone than they are in caring for my children. And most nannies find the door in a hurry when they find out I have twins. I don’t know why that scares them away. My kids are nothing but a bundle of joy. Just look at me. Ha, how could they be anything else?”
Jonathan was worried. ‘She’s started calling me Jonny,’ he thought to himself. Now he remembered where he knew Mary from – they had been high-school ‘sweethearts’ of sorts. God, those times behind the toilets! How could he forget? That was the last time she’d called him ‘Jonny,’ and we all know what that led to.
Jonathan had gotten in strife back then with his parents and the Headmaster because Mary had thought she was pregnant, all because they’d kissed. A real kiss too! It had taken months for ‘Jonny,’ as he was known back then, to live that one down – no-one believed his side of the story, even though, in time, he would be proven right. Now she was back doing it again. ‘Where would this night lead us?’ he wondered.
“Jonny, are you okay? You’re looking a bit, well, gaunt. Are you sure everything’s okay? It’s not the wine is it? I know they always serve up crap at these events. I try to be selective with what passes my lips at these things. Well, I’m always selective with what passes my lips. You know what I mean.” With that Mary gave Jonathan a little nudge, as if to imply she’d like to encourage a little, well, repartee.
But Jonathan really was started to look a little ill. As he stood there taking all this in he thought to himself; ‘how much more of this can I take? Someone come over and save me.’ But he had an out clause ready as he replied to Mary’s concerns.
“Thanks for your concern Mary, yes, I’m really not feeling well. I had a little something to eat before heading out tonight and I think it’s taken its toll. If you’ll excuse me for a moment, I might just visit the facilities. Do you know where they are?” For once all Mary could say or do was direct ‘Jonny’ to the men’s. “Round the corner to your left and up the end of the hallway,” she instructed him. “Thanks ever so much Mary. I’ll be back soon.”
Mary knew Jonathan wouldn’t return and so started looking round the room for more companions to talk with. She saw her beloved Herbert busy in conversation with the author she had come to see, who would be busy with book signings later in the evening. She left him alone for now as he looked jovial and otherwise engaged – she didn’t want to intrude. She’d find time for both men later on, Herbert at home under the covers and the author, well, she’d find time for the author outside behind the back entrance.
As she elegantly, curvaceously, strolled across the room she caught the eye of Josephine and Desmond O’Reilly, the poet laureate and her husband, a photographer, recently featured in National Geographic.
She was impressed before they spoke. Mary always loved hearing everyone’s news, and was keen to hear what the poet had been up to of late and what her husband had been watching and photographing – native wildlife or cityscapes, he did them both. “Mary,” Josephine and Desmond called out in tandem. “How have you been, my darling?”
“Oh, Jo and Des, what a surprise to see you here. I didn’t even know you’d been invited,” Mary lied. “Tell me all about your recent trip to Africa.” “You look ravishing, may I say?” Desmond said. Josephine gave her husband a dirty look and a quick kick on his foot. Her high heel could do serious damage when required. “Ouch,” Desmond cried. “How are your girls?” Jo asked of Mary, to avert attention from her aggressive act of jealousy. “Oh, seeming as you ask,…” Mary began, feeling the life and soul of the party once more. With sparkling wine in hand she was set for the next half hour.
“But that’s enough about me,” Mary said, after having spent the half hour telling these distant acquaintances her embellished life story, “let’s talk about you,” she said, wondering all along what they thought about her. Herbert could only look on from afar with a shy, not unfamiliar, wry grin. The night was still young.