My sister sends a purple batik silk square from India. The other sister sends me a copy of a paperback book she thinks I should read called Women Who Love Too Much. I am touched by both gifts. I try, but cannot read the book.
I speak to mymother on the phone in Lisa’s living room – the living room of the flat I am sharing. The telephone is by the window which looks out into a small inner courtyard that provides light, but not much else. I have never stepped into that courtyard. I think maybe it is possible to do so through Lisa’s bedroom, but perhaps it is sealed off completely. It has no plants, no bench, no fountain.
I am glad to hear my mother’s voice, to be able to reassure her that I am back, that I never really meant to go away, that it was a mistake. I want her to know that after many years of hiding from and lying to her, I am me again. She says her sister has just died, that she is going to British Columbia for the funeral.
Sometimes I sit in the living room and kitchen which are quite large, spacious and complete with things like a video player, comfortable adult furniture, the “mod-cons” as the London ads call them – modern conveniences. I sit with Lisa and her brother Julian. Lisa has long dark thick curly hair. She is pretty, not terribl smart. She has just bought a microwave and likes to talk about how great it is to come home after word and cook a whole chicken in half an hour. She is having a semi-affair with her boss who gets calls from his wife on the mobile phone in his car when he is giving her rides home. She will let him touch her large breasts, but does not let his hands go further.
Julian is handsome and trim, arrogant, sure of himself. When I need to buy pot the night Jeffrey arrives I call Julian and he comes to our door – Jeffrey and I are not staying in my room. We are staying in an exquisitely appointed townhouse that I didn’t know about until the drive back from the airport – a townhouse with several floors, drapes, polished furniture – everything cleaned, ready and empty. “Kitty said we could stay there,” says Jeffrey and of course it’s no contest though I’d been looking forward to being with Jeffrey in the room that is all mine, the one with the peach-colored quilt and the tiny shiny white bathroom. I call Julian from the townhouse and yes he comes with an ounce and I am proud in front of Jeffrey that I found pot in London when he asked for it and proud in front of Julian that I let him into this fancy palace with a cute boyfriend at my side.
At the office are two women – Sue and Linda – everyone excited for me that the boyfriend who has been faxing me a letter every day on the fax machine I just purchased for the office is coming to visit.
My office is separated from the front office where Sue and Linda sit by glass doors. The clients come into the front office to leave off the typing they need done. They are lone businessmen without secretaries of their own and they come to us: Kent, the American, who is trying to sell safes to hotels, Mr. Daniels, another American, but a plainer one, who rents an office downstairs; Mr. Tubbs, small, bald and British who rents an office and has for years upstairs. Sir Geddes – an old classic Brit whom we give special attention to because he is our only sir.
Upstairs Nigel plots his future. Nigel is my boss. I found this place in the yellow pages when Natvar told me it wasn’t enough to be in London with him. I’d better go out and get a job. Nigel was a big old plumy Brit with a red cheerful face, white hair and a corpulent body. He was happy to have me run the downstairs so he could sit n the conference room and work on the plan to develop some land in Marbella on the south coast of Spain, a vile tourist trap that he took me to for a weekend with his diminutive bohemian girlfriend Theresa.
Linda has short hair, a plain face and a big body. She has two little girls at home and a live-in boyfriend who will not last forever, but hopefully for a little longer. She works hard, tells me story after story about what her girls are doing and saying. “I had to call for help once,” she confides. “I thought I was going to kill my baby.”
Susan is older, a blonde who has pretty much traversed the path into gray, a single woman, smart, a little dry.
And there is Fiona who comes when we need her, Fiona who has red curls, is a painter, has a baby girl called Medea and a young skinny husband called Peter who is a musician. When I travel across London one night to hear Peter and his band play he greets me, surprised and pleased. “What loyalty!” he says – a word I had not expected. I lik Fiona and their home where she has painted the walls and doors with colors and pictures, where the little girl is never put to bed because they don’t ever want to send her to school or to bed – at least, Fiona does not. I sense that Peter is flagging. And I tell Fiona that I will try to get her a show in New York when I go.
When I go.
I have been stealing money. When I go once a week to take money from the bank for the petty cash box I take some extra and I keep it.
I am still living with Natvar when I start doing this. It is before I leave him and all of it. It is when I am still essentially his. That I leave every morning and don’t come back til evening, that I bring home a pay check every week – these things make it borderline tolerable to live in the same apartment with Natvar, Mark and Ariadne. Tracy used to be with us too, but she has stayed behind in Greece. She has left us.
I am still here.
“You don’t get paid enough,” says Natvar. “You work all those hours and look what you receive. I make that n two appointments with Lady Russell.”
“You need better clothes,” he adds.
And so the first time I take the money and Natvar goes with me to Harrods and helps me choose two pairs of shoes, shoes I would never buy alone – high heels, open toes. When I wear them I look like other people – graceful, assured. “That’s better,” says Natvar with satisfaction.