Natalie didn’t really know Esmerelda very well, so she was slightly surprised to receive an invitation to Esmerelda’s summer bash. Although the two women had probably been at countless events together, they had only actually spoken properly off Island last winter, during one of those holidays when you’d go out for dinner and recognise half the people in the restaurant.
It was as if there was a timetable for Jersey residents in Barbados – Monday Mullins, Tuesday One Star, Wednesday Lime Grove for sushi, Thursday The Cliff, Friday Nikki Beach. It was like the Royal Yacht, only with better sun tans. Not that she really cared for that. Growing up she had sensed the disapproval of elderly aunts if she spent too much time outdoors, her skin being dark enough for their tastes already.
Even now, when throwing shade at a skin tone is as irrelevant as telling a girl off for showing her ankles, Natalie preferred to avoid too much sunshine on her face, using moisturiser with SPF 20, the same way some people ‘touch wood’ regularly just in case their luck changes.
Still, despite the incessant sunshine, Natalie had enjoyed Barbados. If some holidays are about seeing the sights, Barbs with the Jersey crew was more about being seen in the sights.
Lydia had scored them a wonderful apartment through a former client. Molly had swiped Henry’s Avios to upgrade their flights. And Francine had hit her network to secure tables at all the right places on the right nights.
Natalie hadn’t been quite sure what her role was, until they got there. After they nearly missed the flight to Gatwick because someone had grabbed the wrong passport, she became team leader, CEO of the trip, ensuring everyone was where they were supposed to be, with what they were supposed to take.
There were checklists of checklists somewhere in Natalie’s phone. She would have to tell you exactly where, because her security settings were so tight, you’d have no chance of finding them yourself.
The girls ended up lunching with Esmerelda most days during the trip. She would join them for shopping, or the beach, escaping her luxury compound for a few hours of fun before heading back to sort out the trail of grown up children who always seemed to tag along whenever she went anywhere nice.
Esmerelda was old new money, in the same way, if you live in a 17th century property, a 1990s home may be considered an old new house. Her husband had patented something very clever several decades ago, bringing in global royalties that kept Esmerelda and their children living very comfortably long after he less cleverly departed.
Natalie never knew whether to envy or pity Esmerelda’s generation. They grew up conditioned to marry and focus on their family without the conflicts of being expected to be good at a career too. But then, when the children grew up, and the husbands disappeared (divorce being slightly more common than death), the women were frequently left, like yachts tethered in a marina during a storm, neither securely on land, nor perilously at sea. Those without money struggled in obvious ways, but those with money still faced problems.
It was as if the rules had changed halfway through the game. The women who did best, who managed their husbands and families efficiently, and were not left floundering, were perhaps the same ones who a generation later would have been FTSE 250 CEOs. No-one published a Power Granny list but were any of the contenders to submit to interview, their stories would make interesting reading.
A dazzling career was supposed to be the antidote to being left floundering, but sometimes Natalie wondered if it was just another game, where the rules could still change at any point leaving you exposed to just as many risks.
Take her path: A-grade pupil, first class degree, management role, MBA, and international experience all before the age of 30. Over the next decade her CV pushed some serious boxes. However, despite playing the game like a good girl, she never quite reached the top positions or the highest bonuses.
It wasn’t that she had experienced active discrimination because of her gender, or race. If she had, then it would have been far easier to call it out. If anything, it was as much internal as external, you could believe you were good enough, but if you had to shout it to try to convince people, then clearly you weren’t. You were either too anxious or too arrogant. Not a good enough leader or not a good enough team player.
Anyway, it had been quite a week. Her head had felt like cotton wool after seven hours on Zoom. Every time she tried to concentrate thoughts of what had happened out kayaking kept sliding back into her mind. Who was that man on the beach? And what about the couple on the terrace? She hadn’t been close enough to make out more than figures. It was all so strange. Maybe she just needed a night out to forget all about it.
Join the Island Wives again next Friday.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead or undead, or actual events is purely coincidental.