By the time Pippa had got over the fence from her back garden, traversed the lane to where Bob’s car was parked, and managed to get it started, she was entering the realm of late most hosts would interpret as a no-show.
Pippa was not normally such a stickler for punctuality that she would worry about being a bit tardy, but after driving over to Esmerelda’s house on the other side of the Bay, via the busiest roads in the Island she would be obscenely late. Indeed, if one should normally arrive at parties ‘fashionably late’ her timing was so out of fashion it was more like fancy dress.
“Damn. Blast. And … snozzcumbers.” She said, pounding the steering wheel as the traffic stalled for the fiftieth time that trip. Her expletives also included enough F’s and C’s to write a symphony. Thankfully, some considerate DJ dropped one of her favourite Duran Duran tracks on the radio and after belting out the lyrics (memorised during the days when one cared about things like posters and crushes rather than debts and divorces) she felt much better.
Pippa had originally met Esmerelda at the vintage boutique where she worked a few days a week. Unlike Francine, who knew exactly what suited her and rarely parted with it, Esmerelda had a much more fluid wardrobe, buying on impulse and clearing out when she realised the impulse had passed. She was the sort of person eco-warriors might mock for her high levels of consumption. However, without the Esmereldas of the world, spending their money on clothes, where would fashion and retail be? Second hand was all fine when it was in good condition, but did people really want to go back to the days when everything was a hand-me-down?
She had read Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments and certainly didn’t fancy living in a Channel Island Gilead.
Lockdown hadn’t been kind to retail. Who needed lots of nice clothes when there was no one to see them but your cat? In the early days after the first lockdown the boutique had been inundated with hardly worn (or even never worn) dresses and suits, many with their price tags still attached.
Smart was over. Killed in the first wave of Covid. Esmerelda’s cast offs on the other hand sold incredibly well. Everyone liked to buy something nice at a bargain price, and even if you were not going anywhere except the supermarket, snapping up a cheeky bit of resort-wear, or a colourful piece of cashmere allowed people to dream.
Tonight’s dress was unusual because it came from a mystery seller who even Angie, the boutique owner, didn’t know. It gave an extra frisson to going out, wondering who might have given up so gorgeous an item. Did it no longer fit them? Had they got bored of it? Or was it simply one of those things someone buys in a click when browsing online, and forget to send back?
When Pippa finally arrived at Esmerelda’s the sun was setting and the drive was empty. She wondered if she had messed up and got the wrong day. It wouldn’t be the first time. Google calendars had a lot to answer for. Once she had arrived at an appointment at 9am only to find it was 9am Eastern Standard Time and no one was expecting her until 2pm.
However, Esmerelda’s party was far too important to be trusted to a Google. It had been marked, quite firmly, in gold marker on the Waitrose calendar hanging in the kitchen, next to the bottle of gin so she would always remember to look at it.
Rather than risk ringing the doorbell and disturbing Esmerelda if she had got it wrong, she went around the back and peeped over the wall. The terrace was empty, save for a few figures swaddled in blankets on loungers.
One of the shapes sounded like Lydia, although it may have been Molly. Either way, it sounded like it was having a jolly conversation that did not involve husbands, children, or policemen.
“Pssst. Over here, Lydia.” Pippa hissed.
The Lydia shape excavated herself from the cashmere shroud and came over to the wall. “Pippa! What on earth are you doing down there? You were supposed to be here hours ago.”
“Yeah, well, I was late. Where is everybody? I though Esmerelda was having a party.”
Lydia looked back at the terrace, waving a hand over the party that once was. “She is … was. It was eventful, to say the least. You should come and join us. Natalie and Molly are still here too. We’ve got a tray of sausage rolls and a magnum of gin. Now, do you want to scale the wall, or can you find the front door?”
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.