The Multifaceted Portent
Saturday 24 June Noon. London: my flat. Oh God. Oh God. Am beyond late and hung-over and everything is absolutely terrib— Oooh, goody! Telephone!
“Oh, hello, darling, guess what?”—my mother. “We’ve just been at Mavis Enderbury’s Brunch Time Karaoke and guess what? Julie Enderbury’s just had her . . .”
You could practically hear the screeching of tires: like she was about to say the word “fat” to a morbidly obese person.
“Just had her what?” I muttered, frantically putting the remains of a slice of goats cheese log in my mouth followed by half a protein bar to ease the hangover, whilst trying to pull some sort of vaguely christening-friendly outfit from the mess all over the bed.
“Nothing, darling!” she trilled.
“What has Julie Enderbury just had?” I retched. “Her boobs made even more gigantic? A lithe young Brazilian?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing, darling. She just had her third, but what I was really ringing to say was . . .”
Grrr! Why does my mother always DO this? It’s bad enough anyway careering towards baby deadline without . . .
“Why are you avoiding the subject of Julie Enderbury’s third?” I rasped, jabbing wildly at the TV remotes for some sort of escape, only to ping up an advert showing an anorexic teenage model with a baby playing with a toilet roll.
“Oh, I’m not, darling,” Mum replied airily. “Anyway, look at this Angelina Jolly. She adopted that Chinese baby . . .”
“I think you’ll find Maddox was Cambodian, Mother,” I said, coldly. Honestly, the way she talks about celebrities you’d think she’d just had an intimate conversation with Angelina Jolie at Mavis Enderbury’s Brunch Time Karaoke.
“The point is, Angelina adopted this little baby and then she got Brad, and had all these other babies.”
“I don’t think that’s why Angelina ‘got’ Brad Pitt, Mother. Having a baby is not the be all and end all of a woman’s life,” I said, struggling into an absurd floaty peach dress, which I last wore at Magda’s wedding.
“That’s the spirit, darling. And some people have marvelous lives without them! Look at Wynn and Ashley Green! They went down the Nile thirty-four times! Mind you, they were a couple, so . . .”
“Actually, Mum, for once in my life, I’m very happy. I’m successful, I have a new car with satnav and I’m freeee . . .” I gushed, glancing out of the window to see— bizarrely—a group of pregnant women walking along the road below the flat, fondling their bumps.
“Hmmm. Anyway, darling. You’ll never guess what?”
There were three more pregnant women walking along behind the first lot now. It was starting to get weird.
“She’s accepted! The Queen! She’s doing a Royal Visit on March twenty-third to celebrate the fifteen-hundredth anniversary of the Ethelred Stone.”
“What? Who? Ethelred?”
A veritable throng of pregnant women was now walking along the street below.
“You know? That thing in the village by the fire hydrant where Mavis got her car clamped. It’s Anglo-Saxon,” Mum autowittered on. “Anyway, aren’t you supposed to be at the christening today? Elaine told me Mar—”
“Mum. Something very strange is happening,” I said eerily. “Gotogobye.”
Grrr! Why does everyone try to make you feel stupid about not having babies. I mean, pretty much everybody feels an element of ambivalence about the whole thing, including my mother. She’s always saying, “Sometimes I wish I’d never HAD children, darling.” And anyway, it’s not that easy to pull off in the modern world, as men are an increasingly unevolved primitive species, and the last thing you want is . . . Gaah! Doorbell.
Was Shazzer—finally! Buzzed her in, then darted, freaked-out, back to the window, whilst she clopped across the room to the fridge, dressed in a wildly christening-inappropriate little black dress and Jimmy Choos.
“Bridge, come the fuck ON. We’re beyond late! Why are you hiding under the window dressed like a fairy?”
“It’s an omen,” I gabbled. “God is punishing me for being a selfish career woman and thwarting nature with contraceptive devices.”
“What are you the fuck on about?” she said cheerfully, opening the fridge. “Have you got any wine?”
“Didn’t you see? The street is full of pregnant women. It’s a multifaceted portent. Soon cows will be falling from the sky, horses born with eight legs and . . .”
Shazzer wandered over to the window and glanced out, pert bum tightly encased in the little black dress.
“There’s nobody down there except one vaguely hot boy with a beard. Though actually not hot. Well, not very. Maybe without the beard.”
I leapt up to the window and stared down at the empty street in confusion. “They’re gone. Gone. But where?”
“OK, calm, calm, lovely calm, calm,” said Shazzer, with the air of an American cop talking to her eighth guntoting lunatic that day. I blinked at her, like a rabbit caught in headlights, then bolted out of the door and down the stairs, hearing her clattering behind me.
Hah! I thought, once out in the street. There were TWO MORE of the pregnant women, hurrying along in the same direction.
“Who are you?” I boldly confronted them. “What is the meaning of you? Where are you bound?”
The women pointed to a sign outside the closed-down vegan cafe. It said pop-up pregnancy yoga.
Heard Shazzer snort behind me.
“Right, excellent, jolly good,” I said to the women. “Have a lovely, lovely, afternoon.”
“Bridget,” said Shaz, “you are so insane.” Then we both collapsed in slightly hysterical giggles on the doorstep.
1.04 p.m. My car. London.
“It’s fine, we’ll be early,” said Shazzer.
It was four minutes after we were supposed to be at the pre-christening drinks at Chislewood House and we were in solid traffic on the Cromwell Road. But in my new car, which you can tell to take you to places and make phone calls and everything.
“Call Magda,” I said smoothly to the car.
“You said, Courmayeur,” replied the car.
“No, not Courmayeur, fuckwit,” yelled Shazzer.
“Diverting to Flintwick,” said the car.
“No! You stupid trollop,” yelled Shazzer.
“Diverting to Studely Wallop.”
“Don’t shout at my car.”
“What, you’re sticking the fuck up for your car now?”
“Put your knickers, on. Put them ON.” Magda’s voice suddenly boomed out from the car. “You are NOT coming to a christening without knickers.”
“We are wearing knickers!” I said indignantly.
“Speak for yourself,” murmured Shaz.
“Bridget! Where are you? You’re the godmother. Mummy will smack, she will smack, she will smack.”
“It’s fine! We’re speeding through the countryside! We’ll be there any minute!” I said, glancing giddily at Shazzer.
“Oh good, well hurry up we need drinkies first to fortify us. Actually, there’s something I wanted to tell you.”
“What?” I said, relieved that Magda wasn’t completely furious. It was all turning into a jolly day out.
“Um, it’s about the other godparent.”
“Look, I’m really sorry. We’ve had so many kids we’ve completely run out of any remotely solvent males. Jeremy asked him without telling me.”
There was a pause with screaming in the background. Then a single word cut me like a French cook’s knife through goats cheese.
“You are joking,” said Shazzer.
“No, seriously, you are joking, Magda?” said Shazzer. “What the fuck, fuck are you fucking doing, you masochistic maniac? You are not making her stand at the fucking font with Mark Darcy, in front of a fucking smug married/smug motherfucking . . .”
“Constance! Put it back. BACK IN THE TOILET! Sorry, got to go!”
The phone cut out.
“Stop the car,” said Shaz. “We’re not going. Turn round.” “Take the next. Legal. U-turn,” said the car. “Just because Magda is so desperate to hang on to Jeremy she’s had an ‘accidental’ late baby and therefore run out of godparents, there’s no reason to have you playing mummies and daddies at the altar with your anally retentive ex.”
“But I have to go. It’s my duty. I’m the godmother. People go to Afghanistan.”
“Bridget, this is not Afghanistan, it’s a ridiculous, tired, social clusterfuck. Pull over.”
I tried to pull over, but everyone started hysterically honking. Eventually I found a petrol station attached to Sainsbury’s Homebase.
“Bridge.” Shazzer looked at me and brushed a bit of hair away from my face. For a moment I thought maybe she was a lesbian.
I mean, young people apparently don’t see themselves as either gay or straight now, they just ARE: and also women are so much easier to relate to than men. But then I like having sex with men, and I’ve never . . .
“Bridget!” said Shazzer sternly. “You’ve gone into a trance again. You spend your whole time doing what everyone else wants. Get what you need. Get some sex. If you’re hell-bent on going to this fucked-up nightmare, get some sex AT THE NIGHTMARE. That’s exactly what I’m going to do, not at the nightmare, but in my flat, and if you’re determined to put yourself in a COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE situation to please everyone else I’m going to get in a cab. I, for one, am going to spend the afternoon christening my toy boy.”
But Magda is my friend and has always been kind. So I drove to the christening having a pity party about what might have been, all alone apart from my new car, which was fortunately feeling quite chatty. Five Years Before
I still can’t believe what happened. I didn’t mean to do anything wrong. I was just trying to be nice. Shazzer is right. I must go back and do more reading: e.g., Why Men Love Bitches
Mark and I had our engagement party in Claridge’s Ballroom. I’d rather have had it somewhere a bit more bohemian, with fairy lights, baskets instead of lampshades, sofas outside that are meant to be inside, etc. But Claridge’s is the sort of place Mark thinks is right for engagements, and that’s the point in relationships, you have to adapt. And Mark, who cannot sing, sang. He had rewritten the words to “My Funny Valentine.”
My funny valentine, sweet funny valentine,
You’ve set my frozen heart to “thaw,”
Though your talk is hardly erudite,
Of calories and cellulite,
With each flaw I endure I love you more.
You’re obsessed about your weight. Pathologically late.
Permanently in a state of disarray.
But don’t start reading Proust and Poe. OK
’s OK and so’s Hello
All I want’s your warmth and honesty.
Don’t change at all, just marry me.
He couldn’t really sing, but he’s normally so buttoned up that everyone was quite emotional and Mark lost all control and kissed me on the lips at a public occasion. I honestly thought I’d never be so happy again in my entire life.
Later, indeed, things went rather dramatically downhill. Resolutions
If anything ever almost works out again I will not have anything to do with either of the following:
b) Daniel Cleaver (my ex-boyfriend, Mark Darcy’s arch rival, old friend from Cambridge, and also the person who broke up Mark’s first marriage by being on Mark’s kitchen table, having sex with Mark’s first wife at the moment when Mark came home from work)
I was just stumbling down from one of the tables, after my rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” when I noticed Daniel Cleaver looking at me with a haunted, tragic expression.
The thing about Daniel is that he is very manipulative and sexually incontinent, and unfaithful and does tell a lot of lies, and can be very unkind, and obviously Mark hates him because of everything that happened in the past, but I do still think there is something really lovely about him.
“Jones,” said Daniel. “Help me? I am tortured by regret. You’re the only living creature who could possibly, ever have saved me and now you are marrying another. I find myself disintegrating, almost as if falling to pieces. Just a few kind words alone, Jones, please?”
“Yessuvcourse, Dansyul, coss,” I slurred, confusedly. “I juss wan’ everyone to be as happy assme.” In hindsight, I may have been the teensiest bit drunk.
Daniel was taking my arm and steering me in some sort of direction.
“I am tortured, Jones. I am tormented.”
“No. Lisssten. I really, really sink that . . . happiness is soooo . . .”
“Come in here, Jones, please. I really need to talk, alone . . .” said Daniel, leading me unsteadily into a side room. “Is my life now doomed, forever, truthfully?”
“No!” I said. “Snow! Daniel! Yous WILL be happy! Defsnut.”
“Hold me, Jones,” he said. “I fear I will never . . .”
“Lissen. Happiness IS happy because . . .” I said, as we overbalanced and crashed onto the floor.
“Jones,” he growled, hornily. “Just let me have one last look at your giant mummy pants I so love. To make Daddy happy? Before my life disintegrates into ashes?”
The door burst open and I looked up in horror to see Mark’s face, just as Daniel was lifting up my skirt. There was a flash of pain in Mark’s brown eyes, and then total, cold, emotional shutdown.
It was the one thing Mark couldn’t forgive. Mark and I left the party together, as if nothing was wrong. For weeks we struggled on, pretending to everyone else that things were OK and trying and failing to pretend to each other.
As you may know, I have a degree in English Language and Literature from Bangor University, and it made me think of a line from one of D. H. Lawrence’s marvelous works:
Something in her proud, honourable soul had crystallized out, hard as rock, against him.
Something in Mark’s proud, honourable soul had crystallized out against me. “What the fuck is wrong with him? It was a meaningless moment compared to a whole lifetime. He knows what Daniel’s like,” said the friends. But for Mark, it went very deep in a way I couldn’t understand and he couldn’t explain. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Eventually, he told me he couldn’t carry on. I still had my flat. He apologized for the inconvenience, heartbreak, etc. He orchestrated the spread of the news that the engagement was broken amongst our friends and family in a typically dignified way and shortly afterwards left for a job in Northern California.
The friends were brilliant, ranting, “He’s completely anally retentive, fucked up by public school and will never commit to anyone.” Six months later, he married Natasha the uptight stick insect lawyer woman who was with Mark the first time I saw him in a suit—at a book party for Kafka’s Motorbike
, where she was going on and on to Salman Rushdie about “hierarchies of culture,” and the only thing I could think of to say was, “Do you know where the toilets are?”
I never heard back from Daniel. “FUCK Daniel. He’s a sexually incontinent emotional fuckwitted commitmentphobe who’ll never commit to anyone,” ranted Shazzer. Seven months later, Daniel married an Eastern European model/princess and was occasionally to be seen gracing the pages of Hello
, leaning over the parapet of a castle with mountains in the background, looking slightly embarrassed.
And so, there I was, five years later, crawling along the M4, horrifyingly late, to see Mark again for the first time since it all ended.
Copyright © 2016 by Helen Fielding. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.