A serial novella
I met Peter Burntwood at a party I wasn't invited to. I was in London to meet with my illustrator. Since Josh and I made good use of the time we had allotted it only took us a week to outline the entire novel. Both of us were almost content with our own selfish visions. We were in other words a decent team.
Joshua's wife, Paulette, was nearly nine months pregnant and about to pop any day. An adorable and glowing woman who could renovate an entire house with a barrel stuck to her waist. Every now and then she would pitch in with ideas and we often used them. She had an eye for the macabre, and it came in handy in my novel.
In the middle of our last meeting her water broke so Joshua left me with his avant-garde mother, Myrna, who immediately whisked me off together with her to a well kept hotel in Knightsbridge mumbling something about a party she absolutely had to go to. I was a little surprised that she didn't want to go to the hospital with Josh and Paulette.
"Oh, dear child, that's simply not my cup of tea. You've had one, you've had them all. Now, let me look at you. Velvet? Where on earth did you crawl into that one?" Myrna gave me a stern and appalled look. The thing was that I had gone shopping earlier. My usual shopping technique was to allow myself to drift aimlessly into and out of shops, touching and observing items in some semiconscious ebb and flow. Using that technique I found a vintage dress that fit me perfectly.
The problem was apparently that it was dark green velvet and many decades out of fashion. Poisonous green. A costume jewel brooch kept a black belt in place around the waist. I liked it so much that I wore it straight out of the store. I just gave her a nervous smile. Myrna could make anyone nervous with her disciplinary presence.
A rare occurrence was supposedly going to take place tonight and she wore her favorite pearls and a black formal cocktail dress that made too much noise when she moved about in the cab. She was around sixty five years of age and absolutely refused to let such trivial things stop her from living her life with gusto. Her energy level was five times that of a person half her age. I was jet lagged even after a week here, but felt amused and curious about the sudden adventure.
"Peter Burntwood has finally come to his senses and is throwing a party!" Myrna exclaimed this with such joy that her arrogance almost vanished for a moment. I didn't want to be rude and ask who Peter Burntwood was, so I kept smiling while wondering if poison green velvet would be appropriate for the occasion.
"Now, mind you, I didn't expect to bring anyone tonight, so we'll see how it goes. Yes, we'll see how it goes..." she said almost as if to herself while glancing at me from top to bottom. I hastened to say: "Oh, I can return to my hotel! You shouldn't have to worry about me at all, Mrs. Elliott!"
"No, no, I think I will definitely bring you along. Peter has not invited me over for a very long time and I am very cross with him for that. Bringing you along will put him in his place. See, I am a rebel!" Myrna laughed out loud at her own inventiveness. I wondered what kind of person Peter Burntwood was. Perhaps he didn't like Myrna. Perhaps they had had a disagreement. Myrna leaned over toward me and whispered:
"Peter does not like people, very much. Not new people."
"Oh, so he prefers to be alone?" I asked. Our cab stopped and we got out.
"No, no, he does socialize quite a bit. But he has this thing, you see, about, about meeting new people. Unexpectedly. He forbids anyone to bring an unknown guest to his events, for example, Edward Thornhill brought his nephew about a year ago. Banned since." This did not make me feel all that comfortable.
"Are you sure you want to bring me along?" I asked. We were half way up the steps into the hotel. Myrna did not slow down one bit as she replied:
"Life's too short to let eccentricity cast a damp cloth over me!" She skipped up the last steps and gave a quick nod to the butler and exclaimed:
"Good evening, Bernie. Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking. But I'll wager you a hundred that he'll let her stay. And perhaps me too. What do you say, Bernie?" She winked at me while he removed her coat.
"Mrs. Elliott knows very well that I don't wager," he responded politely. Then he proceeded to remove my coat. He didn't even flinch when he saw my dress.
"However, I must remind you of Mr. Burntwood's strict guest list."
"Bernie, you can blame it all on me. Now, has Phoebe arrived yet?" Myrna had already moved on to other goals. I was in. Well, not quite in, but in Myrna's mind it was now settled and so she could begin trawling the rooms in search of friends.
"Yes, Madam, Mrs. Phoebe Winters is here." Bernie motioned for us to follow and opened the doors to a small and dimly lit library. Few people bothered to turn to look who arrived. There were about twenty guests there and most of them engaged in lively discussions. A few gentlemen nodded toward Myrna as she entered, and I did detect some double-takes when they saw she had me in tow. But they quickly checked themselves and resumed discussing among themselves.
Myrna kept a lower profile than I thought. She found Phoebe, a close friend and equal in terms of outlook on life, and introduced me as a young friend. Phoebe was both impressed and worried about Myrna's rebellious quest.
"First I haven't seen you in months, and now this! I'll place myself right there, over by the buffet, so I can watch the catastrophe unfold."
"You will do no such thing!" Myrna protested under her breath while smiling a fantastically broad smile. "I will come with you. We're leaving Edith alone!"
Both Phoebe and I froze. I recovered sooner and whispered in terror:
"Myrna, I absolutely refuse!" A waiter came by and offered champagne so my anger had to pause in order to accept a glass and swallow some relieving bubbles.
"Darling, you'll do wonderfully! Now, don't let him know immediately who you came with, that would spoil the fun. Come then, Phoebe, the prawns look wonderfully zesty!" Her perfume lingered between the suit clad gentlemen and I was left alone to figure out a way to stay hidden for the rest of the evening.
I walked back out to the entrance hall and realized I could just leave. But I definitely needed my coat as it was drizzling outside. I walked the perimeters of the hall in hope of seeing Bernie for my coat, when a side door opened and a small group of three gentlemen and two ladies exited. My back was turned toward them and I pretended to study a painting, but I couldn't help sneak a glance at the handsome party.
They were all impeccably dressed, but not overly so. The ladies both wore modest couture and noticeable jewelry. I noticed wedding bands on both ladies and assumed that two of the gentlemen must be their husbands. The last gentleman exiting the room took a key out of his pocket and locked the door before joining his friends. I couldn't believe my misfortune. I was fairly certain this was the host of the evening.
His friends allowed him to lead the way back into the library, and just before they all disappeared into the crowd he stopped and slowly turned around. Our eyes locked. Mine fearful and apologetic, his surprised and appraising. Neither Bernie nor Myrna were anywhere to be seen.
I stood right in front of a massive tapestry depicting a hunting party. My dark green velvet dress almost camouflaged me in the dim light against the fabric of the tapestry. I clutched the champagne glass tightly and was unable to conjure up anything to say. I wondered if Paulette had already given birth. Or if Joshua would remember to add that last illustration to the epilogue. But most of all I couldn't stop staring right into the eyes of this stranger.
I think he might have heard my thoughts because right then he reached out his arms and gently closed the two doors, never taking his eyes off me. He had efficiently shut me out of his party.
To be continued. Subscribe now to not miss out on the next installment of Green Velvet.