After a quick glance at the wall clock Abby re-read the flyer. A bolt from the blue it’d been the last thing she’d expected in the mail.
‘By now‘ she mused ‘they’ll be packing out the hall of Barrett High the old alma mater and I wonder having hand addressed the envelope will Margaret aka Maggie be expecting it to have borne fruit? In the form of me ‘answering the royal summons.?’
Barrett High School Reunion
Class of 86
We want you.....to join us for a weekend of fun and reminiscing.
Culminating in a Saturday night ball.
Followed of course by the usual dates, times, housekeeping and contacts. It was predictable that Maggie’s name would feature. As head of the organising committee no less.
Except way back when you didn’t call her that.
” My proper name is Margaret. Maggie sounds so common.”
Abby could still see Margaret Prince her newly assigned desk mate. A willowy six year old already with model looks. So prim, proper and with that hint of a plum in her voice as she laid down the rules of social engagement. Then turning to Abby after the teacher called their attention hastened to add. “Except I’ll let you use it, because we’re best friends. Only in private but....”
Their friendship had been of the accidental variety. The kind that arose from mums socialising at playgroup and their kids (baby goats according to an older Margaret) being forced together. In their case Margaret had been the dominant one, with Abby content to follow in her wake. All the same they’d been happy years, the two
families enjoying shared outings, their daughters close as sisters.
Yet Margaret could be cruel, nitpicking in a way that eroded Abby’s confidence. Her own form of Chinese water torture...drip, drip...drip.
”0h look your dress has a rip.”
”Must you say eh? It sounds common.”
”Don’t say yuck. It sounds babyish.”
Even as a child certain words were verboten and there were proper wayS to address people. Like Mother and Father for parents. Even her mum had to chuckle at that one. The recollection gave rise to a chuckle, as tick, tick around went the clock. Like the dancers at Barrett High’s Ball minus one.
Sharing a bag of mixed lollies during a park outing Abby had chosen a sour one. ”Ooh yuck.”, she exclaimed spitting into her handkerchief.
“Looks like you won’t be choosing that kind again.”, chuckled Margaret’s mum. Followed hot on the heels by a disdainful exclamation. “For goodness sake we’re eleven years old. Only babies say words like yuck and it’s not even correct English.”
Her mum an English import had laughed.
“Oh fiddlesticks to you too Maggie. I didn’t raise a toffee nose.”
”Muuuum”, a whine far more babyish than a thousand yucks. “You know I don’t like being called that in public. It’s common, and correct English isn’t toffee nosed.”
”Well I am English and no one back home put on airs and graces.”
”Oh muuum, you’re not being fair.”
Then Mrs Prince laughed it off, in denial that by inaction they were raising a snob.
Because getting her own way became the story of Margaret’s life. While her peers
acquiesced for the sake of peace, Mr and Mrs Prince considered her their miracle, to be indulged and excused because of that.
After their grown up birthdays or turning thirteen Margaret had confided that her mum had been advised to never get pregnant. “But she did and they had me.”
The unspoken rider being that she was special, and in her eyes therefore entitled. Abby pictured Margaret (now Mrs Max Brent) sighing as she searched the gathering for Abby, the best friend who’d railroaded her plans.
“I know”, she exclaimed now to the clock “how selfish of my dad to die in our final year.”
They’d planned a future involving university and the obligatory Big O.E. Margaret had started working on an itinerary, and plans for their ‘uni wardrobe.’ There was a certain ‘Look’ they needed to achieve, impressions to be made. After prize giving she’d set aside a full day to come and give Abby a hand,” “Like I couldn’t even dress myself.” Then her father’s sudden death from a heart attack put paid to all that. With no life insurance her mother’s part time job in a cake shop didn’t cover all expenses.
So Abby sacrificed her dreams, taking a job with the local greengrocer. It was an immediate start and though she hid her disappointment Margaret’s were worn on her sleeve. It still hurt to recall that conversation,
”A greengrocer’s, but you could do so much better. You were meant to come to uni with me.”
”I’m sorry but mum needs me. I have to help.”
”We were going overseas too. I even started our itinerary.”
”You’ll have to do it for both of us. Then you can send postcards and give me all the details when you come back.”
”That’s not the same. It’s just too bad your dad never had Life Insurance.”Q
Even before Abby’s hand came up she knew she’d gone too far. The slap took both girls by surprise, but when Margaret stormed off Abby let her go. After all she’d come by to apologise and sit beside her at the funeral. They were best friends after all. Except the apology never came, and in the new year Margaret left for university. ’To have a life’, she told anyone who’d listen, after which her story floated back in bits and pieces.
Mrs Prince shopped at the greengrocer’s, so Abby heard regular updates. Her new ‘cultured’ set of friends, an Arts Degree and eventually that Big O.E. with different travelling companions.. She’d met Art Dealer Max Brent on the U.S. leg. When he popped the question Mrs Prince held off the announcement until plans were underway.
”Just think”, Abby overheard her telling another assistant (following the slap she‘d pointedly avoided Abby) “if she hadn’t gone to that exhibition they wouldn’t have met. He’s a nice young man and the family simply love Maggie. The wedding’s in New York. Their Autumn not Spring would you believe?”
Which hurt even second hand, The realisation that in Margaret’s eyes she no lomger even warranted a small note of the “Guess what? I’m engaged.” variety. Never mind an invitation to be chief bridesmaid. No doubt a humble greengrocer’s assistant didn’t cut the mustard in New York’s arty circles. Instead from where Abby sat she’d chosen four total strangers. No doubt all fly-by-nighters more concerned with image than the bride.As to the lovely boy and his family how could Mrs Prince be so confident when they’d never met?
As to the present, Margaret‘s current prominence on the Barrett High Ball Organising Committee was thanks to local arty head hunters. By some recruiting miracle they’d succeeded in persuading Max to head a new Oceania Arts Commission. For Margaret the social come down would’ve been been compensated by the chance to lord it over local plebs. Like her committee ’drones’ who must’ve been in seventh heaven at acquiring a real New York socialite. Abby imagined that she would’ve eventually bored the pants off them with exaggerated ‘fairytales of New York.’ With apologies to the Pogues whose version she loved. Not to mention it being far more honest.
As to the culture shock for Margaret when first confronted with trading New York for Auckland that would’ve been a definite ‘fairytale of New York.’ From the dark side. She imagined the tanty. It would’ve been priceless, though not for Max. It must have come as a shock to realise what a high maintenance wife he’d chosen. Yet she’d have given in for appearance’s sake. Divorce after all would hurt her image, especially back in good old En Zed. Abby imagined her pouting throughout the entire flight. Suspicions confirmed at a later date by Mrs Prince. Apparently on landing Margaret had insisted that he start house hunting right away, Insisting on the best possible address she’d agreed to a ‘nice place’ on a tree lined Parnell Street. One where ‘nice place‘ was a polite way of saying mansion. Max Brent deserved every sympathy. What a shock for the poor guy to discover just how literally his Kiwi dream girl took that line of the wedding vows that said . ’.......with all my worldly goods I thee endow’
Worldly goods a far cry from this run down but comfy flat above a shop. Yet Abby was content, for while it’d been delayed in her case happiness had come.
The handwritten envelope had arrived earlier in the week. A departure from the usual bills and junk mail it’d caught her eye. Mainly because personal messages these days tended to be in email form. On closer inspection the familiar, flowing cursive had compelled her to read it. What contact she still had with girls from high school was through passing encounters or increasingly through this new online platform. Yet despite knowing her address Margaret aka Maggie had chosen not to visit. No doubt her present address didn’t measure up, like Abby’s husband Rob. A bookshop owner he’d been working for his grandparents when they met. She’d become a regular, graduating to wife when he inherited the shop. “Because now I’m in a better position to provide for a wife.” Which was nice in an old fashioned way but quite unnecessary. Before saying yes Abby made it clear that she intended to work in the business. The greengrocer was retiring, freeing her to come on board as an equal partner, by which time also her mother had rallied. Enough to manage her life, give her daughter away and hint at grandchildren every chance she got.
Instead Abby took charge of expanding their online presence and coming up with fresh ideas to help keep the physical bookshop relevant. Like a series of Authors & Experts events. Perhaps she shock the socks off Margaret aka Maggie one of these days, adding Max Brent to that list. After all if they were thinking of expanding their Art selection didn’t it make sense to bring in an expert?
For now though she was just content to be at home. Downstairs Rob would be locking up after late night. Then he’d climb the stairs, freshen up and they’d pop along to the Kebab shop for their usual Friday night treat. Which was far preferable to answering the royal summons. Besides which she mused binning the flyer Margaret aka Maggie was no longer the only one with a life.
‘By now the ball will be ‘pumping, but search in vain Maggie because you won’t find me there. I’ve got better things to do. Like eating kebabs with a gorgeous man, and maybe talking about starting a family.”