Freya MacDonald spared no expense for her Quartorze Juillet party despite heated debates with her husband who was rumoured by other families to have death adders in his pockets. She had employed a flighty, smooth skinned but pocky-marked, homosexual to help her with the decorations and to find specific pieces which would set the night apart from the other parties that winter. On his list were items such as ‘Pompier’ outfits for the staff, which became a serious nuisance and of which Freya was forced to take over after the young man had great difficulty liasing with her Parisian contacts. To make matters worse, she was forced to give up on her marquee, whose dimensions rendered it obsolete if she still wished to keep the bonfire in the garden. Twenty workmen struggled moving sandstone animals around the gardens, fixing gargantuan lantern lights that stretched from the main house on a vortex to the gazebo, though some were in arcs, which to this day has never been seen again and who’s construction remains a mystery. A thousand tea lights lined the cobbled walkways and security had blackened out the neighbours views with thick polypropylene weaved cloth. One ratty spinster neighbour had remarked that this gesture had gone too far, that it was very ‘Un-Australian’, but Freya had simply knocked on her door with a beaded brow, a box of Marriage Des Freres Tea in her left hand, her simple Gravure font invitation in the other, and secured her neighbour as a guest not more than one cup of tea later.
“A party is not worth having if it’s no good” she said as she interlocked my arm and walked me from the garden into the kitchen where two handsome men in overalls stood bent over baguettes whose ingredients bore the signature of Freya.
“Husband’s away, mice are at play cher Freya?” I said.
“Pas mal francais, non, he is coming home by Friday and they are two of the most helpful types. Stuart and Barney. His wife is from Brittany” she said.
“So what do you think?” asked Freya.
“I think its splendid” I replied.
“Bon! Cafe?” she asked.
“Is Thomas back yet?” I asked.
“You can stay here, c’est pas de problem. You are like family Theo”
Bent over the coffee table, my hands cold from the walk around the gardens, I gripped the coffee glass and heated my frozen hands which now felt like mits. Freya sat with me whilst I drank my coffee and spoke a mental stream of consciousness relating to her project which, for the time being, was all-consuming her. Eventually I tried to change the subject and looked at my watch to see what time Thomas would be returning.
“You have to go somewhere?” asked Freya.
“You seem a little frustrated today” said Freya.
“Yes, I am. Thomas is always late, especially if he is spending time with Marguerite. I become almost obsolete to him. I don’t have a sister but I imagine its not to dissimilar to having a brother, and I never want to spend much time with my siblings” I said.
“Oh, that makes me laugh Theo. Really, that is silly. You don’t know what it was like for them. When they were little we spent two years in Stockholm and Francis was always in an out of town and never home. They grew so close to each other that they practically raised themselves. Have you ever seen a movie called... something dog something. Qu’est que c’est le nom. Oh Merde! I think I am getting cuckoo” she said, twirling her left finger around her ear and revealing her modest platinum wedding band.
Thomas never arrived home and did not return my calls. Eventually, feeling pitiful, Freya asked me to stay for dinner but I turned down the offer.
“What time will you be here on Friday?” asked Freya as I said goodbye.
“I’m not sure” I replied.
“Are you bringing a little friend?” she asked.
“Yes” I replied and walked out the front door which was open, one workmen supporting the other on a ladder as he erected decorations around the door frame.
When the Friday arrived I was still suffering the dry and siphoned effects of heavy drinking and smoking from the night before. A group of us had been at Mr. Goodbar and then to Hugo’s Lounge to drink ourselves into a fashionable mobbish craze as we ran from one end of the bar to another. When I had awoken that morning I was pleasantly reminded that I had no need to go to Uni that day and so I donned a white tracksuit and watched Foxtel whilst I drinking jugs of water from a pitcher.
When the afternoon approached light in the West fell across the house warming my bones and thawing bare feet. There was a dryness in the air and but the day was quite moderate though a chop diagonally ran itself across the harbour views that stretched from the television room.
I had been seeing Taren Schwartz from time to time despite knowing that Robert was linked to her as well as to his girlfriend Talia. I never asked much of Taren and she wasn’t really attached to anyone, she was public property if you could afford those hungry lips and bottomless glasses she drank from that fed her chunk thighs and her accommodating mammary flesh which walked a pace in front of her. Everything about Taren was built for today, gone tomorrow. You only had to spend time with the mothers of these girls to see that they would be Mack Trucks before the decade was out. But she was fun and had a ‘joie de vivre’ and she would so often tell people before they could pin-point it. So, I had invited Taren as my date for the Quartorze Juillet, for the reason that she would please the party as much as the party would please her.
When I picked her up goose flesh had gathered around her thighs and the backs of her arms as the night was just falling, the clouds moving fast along the horizon and making way for a sparkling evening. She had stuffed herself into a tight dress, by the look of it – the same as the previous time I had seen her. She was a Christian for Marguerite the Lion but she’d chosen her faith and who was I to stop her from being slaughtered. Besides, Taren had a huge belief in her own ego and would take on animalia twice her size.
“Who’s car is this?” she asked as I opened the door to the 4WD Hilux.
“Don’t ask and don’t complain. Aren’t you happy we’re going to a swish party?” I asked.
“Tao, you look very handsome. Give me a kiss, Mr.” she said and I took her in my arms and kissed her firmly, her bare upper-arm bumpy and cold to touch. Tight into her fountain of strong golden hair I smelt her and glimpsed her bare shoulder which strongly aroused me.
I withdrew back and she played her usual game of trying to stare me in the eye, as if by some great God-bestowed gift she could see into my soul from a kiss and a glance.
“Taren, get in the car, we are running late” I said.
The entire journey to the MacDonalds from Parsley Bay I had to hear about her career plans. She was ambitious and hungry, unwilling to compromise unless the price was right and there was nothing better going on at the time. I was never smitten on her but she was spunky and always carried her sex not far behind her.
When we pulled up that evening the street was no longer council property, it belonged to the wealthy, the powerful and the established families of the Peninsula. Francis had parked his Mercedes saloon in the driveway to prevent others from parking them in, the gates were opened and a black doorman in white tuxedo was taking names as handbags clad with diamantes, formal flowing evening gowns, Church shoes tied in perfect bows with black socks, bowties, broaches, velvet jackets and cashmere overcoats all made their oppressive way brusquely up the cobbled drive which had been laced with lanterns weighed down by sandbags. The bulbous lanterns hung now from the drive too, swung gently in the crisp breeze and cast a golden light across its path. Slowly the wind was dying out and the coolness of the evening set in with breaths of cold air condensing in the hollow dry air.
The street was teeming with bright Bentleys, Coupes, BMW’s, Mazeratti’s and amongst them stood the low key silver Mercedes station wagon of the Austin-Jones’ with its undefined number plates.
Taren and I entered the foyer where balloons climbed to the domed ceiling above, one balloon sitting neatly in the arms of a cherub. Looking back down, directly in front of me, was the Prime Minister who shook hands with Francis. He wore a red beret skanted on the side of his coiffed hair, a striped navy and white t-shirt and a cream jacket which set him apart from all his guests. Freya stood tall and proud, her make-up so natural that women wondered whether she wore it at all, her skin glowing and a smile which accepted the gratitude inferred to her by the guests sweet smiles. One last workmen was in the corner busy trying to connect a light which had gone out before scuttling away, not to be seen again.
“Allo dix huit!” said Freya, “put out the fire its Tao... you do look handsome tonight” said Freya releasing the hand of the silver haired elderly lady before me and guiding her to the bar staff waiting in attendance.
“Freya, Francis, this is Taren” I said introducing her and Freya’s eyes began consuming her from head to toe whilst retaining an elongated smile which never twitched.
“A girlfriend” said Francis, “well what a surprise. You might get cold later” he said turning to Taren, his supreme restrain not casting a glance at her chest, “which is why we have a bonfire”.
“I like your beret” I said, “and your jacket. Boy, it’s hard to keep up with you MacDonalds” I said.
“So don’t try” said Francis, his bright teeth beaming back at me, his face strong and assertive.
“He’s quite handsome, isn’t he?” said Taren as we walked away, her insecure hand reaching for mine as we pulled two flutes off a tray and headed through the crowd to the rear of portico and stood together under a lamp heater whilst waiting for our own crowd to pass us by.
“It’s just his mannerism, I don’t think he means it” rejoining her thread of conversation.
“It doesn’t matter – it was an affront” she replied.
“Just leave it, he’s footing the bill tonight and ‘he pays the fiddler calls the tune’” I said.
Shortly we were joined by Marguerite and Thomas, who was flanked by Robert Cohen wearing a sports jacket and tie. Slowly the group grew with some polo types, a few of the younger set of the MacDonald family friends and a number of guests Marguerite had invited. The group surveyed the house which now sparkled and twinkled and in the distance, set into lawn was a massive funeral pyre with a straw man placed atop. French flags, which lined either side of the property walls, waved their tricolours intermittently when the breeze picked up and fell again when it died away.
Marguerite drew close to me, her wide silk pink ball-gown pearing into her waste, extending along her smooth concave stomach as it climbed to her breasts where it brimmed forth but was not filled by her small tear drop breasts.
“You are what my grandmother used to say, ‘a sight for sore eyes’” I said.
“She kissed me twice extending her chin delicately and turning to smile at Taren.
“Theo, you smell good” she said.
“Chanel” I replied.
“Hullo Theo” said Robert Cohen extending his hand.
“I was wondering why I didn’t get a return call from you today, you must have been getting ready” I said, “lovely jacket”.
“We bought it together” he said.
“I know” I replied and turned my attention to Marguerite.
Thomas’ girlfriend, Clementine, was dressed beautifully in a gown Thomas had chosen. Her hoarse and raspy voice could be heard above the others she spoke to and she lifted her dress and about-turned to walk the few feet which separated my immediate group from hers when she heard my name being mentioned.
“Look what the cat dragged in” she called out as she crossed the grass.
“Long time no see Miss. Muffet” I said.
We kissed each other hello and I introduced her to Taren. She cowered in Marguerite’s presence, her strong exuberance negated by Marguerite’s cool control. Nothing was said, no words exchanged but a thick oppressive fog immediately descended upon the group, the conversation almost completely halted. The shift in dynamic triggered an alarm in Taren and feeling it her fault for the change she let go of my arm and began walking to the bar accentuating a femininity in her stride as her stilettos dug into the grass, causing her to take particular caution with each step.
“She’s easily scared” said Marguerite smiling sweetly, “I am going to take Robert for a walk to the gazebo. Crackers and the fire start at 9.30 by the way and we are all meeting by the bean bags” she said and turned to Robert “Come on Robert, let’s go save Maman from that wretchedly boring Graham Austin-Jones” she said and they moved off towards the pool side where Graham’s moley face had cornered Freya, her smile flashing like an SOS beacon.
I was left now with Clementine who’s hawkish eyes continued to watch Marguerite as she descended into the gardens and out of sight, Robert’s jacket slowly fading into the dark and the greenery. A spot light now seemed to be directly upon us and the light was surrounding us, illuminating our clothes and features. Looking up, Clementine’s face began beaming a great big smile and I followed her face towards its view, finding Thomas standing behind a large mounted spotlight on the balcony above us. His patent leather shoes almost slipped and he pretended to wobble from the balcony, instantly gaining the attention of all the guests below who’s diamonds and furs now sparkled under the light as they looked backm as though they looked to the sun.
“That’s not your girlfriend, Theodore Rose” he said in a booming voice, guffawing and slurring his words. He switched off the light and jumped down from the balcony, the matronly women and patriarchal men sighing relief and chitter-chattering at his folly but marvelling at his good dress sense.
“Is he drunk?” asked Clementine.
“Not when I last saw him. He’s your boyfriend, don’t you know these things?” I asked. “If he is, it’s the first time I have ever seen him drunk – at least in two years”.