Please read Part 1 first. It is HERE. Â
Celia prodded her husband, Malcolm, to lay out food the caterers brought.
Â “Malcolm, please use the refrigerated tray for the cole slaw and potato salad, oh – and please do bring the beer cooler. Separate imports from micro brews and leave the Bud in the small cooler. I don’t expect much low-brow beer drinking, so put that on the self-serve tray. The caterers will handle the Salmon in Aspic and the petits fours.”
Celia turned to Lizzie: “Lizzie, so gladÂ you could make it. Where are your kids?”
Celia spoke quickly and did not stop moving: she wanted to let Lizzie know that she obeyed the social rule of acknowledgement, but did not want an answer from Lizzie.
“Celia, it appears that your daughter, Blair, has absconded with all the ‘best’ girls, so that would include Steffie. Not sure where Blair has hidden the girls – they’re up to something fishy, I know that.”
Celia smiled at Lizzie’s adoption of the neighborhood mother tongue: snobbery, but didn’t realize Lizzie was poking fun at her.
A hand poked up out of the cole slaw.
Â “Ewe,” a girl screamed. It was not a real hand, of course, but Malcolm Bridger Magillicuddy IV had had his fun by placing various Halloween gimmicks in the back yard so he could laugh at how easily some people were spooked.
Malcolm chuckled between swigs of Sam Adams’ Summer Brew. “Have a beer, Lizzie?”
Â “Yes thank you, Malcolm. Terrific back yard, is it an acre?”
Â “Two, as a matter of fact. Market was down when we bought it, so we got it at a great price – we made out well, shall we say,” Malcolm said.
Â “Your other house did not ‘suit your needs?'”
Lizzie could barely believe the size of this house and that Malcolm and Celia had sold their other house, which was large enough. The Magillicuddys were the only family Lizzie knew who actually thought a 5-bedroom house on the hill too small and traded up for a 7 bedroom, newly built, on a two acre estate.Â
“You know how it is, Lizzie. We had to upgrade,” Malcolm said.
Celia zipped past Malcolm in her black Capri slacks and black, wedged Espadrilles that made her leggy legs look longer, her halter top emphasizing her still-perky bust line. Her flaming red hair hung drop-dead straight to the shoulder, framing her heart-shaped face. Lizzie struggled to keep up with Celia. She was breathless as Celia zipped around the backyard.
“Celia, will Blair be going to the middle school?”
“Ewe,” Celia said. “If she doesn’t get into Miss Commonwealth, we’re putting her in Sacred Heart.”
“Ewe?” thought Lizzie. Miss Commonwealth? Shades of Upper Belton School for Boys, the prep school for rich preppies who don’t like to study but will get into Holton College, anyhow. If not Holton, then Yelp or Princely. And Cliffie for the girls.
Blair’s younger brother, Willie, walked by singing:
I’m a Barbie girl, in the Barbie world/
Life in plastic, it’s fantastic/
You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere/
Imagination, life is your creation/
Come on Barbie, let’s go party!
“Ewe,” girls cried. “A boy singing that.”
Celia spoke to her son: “Willie, bring those headless, naked Barbies inside. Now.”
Girls color Barbie’s hair pink and blue, or cut their hair and leave them naked in their Barbie house, and younger brothers will play with naked, headless Barbies. Lizzie wondered about girls and women.Â
Celia seemed balanced: she was a full-time mother with a fat checkbook, two SUV’s, her husband’s wealth and her family’s wealth. Social problems did not exist, for Celia, or so Lizzie thought, as Celia walked away, not stopping to talk and leaving Lizzie stranded without a social circle.
Muffy walked in at the right moment to save Lizzie from the dreaded social embarrassment of having no one to talk to: that faux pas makes one seem as ifÂ they are unpopular or unwelcome guest. To be avoided, at all costs.
“Muffy! How are you holding up?”
Lizzie wondered how Muffy, a full time nurse, could keep her size 0 figure. Did she eat? Did she diet? Did she purge? Did she work out? Lizzie knew Muffy was struggling underneath the concealer stick, which she’d dabbed to hide the dark circles from late night crying jags after Izzy’s death.
“Hello, Lizzie,” Muffy said, smiling briefly, and nodding, arching her eyebrows in recognition. Then Muffy walked right by Lizzie into the next room.
What did I do? Lizzie wondered. The closeness of the tÃªte a tÃªte last night did not last long, Lizzie thought.Â Lizzie and Muffy had sat in Muffy’s eat-in kitchen drinking Chardonnay until the rosy dawn edged up over the horizon. Muffy told Lizzie her life was nothing more than social appearances and she did not know how much longer she could last, living on nothing but hot air, social graces and a deadened soul, after Izzy’s death.Â
The social snub, Lizzie thought. You’ll talk to me in private but not acknowledge me in public. Things are worse than I thought, much worse. Lizzie resolved to find someone else she could talk to, someone not already packed into a tight circle.
These parties existed not for the children but for the adults in The Neighborhood: everything they did was to affirm their social place in the world: my child is more precious than yours, I’m richer than you, and my shit doesn’t stink.
Â Erica Reid Stone, the 11-year-old girl-woman dressed in three-inch heels and a skirt well above the knee, lip gloss on her hips and a too-tight sweater, ran off with the boys and headed for the shed, near the woods. This was a specially crafted play shed, a sort of tree house on the ground.
The sign in front read: NO! GRiLS ALoWED.Â
Â Lizzie peeked in. “Everything OK in here? Erica, Steffie, isÂ that you? What are girls doing here?”
“Sharing ghost stories,” said Blair’s younger brother, Willie.Â “Sharing girl secrets,” said Blair.
Â “Blair, you here, too? What are girl secrets?”
Â “Ewe, Mom,” Steffie said. “If you don’t know, you can’t ask. And we won’t tell you.
Erica dared tell the truth. “Mrs. Weatherbee, we’re talking about when girls first kissed a boy.”
“You’ve kissed a boy? At 11?” Lizzie could not help but wonder.
“Well, um, sure, Mrs. W. We all have.”
And the boys are interested in hearing about this? Lizzie thought, knowing that the boys were not interested in hearing about the first time the girls kissed a boy, nor were they likely to be interested in playing spin the bottle, post office, or what have you, at their prepubescent age.Â My God, they were only 9. And the girls were 11 and 12, for Pete’s sake.Â Likely, the older girls conscripted the boys under false pretenses. Girl-women, Lizzie thought.
Lizzie remembered back when Steffie was five. Girls came to the house and tried toÂ boss Steffie around, in her own house. There was one girl in particular – Kate, for whom this did not end well at all. Steffie and Kate were engaged in a contest over who would boss whom: Kate had tried to boss Steffie around and Steffie would have none of it, and so she picked up Kate’s toys and dumped them on the front porch, announcing:
“Game over, Kate. You’re going home now because you aren’t playing by my rules.”
Steffie thought she fixed Kate’s wagon for good. Lizzie was horrified at Steffie’s behavior and called Kate’s mother to apologize for Steffie. Lizzie had called Kate’s mother to tell her that Steffie was being bossy. To her surprise, Kate’s mother was not only nonplussed, but added:
“If the tables need turning next week when Steffie comes, Kate will turn them, Lizzie.”
“But this bossy behavior is not to be encouraged,” Lizzie had told Kate’s mother.
Kate’s mother then said something that shocked Lizzie to her core:Â “Lizzie, these are virtues we value.”Â Kate’s mother had actually said that to Lizzie.
Back at Celia’s party, Lizzie again thought of what Kate’s mother had said. As the caterer walked by, Lizzie nearly choked on her petit four. She needed something more plain for her palate; this rich food was a lot like this rich company – sometimes, it was too rarified for everyday purposes.Â
Lizzie spoke to the caterer: “Cole slaw, please.”
The caterer sniffed the air with his nose upturned and said, in drippingly acidic tones:
“The slaw, as you said, Ma’am, is on the self-serve table there with the Budweiser. I’m bringing Salmon in aspic and petits fours. Exclusively.“
Lizzie, these are virtues we value. Lizzie could not get that thought out of her mind, as she thought about Erica Reid Stone, Georgia Reid Stone and the rest of the partygoers here – those dressed in a Halloween costume – whose deception was obvious and those dressed as themselves – whose deception was often much more subtle.
*Â *Â * Â Â
Â Lizzie heard another car pull into the driveway.Â “Babs,” she called out. Lizzie ran down the driveway to meet Babs, who clearly had no intention of getting out of her car. Babs waved Lizzie away.
“I’m not going to stay, Lizzie. Just dropping off Megs. You know I wouldn’t be caught dead with those women.”
Babs was earthy and ebullient, a free spirit with shoulder length blonde hair, who wore faded jeans that still took a perfect crease after 20 years and a cute, thrift shop top, a smart, navy twin-set sweater set. Babs was just Babs: she had no pretentions, no artifice. She did not exercise, she did not diet. She did not set her hair nor did she wear makeup. She was graced with the fluid dynamics of a young cheetah: she moved with an athlete’s natural grace – and her muscle tone had not loosened one cellulite inch – (something Babs did not have any of, by the way); Babs was equally liked and hated by this circle of slim-hipped blonde women who sipped Lemon Drop martinis.
These women liked Babs because she was fun, but they hated her because she could wake up and tumble out of bed, put on a rag and still be beautiful, without mascara, foundation or lip gloss. Babs was graced with exquisitely good genes; still, these women knew, in their bones, that Babs had nothing over them, at least in their minds, because she did not live on the Hill and she had no money, to speak of. And Babs would not have wanted it any other way.
“Babs, they’ve got beer. Help me out of this social situation.Â C’mon, we can snipe.”
“Lizzie, you had me at Beer.”
Â “Oh look, here comes Alona,” Lizzie said. Alona was rushing over to Lizzie and Babs, as if she were eager to tell them something. After some of the earlier brush offs from Celia and Muffy, Lizzie was a bit surprised Alona seemed so eager to join ranks with Lizzie and Babs, two Democrats in a sea of rich Republican women in the neighborhood.
Â Alona was the lone Republican woman at the party who was not rich, and so, Alona was more like Lizzie and Babs than she was like the other women. About 15 pounds overweight, brown-blackÂ hair and a whiskey voice, Alona was decidedly more ordinary than these slim-hipped women blonde women who sipped Lemon Drop Martinis (and a newcomer to Fairhaven, not being wealthy, she lived down village, not on the Hill), but she was fun – and, therefore, she was universally well-loved. Unlike the slim-hipped blonde women who communicated only by the rules of social engagement and not by direct speech, Alona was direct. She always told it like it was. Lizzie and Babs liked that about Alona – in fact, they liked that very much. That made Alona almost one of them.
“Last week, I was cleaning house – I mean really cleaning house – you know, the grout, baseboards, windows, cobwebs, everything,” Alona said.Â
“It was about 90 degrees in the house because the AC was on the fritz, and I was in my old sweatsÂ – you know, really old sweats, the kind you’ve had for years – the kind that are stained and ripped but you keep them as wearable rags. I had just colored my hair; I had gloves on and black hair dye in my hair, gobs of moisturizer on my face and no makeup. Well, the doorbell rings. Oh my God, I thought. I ignored it because I didn’t want to answer the door, dressed like that. Can you imagine? What if it were one of you ladies at the door? But the doorbell kept ringing and ringing. Finally, I answered it. It was someone from the school board – someone I’ve never met, asking for me by name.“
Â “No hablo Ingles,Â no hablo Ingles, I’d said. He kept looking at me, quizzically, but finally, he left and gave me a pamphlet for the Lady of the House. I was so dirty I couldn’t face anybody. What else could I do?”
Alona’s little story had Babs and Lizzie in stitches from laughter, to actually hear someone admit they couldn’t face social expectations and to weave a small deception from good intentions, and so unlike most other deceptions in the neighborhood.
Copyright Â© 2007, 2008 Kathryn Esplin-Oleski
Previously in The Neighborhood:
First:Â Â The Neighborhood
Fourth: Â The PTA Moms Get Away Weekend