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What should happen is, I should somehow catch my reflection in a mirror, or a shop window, fifty or so pages in, and describe myself to you that way. Seems a bit contrived to me, that method, besides which, if I catch my reflection in shop windows, I tend to scream with horror, rather than tip my head to one side and make measured, composed obser-vations. Also, I always want to know what people look like right at the start, don’t you? You’d feel pretty peeved if you discovered, much later on, that I was a psychopathic two- ton Tessie with flat feet and a moustache, orworsesome hateful, eating- disordery twig that wafts around in Prada smelling of sick.
So let’s get things straight. I don’t smell of sick. (That’s my friend Amber, whom you’ll meet later. Her hobbies are bu-limia and self-help books. My hobby is being compassionate.) And I don’t weigh two tons, although, as a ripe size 16, I’m hardly what you’d call frail and reedy either. What else? Five nine, dark hair, green eyesoh look, I’m sounding all sexy, which isn’t quite right. Let’s see. If you asked Kate, my mother, she would shake her head very sadly, as if I were an especially precious kitten that had died in tragic circumstances, and tell you I’ve ‘let myself go disgustingly’. And I suppose she would be right. I mean, I’ve got the man, the house, the children: why not celebrate by tucking into a doughnut or two of a morning? Or an apricot Danish, or indeed a whole tube of Pringles . . . As a consequence, I favour elasticated waists and loose tops, although I have a sneaky liking for vulgar shoes and organza (which I try to curb, as nobody wants to look like White Trash Slut Mum at the PTA meetings). The best way I can think of describing my-self is: we’re not talking control pants yet, but we’re not go-ing to pretend that they haven’t struck us as being a pretty damned handy kind of a garment either.
My name is Clara, which is quite pretty, and my surname is Hutt, which isn’t, although it enables me to think of myself as Jabba the Hutt in my more self-loathing moments. This is useful. I have two children, Charlie, who is six, and Jack, who is three. I have a husband, Robert, who is a mystery (does anybody actually know what goes on in their husband’s head, or is it just me?) but quite attractive. I have a part-time job as a magazine writer, a big house and nice clothes, and friends that don’t smell of sick as well as some that do. I am thirty-three. And some days I wake up with the sneaky feeling that my life isn’t all it should be.
In the current climate, you probably want to know how I Got My Man. I do feel quite pleased with myself, sometimes, actually. I look at my friend Tamsin, thirty-four, single and desperate, and feel a warm glow of intense smuggery. Sometimes, though, I am so overwhelmed with jealousyI can’t remember the last time I was out all night, drinking martinis and flirting with strangersthat I feel compelled to initiate lectures, masquerading as conversations, about all the things that might go wrong if one wereperfectly hypothetically, of coursetrying to have a child past the age of thirty-five. This is because, despite external appearances, I am a) on the childish side and b) not very nice.
Getting my man: why, the trick is to be young and attractive. No, not really. The trick is not to look. Robert and I were twenty-five when we got married, which is comparatively young these days, and I weighed three stone less and was a bit of a minx, which helped. I can say it, now that I am an Old Married Lady, with my minxdom very much behind merather like my cellulite. I don’t know quite what happened. We met, we fell in love, we got married. It helps not to be desperate, as I’m so fond of telling Tamsin in my meaner moments.
Anyway, eight years! Isn’t that amazing? And I haven’t strayed. Well, I haven’t got naked. I kissed someone I used to go out with, at a party, two years ago, but I don’t think that counts. Does it? It was only a peck, though it was pecking with intent. I try not to think about it too often. Married women pecking exes with intent is like opening a tiny win-dow and letting in a shaft of light. People in my position really oughtn’t to do it. Or think about why they might have wanted to.
My mother is on the phone. It’s Robert’s birthday next week and, she says, we ‘need’ to make a plan. What I would like to do is have dinner, in a restaurant, alone with my husband. Life is, sadly, not quite that simple. Mine is the kind of family that likes to involve itself intimately in all aspects of each other’s lives. So on Robert’s birthday we’ll all be having din-ner together: me, Robert, my mother,, Kate, my half-sisters, Evie and Flo, their boyfriends and my stepbrother, Tom. We don’t actually get on with each other terribly wellmy sistersssss exceptedbut, coming from the kind of family we do‘fragmented’ is an adjective that springs to mind, as does ‘dysfunctional’we like the idea of these get-togethers, in theory if not in practice, and no one more so than my mother, the über-matriarch. The dinners often end in screaming rows, and someone always weeps. One of the things I like about Robert is his composure in these situations, which he seems to find amusing rather than exhausting.
Anyway, heeeeeeere’s Mummy: ‘Clara?’ ‘Yes, Kate.’ ‘Don’t sound so resigned, Clara. I am your mother.’ ‘I know, Kate. You are. Isn’t it bliss?’ I can’t help myself with my mother. I just can’t help it.
‘It’s bloody discourteous to put on that bored voice and be sarcastic.’ Kate is getting agitated now. Kate is revving up.
‘I’m not putting on any voice, Kate. Anyway, you are bliss.’ And it’s true. She is, sometimes. But not today.
‘Christ, Clara. You’re so sly and rude. Just like That Bloody Man. Your genes are coming out.’ This is a reference to my father. Kate and he were married for six months. He was followed by two more husbands, and we’re bracing ourselves for number four, who’s bound to occur sometime soon. My genes are always coming out, apparently. Peepo!
‘Kate. Robert’s birthday. Dinner. Where shall we go? Have you spoken to Evie? Flo?’ There is a pause, during which Kate splutters.
‘Do you think I have nothing better to do with my time than chase all of you all over London? Do you think? I have a very busy life. Very busy. The busiest, Clara. I can’t be expected to be your social secretary.’ ‘I know, Kate. I am busy toothe boys. . .’ ‘The boys! Those poor children. Don’t drag them into it.’ My children are always ‘poor’ when Kate mentions them, presumably because they have me as a mother and not Kate. Many men Kate knows are ‘poor’ also, because they have the misfortune not to be married to her.
‘Kate, it was your idea, the dinner. But fine. I’ll round everyone up. Since you are so very busy, and since my life is one enormous vacuum.’ ‘Hola!’ Kate suddenly shouts in my ear. ‘Hola! Up here! In the drawing room! Did you bring the Chanel pale pink? El pinky? Para los fingers? Clara, darling, Conchita’s here for my manicure. Which reminds me. Your fingernails are a disgrace. I shudder to think of them. I practically retch. Call me later.’ And she hangs up.
Copyright © 2000 by India Knight. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.