“Please come to the show, darling! Cyn is taking Fee.”
Her mother’s voice pleaded. A noise that would clash with any other. The disappointment in her pale perfectly bred eyes. That vertical line of miscomprehension. Her father looking at her as if she were an alien. The look. One of those lightening quick looks between her parents, whenever they were all together. The Belrose triangle.
Sibella wondered again if she had been adopted. If only. Maybe swapped at birth as some kind of experiment. Less White Australia Policy more Cultural Australia Policy. Perhaps sixteen years ago Mummy had found the most delightful working class couple who couldn’t afford to give their child anything much, so good old Jocasta and Miles had taken the little scrap on. Changed its name from Kylie to Sibella and hey presto! You could almost smell the North Shore on her.
But the experiment had failed. The posh school, the pony club, music lessons and the ballet. No effect whatsoever and here she was in a box at the threatre, lightly snoring to the latest opera band. Every now and then she came round to hear her father tapping his feet and mother rattling her jewelry, just ever so slightly out of tune.
When she looked at Mummy and Daddy she saw strangers, people who couldn’t possibly be related to her. They saw in her a stubbornness, a refusal to see things their way; the right way. After all they had done for her. Not having more children and giving her a posh name.
Sibella wanted to be a nurse. She wanted to help people. She had done her first aid course at school and was hoping for good grades in the sciences.
“But it’s just so dull, darling.” Her mother’s bottom lip protruded in a pout. That looked cute, 30 years ago.
“Couldn’t you come up with something a little more glam? Oh, I know! What about one of those overseas aid thingies? You know, like the princes do. You never know you might meet one.” Jocasta’s smile, straight out of the glossies. As her voice trailed off, her head filled with scenes from a Royal Wedding and choosing an outfit to outshine Princess Michael of Kent.
Sibella slunk off to her room to lie on her bed which was covered in the latest print from Liberty’s. Her mother had the entire house re-interior designed every other year. Her new music system sat there, already neglected and gathering dust. Bought for her by her father, hoping for a child who played loud music and kicked against the system. It had been excruciating for Sibella when he’d gone through his old punk cd’s (updated from the original vinyl) and tried to show her how to pogo.
Both her parents seemed to be in armed combat against middle age. Neither of them wore nearly enough clothes. And tomorrow, oh God! They were holding a pool party. Which meant about 50 middle-aged people squeezing into the latest swim wear designed for persons a couple of decades younger, plus a whole array of boring teenagers trying to look cool and asking Sibella if she had any grass. Of course she had grass – well her parents did. Every weekend they tried to get her to share a joint with them. She usually used the slamming the bedroom door method of refusal and stayed there until breakfast. What was the matter with them? Parents weren’t supposed to supply illegal substances.
Sunday started with Sibella going in search of food only to find Jocasta in her yoga gear tying herself in knots.
“You should try this, darling. Shane has done marvels for my pelvic floor”
Her mother nodded her head in the direction of the television where a Californian yoga guru was putting his leg behind one ear. It didn’t look the same when Jocasta tried to do it. All those lumpy bits showing under canary yellow lycra. Sibella shuddered and made her way to their hi-tech kitchen where she collided with her father back from his jog, sweating profusely and wearing very small white shorts.
“Don’t forget the pool party, darling. Your mother and I have been working out so we don’t embarrass you.” Miles gave Sibella a not-so-gentle shove.
Now there’s a thought. Sibella couldn’t think of a time when they hadn’t embarrassed her but gave a weak smile in appreciation of their efforts and went to look for bacon.
“Sibella, darling. Don’t forget we’re having a vegetarian, low-fat, low-carb, no-dairy week. So no bacon sandwiches for you my little piglet. I’ll do you a wheatgrass juice if you fancy it.” Her mother’s smile was radiant despite her contorted body.
Sibella groaned and decided on a walk to the nearest bakery. She needed carbs if she was ever going to get through the day. She walked straight past the shiny metallic kitchen and headed for the back door and north towards the smell of freshly baked bread.
Sibella bought a bagel from the Sunshine Bakery which was painted bright yellow and faced the park. She recognised a boy from school behind the counter.
“Yo! It’s Sybil isn’t it?” Anwell smiled at her which made him look simple rather than charming as he had hoped.
“Sibella, but don’t worry about it.”
They both stood there, staring at each other. Sibella expectantly and Anwell completely forgetting what came next.
“My bagel?” Sibella prompted him.
“Oh, yeah. Hey, you don’t fancy hanging out after I get off? No, wait, I have this thing to go to with my folks. Not that I have to go – I could, like, shake them off.”
Anwell leaned casually on the side and jumped in pain as he was burned by the hot counter. He grinned at Sibella again. The more Anwell tried to be cool, the more of an idiot he looked.
“No drama. My parents are holding a party this arvo anyway. They’ll be furious if I’m not there.” Sibella wanted to make sure nothing got out of hand too. Jocasta and Miles couldn’t be relied upon not to get everyone skinny dipping. Sibella shivered.
“See ya, then.” Anwell reluctantly waved. Sibella would have smiled except for the bagel jammed between her lips. She held up a hand and headed for the park where she found an empty bench and sat to finish her bagel. She had a packet of Minty’s in her pocket saved for desert. However, she had barely finished her bagel when her mobile rang the theme to Star Wars.
“Sibella! I don’t know what to do! Help me! Why aren’t you here?”
“Mum? Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the matter?”
A woman sat down on the bench next to her. Sibella noticed that she was dressed entirely in pink. She refocused reluctantly on her mother’s high pitched wails of distress.
“Oh my God! It’s an absolute disaster! Your fathers locked himself in the bathroom as he always does at the first sign of trouble. And I’m left alone trying to…”
Her mother’s ranting turned to tears which Sibella sat out. There was nothing else to do when Jocasta got like this. It could be a real disaster like Grandma going into hospital or it could be a broken nail or a coffee stain on a favourite dress. You never knew. Her mother’s world was fraught with potential catastrophe. Sibella waited and her eyes met those of the pink woman.
“Is everything okay?” Pink woman’s voice was soft and calm, the polar opposite of her mother’s hysterical screams. Sibella nodded and smiled.
“Darling. I’m okay”. She could hear her mother panting, possibly while breathing into a brown paper bag. Jocasta was prone to panic attacks as other people were to sneezing.
“Can you talk now, Mum?”
“Yes. Darling. I think so. The Yummy Sushi Company has gone into liquidation.”
Jocasta paused for effect.
“Well, that’s okay isn’t it? You’ll just have to travel further for your uncooked fish.”
“No, you silly girl. They were supposed to be doing the catering for the pool party!”
“Is that all you can say? Our future depends on this – the Cartwright’s are very judgmental and don’t forgive cock-ups. I’ll be the laughing stock. Probably be kicked off the Women’s Tennis Guild. Could you see if David Jones cater?” Sibella could hear Jocasta’s manicured nails clicking worriedly on the receiver.
“They won’t at this short notice. DJ’s don’t have tonnes of raw fish just on the off-chance. Couldn’t you do the catering? I’m happy to pick up the shopping. Just tell me what you need.”
“Do my own catering? How twee.” Sibella heard her mother’s breath struggling down the airways.
“Leave it to me, Mum.” Sibella foolishly interjected in a bid to stop another outburst. Now why did she say that? She didn’t know any caterers. She clicked her mobile shut. sucked out of her.
“Can’t be that bad? Can it?” Pink woman again, looking concerned, her hand on Sibella’s arm.
“Yes, it can. Mum’s caterer has let her down for the party this afternoon. She’s having hysterics and I’ve volunteered to sort the food issue. As if I haven’t enough to face with actually having to attend the party. It’s a nightmare!” Sibella covered her face with her hands, the irony of sounding like her mother didn’t escape her.
“Maybe I can help?” The woman smiled kindly. Sibella wondered if she had a sushi trolley hidden behind her just in case of such emergences but decided she probably hadn’t.
“I don’t think so. Mum’s going to be unbearable. And with all those people coming.” It was hopeless. The thought of a socially expelled Jocasta was too much for her to bear. Weeks and weeks of panic attacks and crying fits.
“You see, my son runs a fish shop. I’m sure he could rustle up a fish and chip supper easily enough. And he could do with the business. Him and his wife have just had another baby. What do you think?” She was blonde with a heavily powdered face.
“What? About the baby?” Sibella repeated dumbly.
“No. A fish and chip supper. I know it’s not quite North Shore but there’s nothing worse than hungry posh people. Unless you pretend that the food has been donated to the Third World. My name is Caroline.” She held out her hand. Sibella shook it whilst thoughts ran like racing cars through her mind. Fish and chips. It was a risk. Jocasta would be furious, all those carbs not to mention the fat. She didn’t think the Third World idea would cut it but the bulimics wouldn’t have a problem with chips and fish in batter.
“Sounds like a great idea, Caroline. My name is Sibella.”
Caroline smiled. “Oh, course it is.” Her heavily rouged cheeks jostled for position as she smiled even broader.
Caroline called her son who ran his fish shop in a working class suburb Sibella had never heard of and it was all arranged. Sibella would go home and break the news to Jocasta while Caroline and her son, Reg Junior, would arrive at three with the fifty fish and chip suppers.
When Sibella arrived home her mother was a picture of charm and grace. Obviously those yoga sessions with Shane were paying off. She floated around putting out a few bowls of gluten-free nibbles on side tables, wearing a floaty sea-green kaftan over her swimsuit. Miles had come out from his hiding place and was proudly strutting around wearing Speedos and half a bottle of expensive aftershave.
“Well, have you managed to sort it out, clever girl?” Jocasta beamed at her only child.
“Er, yes. I have but it’s only…”
“Oh, good!” Jocasta looked at her watch. “Shouldn’t you be getting changed, darling?”
“Well, I though I’d wear this. I don’t really fancy a swim. The pool will be too crowded. Anyway, Mum, I wanted to talk to you about the…”
Her mother looked down at Sibella’s cut-off denims and grubby t-shirt. “Absolutely not, young lady. I’ve laid out a swim suit and kaftan on your bed. It matches mine. Mother and daughter combo’s are all the rage this season.”
There was no way that was going to happen and Sibella was saved by a buzz at the security gates, heralding the first guests. Jocasta disappeared immediately.
Sibella took in the aging lothario who was her father and marched off to hide in the kitchen. She would make the Pimm’s cocktail herself. Dad always added a bottle of vodka to the mixture and targeted a sad housewife for his affections. Honestly, he was out there dressed like an actor from a 70s porn film, all he was missing was the oversized moustache.
She managed to remain in the kitchen for another half an hour, chopping fruit and mixing jugs of Pimm’s.
“That’s a girl, pumpkin.” Her father appeared. “The white wine’s going down like the Titanic. This’ll do very nicely.” He took the tray from the breakfast bar. “Come on outside. The kids look pretty cool. You might snag yourself a snag.” Miles disappeared smirking at his own joke.
Reluctantly Sibella followed her near-naked father outside where the full colour spectrum of swim wear was being worn on faces that were slipping. Boob jobs abounded but the expense accounts didn’t seem to have been able to buy faces to match. At least they were leaving something for the next generation, all that silicone clogging up the landfill.
“So when’s the food arriving, darling? What have you arranged? Smoked salmon and caviar blinnis? Pigs in blankets, mung bean salad and scallops?” Her mother had dispensed with the kaftan but hadn’t noticed that Sibella was yet to change.
“Oh, that reminds me. I’d better give the caterers a call. Check they know their way here.” She slipped away from her mother’s anticipatory grin, rather like a friendly shark, and went to phone Caroline. Even the business card she had given Sibella was pink. Caroline Smith, Hairstylist. Discounts for oldies.
At that moment an overweight, ruddy faced looking man appeared, carrying umpteen parcels wrapped up in paper.
“Fifty fish and chip suppers at your disposal, Maam. The lady over there said this was your do.”
“I’m sorry? Who are you?” Jocasta’s face fell four feet and she turned to Sibella. “Darling? What is this? Surely you didn’t arrange this carb and fat-fest?”
“Mum, listen. There was no way I could arrange anything at short notice and I met a nice lady in the park who told me her son had a fish shop.”
Just then, from behind Reg Junior, appeared Caroline, resplendent in a pink swimsuit with matching kaftan, hands full with the remaining paper-wrapped parcels, her face still made up and beaming with pleasure.
“How nice to meet you, Mrs Barrymore. May I call you, Jocasta?”
Sibella’s mother looked in horror at this working class woman, holding what appeared to be the remainder of the fish and chip supper, and wearing an identical swimsuit/kaftan combo to herself in a hideous shade of pink.
“Oh, Jocasta! What a fabulous idea! A fish and chip supper. How retro! Retro is so this season!” Cynthia Cartwright put an arm tinkling with gold bracelets around Jocasta.
“And what a darling man you have there. Put them on the table.” She swept her other arm towards the outdoor setting, flashing her gold tooth at a startled Reg Junior.
“Oh, how brave! What a simple darling idea.”
“Just what we need after all that Pimm’s, eh?”
Caroline handed out the fish and chip parcels, whilst Reg Junior showed anyone who was interested photos of his new baby.
At the back of queue for fish, looking awkward and out of place, was Anwell. Sibella went over to him.
“Hi! So this was the thing you had to attend?”
“Yes. Hi, Sybil. Hey, you haven’t any grass have you?” Anwell whispered nervously.
“No. I hate it when people smoke grass. It makes them so boring.” Sibella was just about to turn on her heels when Anwell placed a hand on her arm.
“Oh, good. I only said that to appear cool but the truth is I’m allergic.” Sibella couldn’t help but laugh.
“Fancy a swim once you’re eaten?” Sibella wondered what the attraction was with Anwell Gupta. He was so gauche. But it was unlikely he would wear speedos or very small white shorts. And for now, that was enough.
“Please come to the show, darling! Cyn is taking Fee.”