anyway – we’re a little Beyond this bit (below) but wanted to share it with you and sort of it send-it-out-into-the-world.
With great reluctance, Kelly got into the cab too and scooted over to the middle of the back seat. Marion got in and told the driver to get going. She looked down at her beautifully cut Donna Karan pants and silk blouse and knew instinctively that she wasn’t dressed properly for a drag night in some bar. And then she looked over at Annabelle who was pulling her cashmere mix threadbare cardigan from Jigsaw around her shoulders over her summery dress. They were going to be quite a threesome down the Black Cap.
Simon could not believe what he was seeing. His wife had just got into a taxi with that American woman and the younger one with the leather trousers and driven off. “Oh, mother, now look what you’ve done!” he said, exasperated, storming back into his house. Charlotte pulled out her mobile phone and clicked a few buttons. She was tracking the cab.
“Get your jacket, Simon,” she said, “We’re going out.”
The line stretched around the block as the cab pulled up. Clearly Dorian had quite a following in Camden Town. Marion looked at the faces of the people waiting. They all looked so young and fresh – despite the general state of disorderly drunkenness most were in already. What must it have been like to grow up here?
Marion had grown up in Manhattan. It was all she’d ever known. It had been an orderly childhood, mostly spent at boarding schools in Vermont, shivering under not-warm-enough coats and playing sports to get rid of the rage. What would she have been like if she’d gone to school here? Would she be one of those hanging out in the line at the Black Cap on a school night, heavy with mascara and full of pints of beer, smoking a Camel cigarette?
She looked across at Annabelle who was staring at the crowd as if she had never seen anything like this. Maybe she hadn’t. It was becoming clearer and clearer that Annabelle had been so sheltered and overlooked, in her family (Marion had heard about Elyse, but not quite the details of how she died), at school (a prefect, but not anything important, barely scraping by and then working at the last minute to get decent A’ Levels and off to University) and now her marriage. Annabelle had never just been Annabelle – she had always been the support, eternally connected, with someone stronger with a larger personality.
Kelly jumped out of the taxi, expecting Marion to pay, which she did. She rushed to the head of the queue and talked to Danny on the door. He nodded and then raised an eyebrow when he saw the silk shirt and trousers from Manhattan and the threadbare cardigan from Hampstead over a cotton dress. Kelly just shrugged. She wanted them in the pub as soon as possible so she could find her mates and lose the lovebirds.
Unfortunately Danny had other ideas. He stopped Annabelle at the door and looked her up and down with a not-so-kind appraising glare.
“What on earth are you wearing, love?” he said.
Annabelle looked to Marion for help. Marion took the elastic band off Annabelle’s ponytail, grabbed her cardigan and tied it around her waist and slapped her on the ass. Danny was so taken aback (Annabelle swooned inside a mixture of fright and fascination at what-just-happened). Then Marion reached for her own silk shirt, undid the top two buttons, reached over to Danny and kissed him lightly on both cheeks, slipping him a twenty pound note without anyone noticing.
They were in.
A few moments later another taxi pulled up and Charlotte emerged, regal in her Dior, with Simon in a sad old leather jacket he had found in the back of the cupboard from his university days. Charlotte dispatched Danny at the door with a crisp fifty and they headed to the bar. Danny looked astonished at Charlotte and slowly but surely took in all the details. She was his new inspiration. Danny was the headliner at the Black Cap on a Wednesday night. He had a wicked idea for a new regal female persona.
Inside the pub, Annabelle stared up at the gorgeously camp chandeliers and the red-flocked wallpaper and mock leather padded seats. She perched awkwardly at the bar and sipped a white wine while Kelly did shots of tequila off a woman’s stomach on the tables at the back. Marion was in heaven. This was London, at last. A seething Bacchanalian mass of wildly dressed highly individual characters, singing along to all the words of Doris Day’s Que Sera Sera, with her Creative Director, Dorian, up there on the tiny stage, directing the crowd.
She heard that New York had parties like this but she was always working and there were no clients to be found at bars with drag acts, so she never went to one. In fact, towards the end, she just went to conferences and mixers and award shows and got take-out from the gluten-free Asian emporium in SoHo.
She had sat in there one time and had chicken soup with rice noodles but it was so depressing eating alone, and she was terrified someone would see her – and pity her – that she always got two days worth of take-out as if she was having people round. She wasn’t. Dinner parties were not a feature of her life downtown. She heard people did that on the Upper East Side or took over restaurant back rooms on the other side of the park, but downtown was different.
Downtown was away from the families and weekend celebrations and bar mitzvahs and engagement parties and the Looking for Mr. Goodbar single women perched prettily and desperately on barstools. Single straight women were not seen much downtown. Because there was not much point looking for a rich man downtown. If they were male, and rich, downtown, they were gay.
Talking of gay men, Marion smiled and looked around. This was a very mixed crowd, very young, no one apart from herself – and Annabelle – was over thirty.
Where was Annabelle?
And then Marion saw that Annabelle needed rescuing. Charlotte Jones had just sailed into the Black Cap, followed sheepishly by Simon, wearing a not-old-enough-to-be-retro leather jacket. Kelly was nowhere to be found. Marion guessed that the night was over. Or that she had found someone else to play with. Dorian’s act had finished and he/she stumbled off-stage, pulled off the white blonde wig and disappeared into the crowd.
“Can I buy you a drink, Charlotte?” said Marion.
Charlotte swirled around to see who had touched her arm, but not quickly enough to hide the device blinking red from Marion. So she was being tracked. How disappointing. But by Charlotte Jones – or, Deneueve – her codename – why?
Suddenly Marion was tired of the game. If in fact it had ever been a game. She knew the Agency had done a background check on her. Of course they heard about the other campaigns at the smaller places she had worked before. Of how they became a giant success overnight and how everyone said it was the “numbers” or the “strategy” but nobody really knew. They just knew that Marion knew.
She got Charlotte a Jack Daniels and handed it over with an approving nod; impressed that she was drinking Bourbon and not something sparkling. Of course she wouldn’t be drinking any cheap sparkling wine that much Marion knew, it would be some grand cuvee, no doubt. But even Charlotte Jones would be hard pressed to find a decent bubbly at a dive like the Black Cap.
Would she let Charlotte knew that she knew about her being Deneueve? Hell, no. Let them chase her for a while. She had great plans for the Harden brother’s car campaign. She wanted to have some fun. Especially if this was to be her last gig. Who knew that the last job would have been in England, though?
Oh to be in England, now that spring is here. Was that the line? She remembered reading it at grad school. But who was the poet? She turned to Charlotte and said the line out loud. Charlotte knocked back her Jack Daniels, put the glass on the bar and opened up her arms wide, declaiming:
Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
And then from nowhere Dorian was suddenly standing on stage with the microphone, beckoning at Charlotte to join him, which she did, and they finished the poem with a rousing finish, joined by a surprising number of the punters at the Black Cap.
And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops–at the bent spray’s edge–
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
–Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!
The last three lines were punctuated with excited shouts at the words “gay” and “gaudy”, being both particular favorites at the pub, especially with those who had a decent education before turning to drugs, drag and despair, like Dorian.
“We adore Robert Browning,” said Charlotte, quite out of breath, her arm interlinked with Dorian’s, as they approached the bar.
“Another glass of Jack for my friend,” said Marion, laughing, and whatever Dorian is drinking.” Dorian gave her daggers. He was still in a lemon yellow housecoat and court shoes with matching handbag. “Sorry,” nodded Marion to his outfit, “Whatever Doris is drinking tonight.”
“I’ll have a BabySham, Mike,” said Dorian, cocking his head to one side with a 1950s housewife benign smile.