I step out of the limousine and into the sodium-yellow of the city lights. Dressed to the nines: sequins and lace and sheer silks. Shoes that cost hundreds, with a heel that I can barely walk in (let alone dance in) but without which the look would be incomplete. Because the point is not function. The point is the form and fit.
It's like a hundred other events. Premieres, thousand-a-plate political dinners, grand-re-openings of whatever building has been newly renovated this year. It's like them all, and I'm not even sure what this one is celebrating, only that I have to attend, have to look good on his arm, because that's what my job is.
So I'm smiling, taking the hand of that acquaintance, telling him how long it's been, cocking my eyebrow in the way that implies I find him attractive, that I could have been his, if he'd only been as great as my husband is. It's reflexive, born of four years' practice. And it's tedious. But I do it again to the next guy, too. And the next. Because part of the alpha-male dominance game is letting them know what they're missing, and I know what's expected of me.
Beatrice Shellesworth, matronly and insipid, takes my hand and marvels at how good I look, and how much she missed me at the charity gala last month. I respond with the appropriate noises, the brimming-over enthusiasm which is supposed to tell her how much I regretted having to make the trip to London for the business conference instead. She is not fooled; she knows the game, too, and was playing it long before I entered the scene. Bitch.
I hate them all. Myself not least.
Then there's the entrance, with its doormen and luxurious red carpeting, and the elegant table with the gilt-lettered parchment, Mr. and Mrs. Joshua Plantagenet. I'm just Mrs. Him.
The wine is typical-- the best doesn't get any better if you've had it seven times in the last year-- and the conversation doubly so. This is all building to a fever pitch for me, and with a fixed smile I excuse myself to powder my nose ... and head instead for the exit. My head is ringing, and my ears are buzzing and for some reason tonight, my God, tonight I just can't fucking take this at all for one minute longer and I need to escape.
The limo driver looks confused; he's not even pulled away from the line of cars at the curb, yet, and already I'm leaping into the back seat. My face is in my hands, and I'm trying to breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Keep it together.
"Mrs. Plantagenet, are you okay?"
"Mm-hmm," I reply, barely audible.
"Uh, I'm getting to the front of the line, soon. Did you ... did you want me to take you someplace, or just park across the street?"
"No! Get me away from--" I stop myself. I don't need this guy to know how upset I am. I need to regain control. "No, I'm just feeling a bit ill right now. Can you drive around a bit? A long trip would not be bad. With the windows open, for some air?"
He nods, looking at me sympathetically. I'm not sure he buys my sickness line, but regardless, he does what I request.
The city is a cacophony of colored sparkles against a background of concrete gray, and it soothes me in ways that the thrum of the limo engine only touch on. I've always loved the glory of urbanity: the buildings, the way the sound of car horns never abates, even the smell of grease from the local grill, mixed with the barest tang of gasoline fumes. I've heard the complaints, and I can't deny them, but they are outweighed, for me, by the vibrance and the sheer immensity of man's creation, and I love them all the more. It's why I came here.
Came so long ago that the city is in my bones, now, but every now and then there is the recollection of that plague of a place where I was born. Of those people who wanted nothing more for me than pregnancy and housekeeping, and who scoffed at and even openly scorned my desires to improve myself and be a part of a larger world. "Stay here and you'll have the love of your family to guide you, the love of good, clean land, and God," that creature who named himself my father had said to me as I packed my bags that last night. "You go to the city and you'll be nothing but a rich man's whore."
I damn him for being a sodomizing, incestual sonofabitch. I damn him for the ignorance-loving, self-righteous bumpkin he was. Most of all, though, late at night as I wash Joshua's filth from my soul, I damn him for being right.
I'd come to the city, worked my way into the money needed to go to college, and there in some godforsaken class on English composition I'd met my destiny. He'd been quite charming, and willing to spend money to make me happy and keep me happy, and had opened doors to a piece of the city I'd only seen in films and glamour magazines. The shimmer had entranced me even as it had blinded me to the trap I'd walked into, and it wasn't until five years in that I realized when I became his I'd lost all the things that were delightful and unique about myself. And what was more, I knew I'd never have the will to leave.
My nausea passes slowly, but the inner demons still haunt me, and it is a while before I see the streets as anything corporeal. When I realize that we have passed the fourth bar denoting "Old Style On Tap", I know we are far from the place I call home and that I will get out here. Somewhere here. Soon. I see a line of people entering the door of a grubby building with no sign and order the driver to stop the car. Here.
"Mrs. Plantagenet?" he inquires.
"I want to get out here."
"Mrs. Plantagenet, I don't think that would be a good idea."
"Neither do I." I pop open the door before he can say more and the clicking of my heels gives a response to anything he might still have left unsaid. I cross the street and walk to the front of the line, where a burly man with an untrimmed beard checks identification. I have no handbag or wallet, but either he can read my age on my face or he has looked me up and down and decided I am more of an asset to the establishment than a liability. He gestures for me to enter.