It was a terrible disappointment, after all my hard work. I had tried so hard to be accepted in this new town. I had spent hours listening to the “in” people to learn the local slang (not that they would ever demean themselves by calling it slang, it was just the way the insiders talked around here, and if you didn’t talk like that then you were not one of them). I had bought tickets to all the concerts and dressed in my best clothes, carefully observing what was the acceptable ‘look’ around here. Sure, I made a few minor blunders while I was learning the ropes, but I learned quickly. It’s one of the things I’m good at. I know how to spend my money to the best effect, not rubbing it in people’s faces with vulgar ostentation, but using it to position myself as one who has already ‘arrived’, not (may heaven defend me!) revealing myself as that most pitiful of creatures, a social climber. I knew how to talk wine and food, hinted at my “family property” way up north, and played my part sublimely well.
Apparently I didn’t do as well as I thought I had. The time came to throw my big Christmas party, an “intimate” dinner party for about 100 people. I consulted the best caterers money could buy, lined up a special chef to be flown in for the occasion, and sent out ‘save the date’ cards well in advance. Everyone knows how quickly the social calendar fills up at certain times of year! And the response seemed very positive. So I did it all (with a lot of paid help, of course – my social secretary has her finger on every detail) – the flowers, the table linens, even antique silverware was purchased through discreet channels so it would look like family heirlooms. And, knowing that chamber music was the fashion among these people (though, to be honest, I prefer something livelier myself), I even booked a string quartet from the Conservatorium of Music. I was rather impressed with myself, actually.
Well, I’ve heard it said that pride comes before a fall, and yes, I didn’t actually pull it off at all. When my secretary sent out the formal invitations just beforehand (that was the way they did things round here) the excuses started trickling back. One man had suddenly got married (for the fourth time, I believe) and they would be spending some ‘alone’ time; another had just bought a new property out of town and needed to go and check it out before the sale was finalised; another wanted to buy a racehorse (just before Christmas?) and so it went on, an absolute deluge of excuses.
I was devastated. What was I going to do? It was too late to cancel anything; all the machinery for a big event was in motion, a juggernaut which I didn’t know how to stop. It was then that I had my brilliant idea. There were people who would certainly accept an invitation, whose social calendars were so empty that they didn’t even exist, and I knew exactly where to find them: the homeless shelter, the women’s refuge, the orphanage, the old people’s home. My secretary rang around, and, to our mutual amazement, exactly 100 people were able to come!
So we went ahead. We put out the best china, the antique silver, and the exquisite linens and briefed the waiters on what we wanted. And then they arrived, not looking bored and blank like the ‘in’ people always do (at least when they look at me) but with faces shining with wonder, and more than a few tears. Their joy sang in the air, floating above the candles like a breath of the perfume of Paradise, and even the professionals I had hired forgot to be distant and formal and became real human beings with huge hearts and huge smiles.
It was the best party I have ever been to, and I wonder why I had ever bothered with the other kind.