Premise: Every divorce is celebrated like a wedding.
PART 1 of 2
“A fox snuffles around a back alley lit by – you know, a mysterious blue light – and stops by the back of a string of shops. She knows which of the shops tend to throw food out (so wasteful) but this night she decides to rip some other bags – just for the hell of it. Tonight, diner can wait. So she pulls at a bag. It doesn’t give way at first so she has to shake her head vigorously side by side and all of a sudden out fall all these weird little strips with hairs attached to them. Imagine how difficult it is for her to comprehend – however cunning and fantastic she may be (‘cause Fantastic Mr. Fox ain’t the only fantastic fox) – yes, how hard it is to comprehend, that all the strips are actually women’s pubic hair. And there’s an entire bin bag full of it! How could the animal ever come to make sense this, that this is the result of some ‘voluntary’ – though effectively coercion-based – process that female human beings go in for? Imagine any animal subjecting themselves to that? You ever seen a dog walking around with a waxed vagina? Nah, it doesn’t happen!”
Tom looked back at Emma, he was tired and it had been a long day. The story didn’t seem familiar to him, it wasn’t one that mummy had read him. He suddenly felt strange and his lower lip started to curl.
“Hey little man, it’s ok. Not such a great story huh? No pictures. But to be honest honey you’d be crying your eyes out if I’d produced pictures to go with that one.”
Emma scooped Tom up in her arms. She usually didn’t mind babysitting too much, but to be doing it because Katie and Lauren’s vanity dictated that they both needed an evening appointment to get Brazilians was really pissing her off.
“It’s ok. It’s ok. I know mummy’s been in a weird mood recently, but she’ll calm down soon”, Emma paused and thought about a bunch of things before drifting back into her private critique of the absent women, “Yeah mummy will feel better with a bald nun because then she’ll feel like her entire body conforms to what is expected of her by, well you know, mindless possessive fuck wits. People think corsets were bad, but there surely has never been a more invasive time. Natural bodies have been outlawed, vilified. What, you dare have hair? What you dare have a ‘weird’ style? You dare smell from time to time? You dare wear comfortable clothes?
“I used to loath the word ‘slapper’ when I was at school. But now, you know, it’s ugliness has somehow become a prescient criticism. ‘Are you a slapper?’” Emma continued in her best ironic Steve Martin voice, “‘Yeah, you can slap out Paul Simon’s The Boy in the Bubble on my bits any time you like, it’s acoustically refined, none of that dampening thatch-work.’ Jesus!”
If the upcoming divorce really meant ‘freedom’ to Katie, Emma mused, other aspects of her life should be changing too. But they weren’t. Katie was continuing to invite a particular order of things and then being perplexed when a certain strain of ‘back luck’ mysteriously followed her. For Emma it didn’t seem surprising that things always slid in to the pits for someone as pretty, gullible and masochistic as Katie. She was prey.
There had always been things about Katie that annoyed Emma, like the way she knew the entire script of Friends and would shriek loudly when a celebrity made a surprise appearance, like Sean Penn, George Clooney or Bruce Willis. Tom Selleck not so much. Jennifer Saunders? Elliot Gould? Christine Pickles? Gary Oldman? Chrissie Fucking-Gorgeous Hynde? Katie was completely clueless. In fact, she generally used Elliot Gould’s scenes to fart if she needed to so she wouldn’t destroy any of the trite romantic happenings between the young and attractive, white, middle-class Americans.
Katie could also be really patronising sometimes. She considered herself so much more world wise than the single and, well let’s face it, much more dignified Emma. But despite all this Emma found a deep love for her friend (possibly out of pity which is not so good, Emma wondered turning her head on its side) but certainly she felt a need to be there for her.
Emma paced the floor with Tom who was still crying. One of the other many things Emma hated about representations of life in popular culture was the way that kids conveniently vanished or shut up whenever the parents were required to get on with their lives to take the story forward. She had spent enough time with Katie to know that as lovely as Tom may be, he sucked up mental space like a hoover, or more accurately, like really small, incontinent, screaming terrorist who would spill any drink lying within a 50 mile radius and with a knowledge of how to hurt themselves with items as innocuous seeming as a wooden spoon or potato crisp.
Emma tried singing, a change of nappy and some supper. This multi-pronged approach seemed to work for about three minutes and then Tom got upset again. Emma hadn’t even been talking about Brazilians or anything, it was just that like most two year olds he was just upset and not one fucking thing could be done about it.
Emma paced the floors until finally Katie arrived home. Ignoring Emma, Katie went straight to Tom.
“There, there little one, what’s nasty old Emma been saying to you?” Tom, bless him, keep sobbing as if the victim of some heinous crime.
“’Nasty old Emma’ has tried everything!” Emma said in one long outward sigh.
“Oh, sorry Emms. Thanks for sitting for me.”
“It’s fine. Do you feel, er, better?”
“Yeah, I feel a bit more organised now for the big day. Thanks.”
Emma bit her lip, but it wasn’t enough, “So your pussy is all in order then, for a shit night with one of Gary’s dumb mates?”
Katie wasn’t sure whether she was more offended by Emma using the ‘p’ word, which she knew Emma detested, or the fact her plan was so obvious that even Emma, who had maybe only had sex with two men, could see it so plainly.
“Oh don’t look surprised Katie, it’s been your game plan since before you even married Gary”, Emma said. She felt her wit was spent and had been replaced with an apparent callousness. She closed her eyes to try to let the bitterness pass.
“What happened to us Emma, you used to be so supportive of me? We used to be so close! Then you got all bloody feminist or something, you criticise everything I do. You don’t have to be here, you don’t have to come to the divorce if you don’t want to. In fact maybe it’s best you just, well, don’t.”
The two women had known each other long enough for this statement not to be as fatal to their relationship as it might sound to an outsider. Nevertheless, Emma sensed that they had crossed some kind of threshold, that maybe in some ways part of their friendship had run its course and she feared would now go into a silent decline.
“Your marriage to Gary has been a kind of saga for both of us,” Emma Began, “I think we should see it through together.”
It was true that Emma had been there throughout the wedding planning phase, watching her unfortunate friend try to pull together the perfect wedding. But Emma had always thought of Gary as being a mindless, childish, dumb prick and so she’d felt that with every bouquet, bow and twist of icing Katie was covering up the gapingly obvious problem with the wedding: she was marrying an absolute tool. Katie had seemed vulnerable before the marriage, she would do crazy things, but marrying Gary was the single and defining moment that convinced Emma she was doomed unless she found some way to respect herself much, much more.
Emma had been there in the days after the marriage when it seemed Gary no longer deemed it necessary to even acknowledge the presence of Katie’s friends. And he obviously held Emma in contempt. Emma had been there when Gary had started to stay out most weekends with his friends. She was there when he would come home some afternoons, drunk, and get physically aggressive with Katie and push her around. When the wedding was still fresh in Katie’s mind she’d laugh it off and – to Emma’s despair – even change the subject by talking about how great their sex life was. Emma wondered if Katie was acquiescent in the bedroom simply becoming an invisible object to Gary’s viscious anger. The path of least resistance.
Emma had been in the bar, unbeknownst to Gary, when she heard him talking to one of his friends about the number of times he’d cheated on Katie. Emma felt that if she had told Katie directly it would have resulted in her being abused even more. So, in a ballsy move, she had confronted Gary right then and there in front of his friends, explained in no uncertain terms how pathetic he was (and the friends for laughing along) and how unfortunate Katie had been to even meet him. Then, as this didn’t seem to get any reaction at all, Emma announced to the entire bar that she knew that one of the girls Gary had been with – Susie Robinson – had recently discovered that she had a sexually transmitted disease. It was obvious that Gary wanted to kill Emma, but he didn’t dare do anything in such a public place. Emma had invented the STI on the spur of the moment, just to have some kind of impact. What she hadn’t accounted for was that Susie Robinson being in the bar at the time of the abrupt announcement. So, when Susie rushed out, chaperoned by two tough looking girls and a young bloke who was built like Everest, Emma thought she was completely screwed. However, instead of getting punched to death she suddenly found that Gary – who had gone a lovely grey colour – was being accused of giving Susie the STI in the first place. Gary, who was at best scrawny, could do little else but stand respectfully and watch his horrible little sordid life fall apart under the eyes of the entire bar. This ‘secret’ was truly public and even Gary was able to see that he had no choice but to go and confess all to Katie, the passion and with it the misplaced anger simply dissolved. Since then he treated Emma not as a mortal enemy, but as a kind harbinger of fate, like death in The Seventh Seal, though Gary had never watched Bergman’s epic.
Back in the present moment, with less frequent sobs from Tom, Katie looked at Emma in a kind of disbelieving way. Partly it seemed to convey a sense of frustration, like Emma just made things more complex than they need be. Another part of the look however seemed to suggest a plea for help, ‘throw me a rope Emma, pull me out of myself’! Emma wasn’t sure how much of this was her interpretation but she pulled Katie close anyway and held her tight for a minute or two. She then moved to leave.
“It’ll be ok won’t it?” Katie laughed weakely. Emma nodded and walked out to her car. Katie closed the door behind her.
Once in the car Emma shuffled around looking for a CD but quickly realised she’d left most of her collection at home. Rooting under the seat she found an old The Raincoats mix CD. She’d not listened to it in ages, but she bet she could still remember the lyrics. In fact she distinctly remembered being in a repressive regime manifested through a prefabricated warehouse full of consumer goods, or TESCO, when a young and still vibrant Katie had given her a less equivocal ‘plea for help’ look. She liked a boy at school who seemed to like her and she didn’t know how to deal with it. Emma had reasoned that Katie didn’t have the emotional capacity to deal with it because she listened to Take That, and to the young punk Emma it then had seemed so profoundly apt to reel off lyrics from the first The Raincoats album; at that moment Emma felt her young life and ‘alternative education’ had finally paid off:
The roots of your thoughts
They’re essentially polaroidal
When you look at my picture
Don’t say it’s your mirror
Don’t say we’re both paranoid
Tear me – make me glad
Don’t ask me anything
I’m no secret agent
Got no colours to give to you
But don’t worry, honey don’t worry
This is just a fairytale
Happening in the supermarket
Emma basked in the glorious moment; Katie feigned a dry wretch.
As she listened to the basic beats Emma thought about the gristly cast of characters that in four days time would be gathering to celebrate Katie and Gary’s separation. In her mind she back tracked to the moment when the invitation card would have been opened, each character in their idiosyncratic space. Across the front of the card above a red ribbon, in a flowing script, the words “Katie and Gary”. Then inside in gold writing – and this made Emma laugh out loud – the very same words that had been used for the wedding invitation: “Please join us for food, laughter, drinks and crying (not necessarily in that order)”. Emma mused that surely someone had noted the fucking irony of it all? Her mum always joked, “The only reason your dad and I have stayed married so long is so we didn’t have to face a divorce partly.” Anyway, where was she? Oh yes, the motley crew… but where to begin?
Katie’s family couldn’t be more unusual. Her mum Joan was practically an alcoholic and slept around like there was no tomorrow, or at least no one to three weeks incubation period for Chlamydia. What was astounding however was that Joan slept around and Abe, Katie’s father-in-law, didn’t give a ‘flying fuck’. That was because he was still involved with his family in Nigeria with whom, in a bizarre arrangement Emma couldn’t figure, he spent about half of the year. But Joan’s crowning achievement, her zenith in complete self abandon, had to be sleeping with Trev. Who the fuck is Trev? Yes, Gary’s demented single father. Trev – although Emma felt a bit guilty about thinking this – had one of those skulls where you know that practically speaking some part of the brain has to be compromised. As Trev had some sense of spatial orientation, movement and spatial organisation, maybe his Parietal Lobe was mainly present. But reasoning, planning, parts of speech, movement, emotions, and problem solving? Nah, he must have shat out his frontal lobe at some point when he realised his head couldn’t deal with it. Speaking with Trev was like speaking to a kind of perverted, stubborn and unpleasant automaton. Shagging Trev must feel like being a really committed biologist wanting to know more about the experience of inter-species mating.
Emma suspected that Gary wasn’t quite as disadvantaged in the head department as Trev, but he’d obviously been brought up never to stand back and think about his actions. What extra intelligence he had been blessed with he seemed to feed in to his pathetic posturing and generally ignorant, sexist attitudes. As much as he might bask in his mental superiority over his dad, he still faced the endless conundrum of being slightly less intelligent than his own dick.
Then there was Owen, someone who despite being Gary’s friend was alright. Emma suspected that he was most likely to be the one that Katie was going to go for on the night of the divorce party, to piss Gary off. And also, Emma thought, because Owen was a lot of things Gary was not and in some ways Katie knew she would have had a better time of it being with Owen, who coincidentally had been the boy at school who had been on her mind in Tesco all those years ago. He was thoughtful and showed a sensitive side at times, so why he hung out with Gary Emma couldn’t figure.
So then on to Katie’s friends. There was Lauren of course, with her newly pruned minge. Emma smirked at the thought that Lauren was so middle class she’d probably also had her labia draped to give the impression she had a domestic staff who maintained them. It was with this thought in mind and with the sound of The Raincoats later song Don’t be Mean (which Emma recalled had a video that saw the band pose as women are expected to do by the patriarchy only to then rebel by eating flowers and strutting down the street grimacing at ‘decent folk’) that Emma failed to see the truck illegally reversing in to the road she was speeding down.
The next little while – Emma would later reflect – was like a really badly edited episode of Hollyoaks. After some pretty obvious shaky camera work and diming of lights, there was a drunken fight in A&E between a mother and three fully grown daughters, while Emma was whisked through on a stretcher. If for no other reason, the patronising nurse on duty, a couple of screaming children and some really bad salmon coloured walls made the entire thing an ordeal. But probably not as much of an ordeal as having to go to the divorce party with casts on both legs – meaning she would effectively be wheelchair bound for the one event of the entire millennium she wanted to be able to run away from.
And that was Tuesday!
By Friday, the day before the celebrations, Emma’s legs not only itched like a dirty arse, but had begun to look like the Bee gees – that is in hair terms – they didn’t grow teeth and adopt high pitched voices and they were – regrettably – not as tanned looking. Emma generally felt that shaving legs was basically ok and a different category to other things. By Saturday, having spent the three days indoors in pyjamas, Emma was ready to kill someone before she had even gotten out of bed. Luckily Lauren, as maid of honour, was the one selected to be with Katie for the morning’s preparations (Katie apparently deemed Emma too much of a liability). But even with the day being thus ‘in hand’ Emma was having some major issues of her own. Having always been something of a Tom boy she only had trousers to wear. Having always being something of a Tom boy and a punk, her only half-smart trousers were tight fit. Trying to get the trousers over the casts was like trying to push a football covered in textured plaster through a hose pipe, absolutely impossible but fucking unbelievable to watch. Despite her analytical prowess, so believed, Emma undertook a tortuous routine for nearly 2 hours trying to get trousers to fit. Time was ticking – as they say – relentlessly on and a horrific truth started to dawn on Emma. The only item of clothing she was going to be able to get in to was her black prom dress, not worn for 18 years. Oh, fuck.