The smell of lino and neglected gym kit propels Harriet nearly 20 years back in time. As soon as she opens the door of the hall, there’s a shriek: “Oh my God! You haven’t changed a bit.”
Harriet returns the compliment then heads towards the drinks, remembering to push out her chest. Amy aka the ‘Sweater Girl’ is bound to be here.
Harriet lives in the pages of my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. Today she’s escaped to attend a school reunion.
She scans the room for Matt. Back then everyone fancied him. Now he sounds like Mr Irresistible. She hasn’t read his book but, according to the reviews, it penetrates the very core of human condition. Matt has arrived.
Though not here. There’s Marcie who makes jewellery out of spoons, and an insurance woman who’s working the room. She asks Harriet “What are you doing these days?”
“I’m a journalist.” No need to tell her commissions are down to a trickle.
“Ooh, lovely! Who do you write for?”
“I’m freelance now. Much prefer it.” In truth she’s barely had 16 months on the staff since her degree. “I write for a lot of the glossies, or whoever’ll pay me.” She hopes the self-deprecating touch will make her sound witty.
“I’ll look out for you. What kind of thing do you write?”
Best not to mention her last feature entitled What your loo-roll says about you. “I’m doing a piece on breast cancer at the moment” she lies.
Tonight there’s a drinks table in the corner by the distressed piano, and by the drinks table there’s Amy cradling an orange juice.
“Oh my God, Amy, you look amazing” says Harriet. As usual Amy’s wearing a clingy sweater, but now there are milk stains on her shoulder and her boobs are somewhere by the floor. Oscar is just 17 months and Mia is 7 weeks. She needs little encouragement to display the entire contents of her iPhone.
Harriet offers Amy a glass of wine.
“Oh well, just a small one.”
“Anyone seen Matt?”
“Not for years” says Amy, readjusting her bra.
Harriet helps herself to more Château Tannin and talks to a guy she can’t quite place. He’s an architect now. “I designed the bus shelter in front of the Bagg building. Have you seen it?” But he isn’t expecting an answer. He’s looking over her shoulder to see if anyone more interesting is on the horizon.
There aren’t many men, apart from a tight cluster by the window, all necking Bud from bottles.
“They’re not having a great run. Arsenal, now…”
“The GTi probably.”
“Went belly-up, didn’t they?”
“Reckon Palace are for the drop.”
The smelly girl from the front of the class has changed. A lot. She doesn’t smell anymore and she’s morphed into an eye surgeon. “Spent last year in Mali operating on trachoma patients.”
Harriet doesn’t dare ask what trachoma is, so she says “Is Matt here?”
He isn’t. Harriet chats to someone called Caroline. They tell each other they look incredible and agree it’s been years, or ‘yonks’ as Caroline calls it. She’s started her own business, which Harriet can’t understand despite the long description. Her clothes are expensive but she still looks a frump. Apparently the scarf is Celine and the jacket was made to measure. Harriet makes a mental note to stick to Zara.
Back at the drinks table Amy has another glass of wine. She burps and clutches her stomach. “Sorry.”
“Are you OK?” asks Harriet.
Amy shuts her eyes and lets out a sigh. “I think I’m pregnant again.”
“But you’re a fantastic mum. You love children.”
There’s a pause before Amy says “Matt doesn’t.”