Authors: Lindsey Kelk
I fought my way through the cosmetics counters, trying to strike a balance between peeping at the magical make-up on the counters without attracting the attention of the vulture-like assistants. Dashing past the Bliss counter, I bounded onto the escalator, sailing up and away to credit card safety. For the moment at least. The bags were helpfully right where I stumbled off the escalator, but the number of bags crammed into this small space was completely overwhelming. Stalking around the counters and shelves, I evaded the gaze of the assistants for as long as I could before I braved a young brunette with approximately three hairs out of place. A relative slattern by Soho standards.
‘Hi, can I help you find something?’ she asked.
‘I’m looking for a bag,’ I nodded, trying not to sound like someone who really didn’t do this often, but at the same time not wanting to get fleeced out of my of entire wedding savings for a handbag. ‘Something I can use for everyday really, for carrying my laptop, my wallet, phone, stuff like that.’
‘OK.’ She began rocketing around the department, pulling out various bags of various sizes, all extraordinarily expensive, I was sure. ‘You’ll probably want leather if it’s for everyday. It’s the most durable material and it wears well. And you want room for your laptop …’ she paused, biting her full bottom lip and glancing around the shelves before pulling some more bags out from hidden drawers behind her counter. ‘Any favourite designers?’
‘Marc Jacobs?’ I offered, thinking back to yesterday’s induction into the fashion floor. It seemed to be the right answer because she smiled and finished off the collection of luxury leather in front of her with the most beautiful, beautiful bag I had ever laid eyes on. I reached out to stroke its buttery softness, the dark brown of the leather looked like milk chocolate and the subtle gold detailing winked at me.
‘Buy me,’ it whispered tantalizingly. ‘I complete you.’
The sales girl was making noises about updated classic satchel design, Italian leather and brass fixings but I was already working out how much I could ram in there and still wedge my arm through the strap.
‘How much?’ I asked, picking it up delicately. It was heart-stoppingly beautiful. Was it wrong that I felt more passion for this bag than I had felt in my and Mark’s bedroom for the last three years?
‘It’s $895.00,’ she said, sensing the commission. I figured she could smell a sale like a horse smells fear. ‘Plus tax.’
My shoddy internal exchange rate brought that out at more or less £500. I’d never ever spent more than thirty quid on a bag. But I needed it. I thought back to when Louisa and I went shopping for bridesmaid shoes in Harvey Nicks and reasoned with myself. If she could spend £400 on my shoes for one day (albeit guilt shoes, I realized now) I could invest £500 in a bag I would use for the rest of my life. I’d just use it all the time. For every occasion. Every single day.
‘Anything else?’ the girl piped up.
I smiled feverishly back at her. ‘I need a clutch.’
A thousand dollars down and two amazing handbags up, I sloped down Bloomingdale’s steps into the searing summer heat. I figured at £500 I had to get my money out of this bad boy by using it absolutely immediately, rolling my Next pleather wonder into as small a scrunchy ball and dropping it into my Big Brown Bag. Compared to midtown yesterday, Broadway was relatively quiet. A few tourists wandered around in combat shorts and red shoulders with digital cameras constantly clicking, while the beautiful and hip with no perceivable employment, swanned in and out of the shops, weaving around Mercer, Spring and Prince Streets, weighing down their skinny forearms with massive stiff paper bags. It took staring at these girls for less than a minute before I realized how starving I was. Luckily, this was New York City and Starbucks was never more than two minutes away. One quick muffin, I promised myself as I stumbled gratefully back into multinational air-conditioning, and then I’ll head back to the hotel.
My promises were short-lived. If the people watching outside Bloomingdale’s had been good, standing in the ten minute queue at Starbucks was like watching a David Attenborough documentary. I’d never seen such a mix of people. More skinny women ordering non-fat caffeine shots, businessmen holding meetings over blueberry scones, cute muso types intensely discussing the newest guitar band (and not even ordering coffee – rebels.) But the most popular customers were the men and women studiously ignoring the rest of the patrons and desperately tapping away on laptops, intermittently stopping to check their WiFi connections, sigh loudly and sip their huge drinks.
‘You can never get a fuckin’ seat in this fuckin’ place,’ breathed the man behind me. ‘Fuckin’ bloggers.’
I turned and smiled politely even though I didn’t know what he was talking about, assuming he was addressing me. He stared back at me as if I were mentally ill.
‘Bloggers?’ I enquired, suddenly feeling very English as he stared me down.
‘What?’ he snapped. Apparently, he was not talking to me.
‘Sorry,’ I mumbled, turning away, looking for a rock to crawl under.
‘You said something about bloggers, I thought you meant …’ and I let myself trail off with an intense stare into the pastry cabinet.
‘Oh,’ he said, still not exactly what you’d call friendly. ‘Just thinking out loud. You can never sit down in a Starbucks for all these cocksucking bloggers posting their whiny diatribes about how shitty their lives are. No one cares, people! Go find some real friends to talk to!’
At this point he was really shouting at the laptop brigade and I was really, really wishing I hadn’t encouraged the conversation.
Saved by the coffee order.
I ordered my muffin and Americano to go and immediately hailed a cab. I’d taken the subway once today and my Marc Jacobs satchel really didn’t feel like slumming it.
‘The Union hotel, on Union Square,’ I said, settling back as we turned off Broadway. I watched carefully for street signs, trying to ignore further credit card destroying shopping opportunities. Down East Houston and then up the Bowery, or was it Fourth Avenue? I was confused but happy confused.
‘You on vacation?’ the cabbie yelled through the grid.
‘Yes,’ I called back, happily taking in the sights. ‘I am on vacation.’
‘Girl like you on your own?’ he asked. ‘Don’t get many girls on their own. Mainly get the packs of three or four doing the Sex and the City thing. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve been down to Magnolia Bakery.’
Oh. Cupcakes! ‘I haven’t been there yet.’
‘Yeah, I don’t get it,’ he laughed. ‘They sit in the back of the cab complaining about not being able to get into some dumb dress they can’t afford and then they go eat cupcakes. I just don’t get it.’
The cab ride was so short, I hardly had time to find my wallet inside my beautiful new bag when we pulled up outside the hotel. And it was only six dollars! This was the best city and clearly, clearly offset the insanity of my purchases.
The thing I loved best about my hotel room was that no matter how messy I left it, how many towels I’d used and how many of the mini Rapture toiletries I’d used up in the shower, it was always blissfully restored to pristine condition when I returned. I gently placed my Marc Jacobs bag on the side table and pulled my laptop out of the desk. Setting up a selection of soft drinks and snacks on the tiny table I’d dragged across the room, I grabbed a pillow from the bed and perched the computer onto my knee. The hotel had supplied me with a UK power adaptor without me even asking. Wow. I couldn’t remember the last time Mark had so much as intuitively supplied me with a cup of tea. I also spotted a note from Jenny, reminding me tonight was Gina’s leaving party and that I was to meet her in reception at nine.
Within fifteen minutes of settling into my chair and not typing a single word, my laptop had gone to sleep and so had I. I was back to dreaming my New York life, instead of living my New York dream. For the last six months or so, while Mark had been putting in extra hours at the office and at the tennis club (and in Katie as it turned out) I’d thought about joining gyms, taking yoga classes, even teaching creative writing classes, but I hadn’t actually acted on any of them. Maybe, if I tried, I could genuinely see the positives in what had happened. I had already made a friend in Jenny, even if I didn’t really know her that well. I’d got a new do, a new wardrobe and I was now in possession of the most beautiful handbag I’d ever seen in almost twenty-seven years of life. Who needed what I’d left behind?
While all these thoughts ran through my head, I started typing. For the want of a plot or a storyline, I started writing every single thing that had happened to me in the last week. It seemed like a good place to start, documenting everything for fear of a single second of it escaping. It all came out, the wedding ceremony, the dinner, the toasts, finding Mark in the car with his pants down, bashing Tim’s hand, and my bolt to New York. Before I knew what had happened, it was almost eight, I’d been typing for more than three hours and in just over one, I had to meet Jenny, Gina and Vanessa.
Dead on the dot of nine, fuelled by a hastily necked vodka from the mini bar, I stepped out of the lift and into the lobby.
‘Jesus, Angela Clark,’ Jenny said as I skulked into the bar. I’d never in my life been one of those girls who can look in a mirror and think, yeah, I look good. Even at Louisa’s wedding, after an hour and a half at the mercy of a hairdresser and make-up artist, I hadn’t looked good – I’d looked like a bridesmaid, but things were changing. If I didn’t look at least OK tonight, I knew I never would. It had taken me twenty minutes and three attempts at Razor’s smoky eye make-up tips, but I was more or less there (and he’d promised it would only look better the more smudged it got). My hair was elegantly messy and I’d gone for a simple black v-neck dress I’d bought that afternoon, with my Louboutins, new clutch and bare legs. I’d never felt so great but so nervous in all my life.
‘Hey,’ I held my hand out in a small wave.
‘Remind me again why I’m giving you shopping advice?’ Jenny kissed me on both cheeks and presented me to the girls. ‘Gina and Vanessa, you know, this is Erin.’ They all raised a hand and I ordered a vodka and cranberry hoping it would come soon. ‘I’ve told the girls all about you but I didn’t tell them you were a complete glamazon,’ Jenny said, checking me out from every angle. ‘You did me proud, doll!’
‘I didn’t really know what I should wear so I just went for black. And I didn’t have to make too many choices about going out shoes,’ I held out a foot for inspection to approving hums and nods.
‘Well, you did good, honey,’ Gina said, sipping her cocktail. ‘You’ll be just fine.’
At least I’d got the level of dressing up right. Gina looked ridiculously sexy in high, high heels and a knee-length, skintight silk dress in a rich purple. Jenny was putting her namesake to shame in a plunging cream dress that cut way past her cleavage and the other two girls had really taken the ‘short is the new black’ mantra I’d seen in fashion magazines to heart. Individually they looked super sexy but as a pack, they looked unreal. If I were a man, I’d have been terrified.
Not at all strangely, for five scantily-clad women, we found cabs right away and were climbing out at the Soho Grand in minutes. From the outside, nothing really looked that grand but the ordinary façade belied an amazing interior. Like The Union, it was dimly lit but decked out with chandeliers and amazing wrought ironwork. The Grand Bar was lined with chrome stools that were occupied by equally beautiful people befitting the decor. Jenny had reserved a section of the lounge, which was already spilling over with people I recognized from the hotel and people I didn’t. Everyone was all about the hugs, kisses and ‘you rock’ affirmations, but I wasn’t drunk enough not to feel self-conscious.
‘Hey, you really do look great,’ Jenny whispered in my ear as we were ushered through into our own private slice of opulence. ‘And you’ll be just fine. Just talk to people, you’re practically a local celebrity and shit, you look so hot!’ A reassuring squeeze on the shoulder and she was gone.
No matter how great I was told I looked and how fabulous my surroundings, I still felt like a fish out of water. The first two drinks were wearing off and all of a sudden, I was just Angela Clark in a room full of strangers wearing a really short dress. For the want of something to do, I went to the bar. If I was holding a drink, at least I’d have something to do with my hands. Even though it wasn’t even ten, the bar was busy with hotel guests and after-work drinkers but I managed to slip onto a stool as a sweaty man in a suit vacated, and checked out the cocktail menu. From here, Gina’s group looked as if it could be any Alister’s after party. I didn’t think anyone at home would believe me if I told them that the gorgeous, groomed minxes in the VIP area were hotel workers and hairdressers. They looked like movie stars to me and no matter how many makeovers I had, it had still only been three days since I was just Angela Clark, nobody. Maybe I wasn’t ready to become Angela Clark, somebody, just yet.
‘Waiting for someone?’ asked a voice at my side.
If this man was going to offer me money for sex, I would have had to consider it. Please ask me how much for a blow job, I prayed. He was tall, broad shouldered and very handsome. I instantly imagined him to be called Chip or Brad and to ride very fast, manly motorcycles on the weekends.
‘I’m actually with some friends,’ I said, pointing over at the group who were getting louder by the second. ‘I was just taking a break. Getting a drink.’
‘Me too,’ he said smoothly. His eyes were a light blue and even in the dim, sultry lighting, I could see them twinkling as he nodded towards a group of guys sitting around one of the low coffee tables opposite the bar. ‘I needed two minutes out of the zoo. Don’t you hate it when you go for a drink after work and then just talk about work?’
I laughed, not really sure why. It wasn’t even vaguely funny. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever had after work drinks,’ I said, thanking every god I could think of as the stool next to me freed up and he sat down. ‘I’m a freelancer so I work from home most of the time.’