I'm never leaving my bed again.
Everything hurts. I can't remember a single thing from yesterday's party at Gwen's and I suspect I got food poisoning because my stomach is churning unpleasantly. And there's this tingling sensation...like something licking at my toes and-
THERE'S A KITTEN IN MY BED.
No need to panic. It's not at all weird to wake up one morning with a cat in your bed.
I gave it some milk and what remained of a not-too-stale bagel (I needed to feed myself as well, to overcome the shock. I'm sure the cat understands.)
There must be a logical explanation. I need to find my phone.
A text from Mary.
What got into you? Gwen can't find her kitten and I know it was you. Who the hell leaves a party with a cat?
I called Sybil in a frenzy - somehow, I knew this was all her fault, really. I didn't even want to go. And then Tom told me to loosen up, have fun, here drink this "juice" - only obviously the air-quotes were not specified and HOW WAS I EVEN SUPPOSED TO KNOW that there was alcohol in it?
Anyway, I dialed her number as if my life depended on it - which it sort of did.
"Oh honey, you're up already? Tom and I thought you'd be out of it for at least a day."
I still couldn't manage a verbal reply, so I just grunted and hid my head under a pillow. "Do you even remember anything from last night?"
She was not being helpful. I groaned into the phone like a strangled cat - probably not the best metaphor, given the present circumstances. "I've never seen you so wild, dear. It was such fun!"
Finally I found the strength to put an end to the train wreck that was Sybil's monologue about my own debauchery.
"Don't tell mom." I paused. The major embarrassment was mining my oral faculties, "God, don't even tell me."
I sat on the bed and bumped my forehead on my knees, waiting for the inevitable recounting of my Night of Shame. Instead, there was silence on the other line, and panic attacked me. It was that bad. "It's a figure of speech. Please do tell me."
"It was nothing, really. You were just a little tipsy, that's all. At some point you declared you were bored and wished there'd be a sudden outburst of Spanish Flu to spice things up. Then you threw up on the stereo and left. With much dignity, I might add. It was probably your best exit yet."
"Ugh, you're not helping. And I only drank juice!". I feel emotionally roofied right now.
"Juice? Edith…I mean, comes to think about it, it's your own fault. How could you not taste the vodka in it?" if she's supposed to be the nice one in the family, she's doing a crappy job at it.
"This is the last time I trust you or that sneaky leprechaun husband of yours."
"Oh, you've had fun. Admit it."
"Sybil. There's a cat in my bed."
"A cat I stole. In my bag. And then spent the night taking pictures of, pretending the kitty was my moustache. I have fur-balls in my mouth."
"You weren't too bad at the party, truly."
And this is why I should never leave my apartment. But Sybil was very sympathetic. Apparently nobody saw me steal the cat. I'm scared of my dark side. I blame Thomas: the pet-abducting compulsion must've rubbed off on me. Oh, another text from Mary.
You're a disgrace.
Thank God I have a pet, now. Family is not being supporting at all.
The cat just barfed on my shirt.
Some people are downright rude.
Just as I was marveling at the colour of cat's vomit on my clothes, I heard someone knocking at the door. For one glorious moment, I imagined that the new tenant had come to call on me, offering pie and an invitation to borrow his sugar whenever I needed it. Instead, I got that.
The first thing I noticed upon opening the door was the lack of pie. The second thing I noticed was that the new neighbor didn't seem welcoming at all. I crossed my arms over the cat's vomit on my shirt with as much dignity as I could muster, and asked him, in a way that would've made my mother proud (if it weren't for the fact that I was was still somewhat slurring from the massive hangover) "What can I do to help you?".
In hindsight, I did sound more like a flight assistant than a poised, polite neighbor. Never mind. It would've been wasted on him anyway.
"You could avoid flushing mould down your toilet, to begin with." He grunted. Hmph.
"…I beg your pardon?"
"The water from my sink was positively muddy this morning. The landlady tells me our plumbing plants are connected, and I'd appreciate it if you avoided soiling it. I don't care what you do in your spare time…" he looked pointedly at the vomit I failed to conceal, "…but please do not meddle with my pipes."
"I'd never dream to."
For a moment he seemed stunned, but then his eyes were drawn to my feet – where the cat had just pooped something green. Something that could never have been produced by an ordinary, non-alien cat.
"Have you been feeding it milk?"
I sniffed, defensive. "Kittens love milk, in case you didn't know."
"Kittens," he said, in that haughty tone of his, "are lactose intolerant. They can't digest milk, it gives them an upset stomach. I assumed someone who owned a cat would at least research some facts."
Damn. "I've just acquired it…unorthodoxly."
One of his eyebrows was raised ominously. "Haven't you considered lying about that?"
"I've just met you, and you accused me of throwing huge amounts of brown material down my drains."
"Just make sure it won't happen again."
"Because it didn't. But good luck with your muddy water."
"Good luck with your stolen cat."
And with that, he was gone. In a huff.
What an hideous man.
He looked familiar, though.
I CAN'T BELIEVE HE DIDN'T REMEMBER ME.
It was Mama's Rude Colin, from her failed matchmaking attempt. And he didn't even have the decency to remember I was the woman whose property he had trespassed on what should've been a perfectly quiet night of North and South marathon, but he did remember that there was an empty flat to be rented downstairs?
It's humiliating to know that a building has more allure than you do. Tsk, Colin. Rude in word and deed.
Funny thing. Now that I have my own stolen pet, I can't seem to find my pet-plant.
It can't have vanished. Although, if Pinocchio taught us anything is that when you finally have the real deal, the putative pet is bound to be swallowed by a whale.
Seriously, where is it? If Sarah finds out I've lost a plant I'll never hear the end of it.
Shoot me. The plant is dead. There's evidence scattered around the sink.
It all came back in that sort of horrific shame-induced flashback you usually experience after a drunk one night stand.
Apparently yesterday night, as I ran after the cat to take pictures of it, I stumbled upon the plant. And because I'm brilliant, I decided to cover the vegetation murder (lest I wanted to confess to Sarah that the plant hadn't survived a week with me) by hiding the poor thing in the cabinet under the bathroom sink and flushing the potting compost down the toilet.
Rude Colin can never, ever know about it.
I can't believe the cheek of children nowadays. This morning I walked into a wedding, when I actually thought I was walking into, you know, my classroom. Instead I found Carl officiating the wedding of Harold and Lily: carton rings were being exchanged, and Joeffrey was fuming (AHA!). I'll admit it was quite cute, but I had to stop it before they got to the wedding night bit. You never know how far realism would go for the sake of performing arts.
I tried to explain them why it was wrong to marry at the age of ten, but in all truth all I wanted to say was: "If I have to listen to the word 'wedding' once more today I SHALL SCREAM'.
Needless to say, my mother called.
"Are you bringing a date for the wedding? There's a terrible shortage of men."
"Don't tell me."
I hold the phone between my ear and shoulder, while beginning to rummage around the kitchen to find some chocolate. I sensed it was going to be a long conversation, and I figured I would've needed some comfort food.
"I meant among the guests." How does she manage to make me hear her eyes roll through a phone conversation? "You'd think Matthew would have more male friends. The dancing section is going to be tragic."
"There's going to be dancing?!" I swallow the first piece of chocolate without bothering to chew, as if it were Prozac.
"Of course there's going to be dancing. Mary was never going to marry on the cheap. Which brings us to flower decorations. I want an opinion, and your sister is being completely useless. If trees were good enough for Kate Middlelton, why can't we have them? The archbishop is on board with this, but your sister insists on callas. Would you believe it?"
"Is 'torture' the only reason you called?"
"Don't be smart and listen."
"What are you doing on Sunday night?"
"The same thing I do every night, Pinky."
"Never mind. Where do you want me to be?"
"Dinner party. Evelyn Napier is back from Brussels, and his parents tell me he's just dying to enjoy a typical British party once again. Isn't that marvelous?"
I groan involuntarily. I wonder if she'll suggest I show up at this dinner naked. To enhance my chances to Catch the Bachelor.
"I think I'll have other plans, but thank you for your consideration."
"What has been the highlight of your week?"
As a matter of fact, I've transformed plastic bottles into puppets and reenacted the Royal Wedding. I cried.
"For your information, I've been to the theater." I lie, unashamedly, "It was a post avant-garde piece on-"
"You need to breathe some fresh air," she interjects, with that wise motherly tone that always manages to get on my nerves.
"There's air inside."
"Put your head out there…"
"No, seriously, that's how we survive. Air. In the house."
"Whatever you may read on the internet, funny is not the new sexy."
Great, even my mother finds me unattractive. Obviously, I give in with a defeated sigh. "At what time should I be there?"
"Seven-thirty. Dress appropriately."
What is it with my family and phones, really? The line goes dead and I stare at the silent cradle for some time. I've just been tricked into attending yet another dull dinner party at my parent's house, where I'll be stuck offering beverages to the guests only to be otherwise ignored. Sweet life.
In other news, Gwen won't pick up her phone. How am I supposed to return her pet? I'm starting to suspect this has been an hoax all along. Maybe I didn't steal the cat at all. Maybe they've planted the cat on me; they drugged me, and then made me think I had kidnapped a kitten. It was clearly a minutely detailed ruse to get rid of a pet she didn't want any longer – probably because of its chronically upset stomach. (I still haven't bought appropriate cat food, so it might be that.)
That sneaky, soulless ginger.
Apparently, she's "out of the Country" (I'm still not 100% convinced). She just called from Alaska – honestly, a job interview in Alaska? How is it even plausible?
Anyway, she said she'll forget about the whole accident if I take care of Crow until she's back – I think I've just been blackmailed into cat-sitting.
I just want to forget about this weekend's party, but Thomas said I need to be smart about it, show everybody what a graceful, aloof, sophisticated young woman I can be, and throw it in my parents' face.
Thomas wanted to try this new place in Mayfair, he thought it'd be exciting to enjoy the happy hour in a club called Dirty Martini, but in all fairness it looked rather like a place where a Russian Drug Lord would take his mail bride.
I must remember to never reveal any embarrassing detail of my life to Thomas. I told him about the cat, and the plant, and of course about my encounter with Rude Colin, and because he's truly a very lewd five years old, he started singing "Edith and Colin, sitting in a tree, S-H-A-G-G-I-N-G."
"Shut up, Glee." I grunted, trying to shield my face from the curious glances of the waitress.
"You've got to admit it has the potential of a perfect love-hate relationship, it's just a classic."
"You might've failed to notice it, but my life is not exactly a rom-com."
"You have been jilted at the altar, though."
"I have not. The engagement was withdrawn a week after he asked, thank you. And you know this subject had been banned from any discussion topic. And stop smiling seductively at the barman, it's creeping me out."
"Sorry, you're right. Let's discuss important matters. Tell me about last Sunday's party."
I threw a pop tart in my mouth before replying, "It was awful. Tom got me drunk-"
"Deary, I only meant the very important bits. Did Matthew take off his shirt?", he's perched on the edge of his seat, as if I were about to reveal the secret of Creation itself.
"Why would he do such a thing?"
He seemed disappointed, but not defeated. With a confident nod, he proclaimed solemnly "If there's a God, he will take it off at some point. It's why instagram itself was created."
"You must stop trying to steal my sister's boyfriends."
"It only happened once-"
"-and it's not my fault anyway. Sometimes I'm scared by how attractive I am."
"With great powers come great responsibilities," I said, sharing a meaningful look with him.
He took a sip from his dirty Martini before replying, all pretty and jolly "Don't worry. I would never stand in the way of true love. I'm beautifully selfless like that."
I rolled my eyes because…honestly. "I've never known of a love that was not selfish, in some regard."
"Have you swallowed a cynic pill this morning?"
"I mean it. They say love elevates the spirit, that it leads to grand gestures and a brighter world. Whoever doesn't find it, whoever loses it, is treated like a pauper. What a load of bollocks."
For a moment, he stared at me in a contemplative silence; then, with a very serious tone, he asked "…did you talk to your mother recently?"
He handed me the remnants of his cake, and stood up to order more wine with the urgency of a Grey's Anatomy surgeon.
He came back with two glasses and the barman's number. Damn, he's good.
7:20 pm, Downton
7:21 pm, Downton
The heel of one of my new shoes just broke, and the only spare pair I have in the car's trunk is my driving-trainers.
7:25 pm, Downton
No need to panic. I've fixed it with some adhesive tape, band aid and the force of prayers. I've added some tape on the other shoe for the love of symmetry.
7:32 pm, Downton
"I specifically told you to dress appropriately. It looks like you're wearing one of your students' art project."
11:10 pm, home: a necessary recounting of what followed
My mother dragged me to a very hidden corner of the main hall, whispering furiously, while I tried to defend myself as best as I could, "I'll have you know that this is Prada's idea of holding your shoe on."
In her hurry to get me out of the view and probably toward some emergence pair of Louboutin she keeps in the kitchen, she didn't notice there was a man on the way and we were both startled when he said, in a kind voice, "She's right Lady Grantham, the DIY vibe dominated the Paris Fashion Week this year. I was invited to the Dior show."
"Evelyn," my mother breathed, suddenly the very face of sweetness, "If you say so it must be true. Well then. I was on my way to the kitchen, just to make sure everything is as it should be. I'll leave you two to it!" and with that, she's gone. I could see she was not too pleased with Evelyn Napier's white lie, but she would never contradict a guest. Thank the Lord for small mercies.
I turned to Evelyn, who was smiling at my way, and I thanked him profusely.
"My pleasure. And anyway, you're not the only one who's had a little wardrobe malfunction." With a smirk, he nodded in Matthew's direction; Matthew, who was not (gasp!) wearing a dinner jacket. Hide the children, for the love of God! He was fidgeting, explaining to Granny that he had inadvertently stained it before dinner. Mary was blushing furiously beside him. Do I want to know? I don't think so.
Back to us. (US. US!)
"We must be a very improper family," I told him, to fill the silence.
"I hope not too improper."
"Well, maybe only behind closed doors."
I WAS FLIRTING. OH MY GOD. It's like one of those times when necessity gives you the inhuman strength to lift cars in order to save your children and so on. I was so thrilled I chocked on my own saliva and sort of ruined the effect. But still.
He coughed, somewhat amused, and offered me a flute of champagne, which I gratefully accepted. As I'm sipping some Dutch courage, he began, politely, "Your mother tells me you're interested in charity."
I nodded enthusiastically, "Oh, absolutely!"
Actually, I only tried it that one Summer, when I suffered from chronic colitis. Sybil had said it was just my aristocratic guilt manifesting itself through my body and told me charity would've soothed my sense of unfairness and maladie. "Doing nothing is the enemy!", she said. Eventually, it came out that the enemy was just an allergy to carrots.
But as Granny says, everyone walks down the aisle with half the story hidden anyway. (not that I'm already planning my marriage to this man I barely know. Obviously.)
"It's very admirable of you. I often wish I had more time to dedicate to the less fortunate."
"This is me, always giving back!" well, in for a penny, in for a pound.
"And what do you do now, for a living? Your mother didn't say."
Ah. When one of your sisters is the Prime Minister's campaign manager and the other is in Med School, there's no question you fear more than "What is it that you do again?". Somehow, 'Fourth Grade Teacher' sounds anticlimactic.
"Fourth grade teacher."
"Oh, it's marvelous. It's so important to guide the youngest generations into being better than their predecessors. It's a noble art, that of shaping children into smart, responsible adults."
I scanned his face for traces of sarcasm. There was none. Oh my God.
"I'm not the one who's trying to keep Europe afloat during a global recession!"
"Oh, no, I'm just a paper pusher, really. Enough about work, though. Should we go outside? It seems such a pleasant night."
It was freezing. But we talked for a whole half an hour before his mother snatched him. He asked for my number.
BAMMO! Another successful interaction with a man!
When I finally got back home, I found a package in front of my door with a signed note from Colin. It was cat food. How dare he suppose I hadn't bought appropriate food after a week? I haven't, for the record, but it's still a pretty rude assumption. I unfold the note. It only reads "For the cat."
As If I'd ever mistake it for people's food.
I'll just focus on tonight's pleasant memories.
Who'd have thought. Family gatherings are not too bad after all.
"Edith, we're okay so don't freak out."
It's Sybil on the phone. Jesus Christ. "Sybil, that's the least reassuring phrase of the English language." I had obviously started to freak out.
"Tom and I have been arrested. We need you to bail us out."
I might want to stay clear from the rest of the family for some time.