Let me ask you a question. A theoretical one, if you’ll bear with me. Would you ever open someone else’s mail? No? Of course not, I knew that.
Okay, but supposing there was this special letter. A really enticing-looking letter in a thick creamy envelope, handwritten, with no return address on it. And let’s suppose that this letter was sent to you. Kind of by mistake. And that you had no way of forwarding it on.
Still not tempted?
Fine. Well, let’s also say that the person to whom the letter is addressed was a member of one of the most exclusive private-member clubs in London and had a fabulous social life. While you were really bored, having just moved to a new city where your social life hadn’t exactly blossomed yet. And suppose you had to look at the letter day after day just sitting there on your mantelpiece.
Imagine, if you will, that this person had a stack of mail piling up in your flat and that you were looking after it for her, even though it was very doubtful she’d ever come and claim it.
And let’s just say that the intended recipient of the letter had moved out of your apartment over a month ago and she still got more phone calls than you did.
Now would you be tempted? Just a little bit?
No? No, of course not. Me neither.
Boom Boom. Huh, huh, yeah.
The ceiling is shaking, which would suggest that Alistair, the guy who lives upstairs from me, is having yet another party. I’ve been trying to read Vanity Fair—my mum’s favorite book—for the past hour, but each time I get to the end of a paragraph, I realize I haven’t taken any of it in and I have to go back and start over again. Which is a shame because it’s a great book, and I want to find out what happens next. So far, clever but wicked social-climbing Becky Sharp is manipulating everyone around her, and everything seems to hinge on money and virtue—the more a character has of either, the better off they are, although money without virtue is preferable to virtue without money. I guess some things never change.
I try reading again, but it’s no use—Becky Sharp cannot compete for my attention when hip-hop is booming through my head. Maybe a magazine is a better idea.
Trying to ignore the loud music and laughter coming from Alistair’s flat, I pick up a copy of Elle and alight upon an article on de-cluttering. “Clear out your wardrobe and create a new you!” it says. Now, there’s an idea. That would be a constructive way to spend an hour or so.
Although it isn’t quite how I imagined spending a Saturday night in London when I decided to move here. I felt delirious with excitement when I handed in my notice a month ago telling my boss that I was moving to London and there was nothing he could do about it. It felt so good, marching into his office with this little smile creeping over my face. I almost expected a standing ovation and film music to play when I told him—or possibly for Richard Gere to turn up and sweep me off my feet and out of the office. You see, I’m not the sort of person who ups, sticks, and moves. I’ve always been good, straightforward, and predictable. No one saw this coming—least of all me. But life has a funny way of changing on you, doesn’t it? Things weren’t going so well back in Bath, where I was working and living at home, and when I mentioned to my mum that I was thinking about moving to London, she was so excited, I kind of had to go through with it, even though I hadn’t been entirely serious.
But like my mum said, you only get one chance at life, so you’ve got to take every opportunity open to you. So I ended up leaving my friends, my family, my job . . . In a way, I felt I owed it to my mum to give it a go. She’s always wanted to move to London and live the life of “high society,” as she puts it, ever since she was a little girl. But she didn’t ever do it—she got married, had children, and before she knew it, she’d missed her chance. And since Dad hates being anywhere you can’t see a field, she doesn’t even get to visit London very often. I, on the other hand, know exactly what Dad means, though—cities can be scary places.
Anyway, the point is I’m doing it now. And I can’t just sit around listening to music being played at a party I’m not at. I’ve got to make a go of things. Mum would be so disappointed if she knew I’d spent a month staying in every night. I’ve got to at least try and let her enjoy a little bit of London life through me.
And actually it did feel good walking out of my job at Shannon’s, the advertising and marketing agency where I was working, knowing there’d be no more sitting in the pub every Friday night after work bitching about the new Brand Director who called everyone “sweetness” in this really irritating, patronizing tone. No more having to wear short skirts every time we did a pitch. And no more wondering whether a job in Bath that I didn’t really like was the best I could hope for. No, I was taking control of my life. I was getting out of the West Country and its super-relaxed-but-actually-pretty-small-minded-if-you-bother-to-dig-beneath-the-surface-a-little-bit attitude. And I was on top of the world.
Maybe I should have sorted out a few more practical details before I just moved here, but I got a bit carried away by the momentum and the romance of arriving in a big city with nothing but a suitcase. I was the heroine of my own little story. I wasn’t going to settle for “not quite what I was hoping for.” And I was going to prove to Mum that I could do it—she’s only got one daughter, so it was up to me to make her proud. Of course it does mean that I don’t really have much of a job right now—I do have a job, it’s just not quite what I anticipated. But working in a shop isn’t so bad. And I have been reading The Guardian and looking for suitable openings in advertising. At least I’ve been meaning to. I just need to deal with the little voice inside me that keeps reminding me that I never really wanted to work in advertising in the first place.
I look at the article more closely. Closets are a window to the soul, apparently. If yours isn’t in pristine condition, the author writes, how can you expect your life to be? Hmmm. I hope that’s not true. My wardrobe is in a terrible way. It’s small, cramped, and full of nasty wire hangers.
Wandering into the bedroom, it strikes me that chucking out everything and starting again might not be such a bad idea. I can really clear the place out—new life, new wardrobe. And once it’s all sorted out, maybe the rest of my life will start to fall into place a bit more.
Although . . . I stare at the wardrobe, wondering where to start. Maybe it isn’t such a great idea, after all. I have no money for new clothes, and what’s the point of clearing everything out if you can’t go shopping straightaway to get beautiful new clothes that miraculously reduce your waist and make your legs look longer?
After a few moments’ hesitation I wander back to the sofa. There’s no urgency—now is probably not the best time to be going through my wardrobe, anyway. It’s Saturday night, for heaven’s sake. I should be doing something fun.
Boom boom, huh huh huh, uh huh, huh, yeah.
I ditch the magazine—the music’s way too loud, and there’s no way I can concentrate. Maybe I should cook something. I could try out a great new recipe or something. I’m always saying I have no time to cook properly, and now’s my chance.
Having said that, my kitchen isn’t really the easiest place to cook in. I say kitchen—but what I really mean is a little area kind of adjoining my sitting room that has a sink, a fridge, and a cooker. Then there’s a little table that sits between the kitchen “area” and the sitting room “area” and . . . well, that’s about it, actually. There’s no cupboard space and I’ve had to line cereal boxes up on my bookshelves because there’s nowhere else to put them.
That’s the thing with London. You see a flat description in an estate agent’s window (“Hip Ladbroke Grove flat, one bedroom, perfect for entertaining”), and you think you’re going to get something like the place Monica has in Friends. And then you get there and the “perfect for entertaining” actually translates as “the kitchen is in the sitting room, so it’s only one step.”
I suppose I could do more with the place—it’s a bit bare, I know. But the thing is, I haven’t really got anything to “do more” with—I came up from Bath on the train, and I could barely carry any of my clothes, let alone anything like pictures or books. And anyway, I didn’t want to bring all my baggage—physical or metaphorical. Moving to a new city is the start of a new life, and bringing reminders of Bath would rather defeat the point. My old pieces of furniture are just that—old. They’re part of my old life with Pete. Pete’s my boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend, rather. He’s part of the reason I moved here. Like I said, I’m not ready to settle for “not quite what I was hoping for.”From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Little White Lies by Gemma Townley. Copyright © 2005 by Gemma Townley. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.