Donna looked at the discarded items of clothing strewn about her bedroom and could feel the flickers of anxiety that she had been trying to tamp down for the last hour, now flare in to full-blown distress. She sat down heavily on the bed. That was it, then. She’d have to phone and cancel. She’d have to say she was ill. She’d say that she’d been struck down suddenly with a bad stomach, a bad cold, a bad case of legionnaire’s disease, leprosy, berry-berry… it didn’t matter what she said. Annie and Jane wouldn’t believe her. And then she’d have to answer their questions, field off their concern and explain. And she didn’t want to. She didn’t want to have to explain herself. Why should she have to? But if she didn’t, they’d think she was a flake. Well, that was alright. Or at least it was better than having to explain how not fitting in to any of her clothes, having absolutely bloody nothing that made her look even half way decent, meant that she’d have to give the party a miss.
Donna glanced at the invitation propped up against a perfume bottle on her dressing table. A proper invitation. Sophisticated, retro and rather grand on a thick cream card with gold lettering:
Mike and Sarah invite you to celebrate Christmas with champagne cocktails at 8pm.
When she’d received it a week or so back, she’d been excited. Lovely to go to a really glamorous Do. And it would certainly be glamorous, she had no doubt about that. Sarah was one of those women whose style seemed effortless but probably was anything but. Donna had been to lunch at Sarah and Mike’s in the summer and it had all been perfect. Like something out of a magazine. The table, placed in the garden, had been laid with vintage mismatched china and decorated with cottage flowers and a set of 1950’s embroidered napkins. Donna knew that they were genuine 1950’s because Sarah had told a funny story about how she’d found three of them in an antiques centre in Hastings and had then tracked down the other five in a series of bric a brac shops along the South Coast, and how she was convinced they were all part of an original set, left as a series of clues for her to follow by some eccentric old lady. It had sounded funnier at the time. Anyway, if that was how they did a Sunday lunch in the garden, then a Christmas party was sure to be seriously elegant. And elegant in the cleverest way, in that it would all appear to be ever so casual but, like Sarah’s clothes, would actually have been carefully thought out. It was kind of them to invite her, though. Sarah was more Annie’s friend than hers, but she was generous and welcoming to all, dispensing her largesse with a delicate touch. She had even let Annie know that there was a guy… an architect, Adam, that she felt sure Donna would enjoy meeting. They’d have so much in common, she’d apparently said. Again, very kind but Donna had felt herself bristle at hearing this, anxious as ever, not to be patronised. Sarah had reassured her “Don’t sweat it. You know how married people are for match-making. And hey, who knows? He might be gorgeous!” And perhaps he might, thought Donna, allowing a treacherous and insidious dart of hope to pierce her increasingly cynical and self-protective shell. How lovely it would be to meet someone new. How lovely to experience again the glorious heady all-encompassing, can’t-think-about-anything-else thrill of a new beginning, of a new romance, of a new love. Ridiculous, she told herself. You’re being utterly ridiculous and getting way ahead of yourself. All you know about him is that his name is Adam and that he’s an architect. But Adam is a good name, she decided. She liked it. A solid, dependable name. But not dull. Architects were unlikely to be dull, weren’t they? It was a creative profession. That would suit her. They could go to art exhibitions together and… there she was, getting ahead of herself as usual. She looked again at the invitation.
Dress code: Black-tie and LBD.
That hadn’t seemed so very alarming at first consideration. Donna had set aside a full day to trawl the shops, as well as having ordered several items online. She’d have tons of time and tons of choice, she’d reassured herself. Only now, time had run out. The taxi would be here in half an hour and she still had to add the finishing touches to her makeup. And as for choice? She had none. Or rather, she did but it was so depressing she couldn’t bring herself to decide between the structured black velvet with long sleeves and a too-high neckline which added nearly a decade to her age, or the slithery black sheath that she’d thought would work with control underwear but in fact clung to all the bits that she wanted to detract attention from, and which made her look like an overstuffed sausage. If sausages were black. Which some are, she thought, starting to feel a little light headed from a mounting sense of panic. Or it could be that the control underwear was doing too good a job and cutting off her circulation. So much for the Little Black Dress. There was absolutely nothing little about either of hers… or about her. Tears pricked her eyes. Tears of self-pity, bitterness and self-loathing. Familiar tears. Why hadn’t she gone on a major bloody diet the minute she’d received the invitation? Why hadn’t she cut down on the carbs, the wine, the full-fat lattes, full-fat cheese, full-fat crisps? She asked herself, as she heaved and wriggled out of a shaping garment that didn’t seem prepared to relinquish its control without a fight. Panting a little but at last free of it, she sank back down on the bed and had a stern word with herself. It wasn’t the end of the world if she didn’t go. Yes, it would have been fun to have gone all dressed up to a swanky party, fun to have had a night with her friends drinking champagne cocktails, fun to have met Adam, the architect, who may or may not have proved to be dull. Which of course now she’d never find out, given she wasn’t going. And she definitely wasn’t going. How could she go looking like either a frumpily upholstered matron or a bulging unappetising meat product? She braced herself and looked at the invitation once more.
to celebrate Christmas…
Celebrate Christmas. Celebrate. Well, she wasn’t feeling particularly celebratory right now. If anything, she felt the complete reverse. Yes, the reverse. That’s what she felt. What was the word for it? Mournful? Doleful? Or just plain fed up and pissed off. Pissed off with herself. Why did she always do this? Why sabotage her evening before it had even begun by assuming that because she would almost certainly be the biggest woman in the room and that therefore people… oh, all right… Adam… wouldn’t like her? Wouldn’t find her attractive? And of course, the answer was obvious. It was because she didn’t like herself, because she didn’t find herself attractive. Which wasn’t exactly the insight of the century. Pretty basic back-of-a-cereal-box stuff, but such thoughts were hard to shake off. They’d had years to dig in. To entrench. Really, her mindset was as difficult to wriggle out of as the discarded shapewear. She looked at the pull-on girdle. There it sat upon the carpet, a heap of sulky beige nylon eyeing her reproachfully. She glared at it. It scowled back in return. An impasse. Was she really locked in mental combat with what was basically a giant pair of pants? Crazy. It ends now, she thought. She wasn’t going to let a piece of underwear restrict her shape and so neither would she allow a no-longer-fit-for-purpose mindset to restrict her life. She stood up, suddenly resolute and crossed to her wardrobe. She would celebrate. She would celebrate Christmas. She would drink champagne cocktails and celebrate being with her friends at an elegant party. She would celebrate the chance to meet a new man who maybe she’d click with or maybe she wouldn’t. That simply didn’t matter. Because tonight what she most wanted to celebrate was kicking off her old way of thinking, freeing herself from the self-loathing that had shaped and controlled so many of her life’s choices. Tonight, for the first time in as long as she could remember, she would celebrate… being herself.