Penelope Waldorf straightened a picture frame on the wall as she made her way towards the dining hall to greet her guests. It was not often so many members of the Waldorf family could be found in one place. When they did meet it was always an occasion to show off. Penelope paused briefly in front of the long hall mirror to study her reflection and ensure her hair was still in place in its elegant ‘up do’. She smoothed the skirt of the stunning royal purple dress that she had bought only two days prior, especially for this occasion. With a nod of approval at herself she continued towards the dining hall.
As large as two basketball courts, with one wall entirely made up of glass windows overlooking the garden, the dining room held one hundred and forty two members of the Waldorf family, all looking spectacular in their expensive finery. Full-skirted silk and lace dresses and feathery plumed headpieces on the women and the finest tailor-made suits on the men. Even Penelope’s five year old niece wore lace gloves and a pearl necklace.
Penelope smiled to herself. Her three-storey mansion had been scrubbed and polished for the occasion and she was confident more than a few of her guests would be green with envy. She straightened her back and walked gracefully into the room to play her part as hostess.
“Aunt Arabella, so glad you could come,” she said to the aging woman in a heavy black velvet dress.
“I would not have missed Uncle Theodore’s 90th birthday for the world,” Aunt Arabella twittered. “So kind of you to offer to host it.”
“Oh, it was no problem. I do have the largest home, after all.”
Penelope smiled at her aged aunt and Aunt Arabella smiled back, though not without a hint of malice. It was always a competition in the Waldorf family. The men all wanted to prove their businesses were the most successful and the women competed to be the most beautiful with the most exclusive wardrobe. They all vied for the position of the wealthiest and most sophisticated. Penelope wanted to remind everyone that she was currently head of the pack.
Grandma Catherine sat by the tall windows with a cigarette hanging out of her pruned mouth. Penelope rushed over with a crystal ashtray to catch the ash before it fell onto her grandmother’s beautiful silk gown. As well as providing a stunning home for the family gathering, Penelope also wanted to prove she was the perfect hostess.
As usual, cousin Isolde came in fashionably late. The doors swung open and she strode in, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. She smirked and put a long finger-nailed hand on her hip. Her scarlet nail polish and bright red lipstick matched the red dress hanging from her curves. Meticulously set blonde curls bobbed around her face. Penelope scowled in jealousy.
“Darling!” Isolde exclaimed and kissed Penelope on each cheek.
“Isolde,” Penelope replied between gritted teeth.
“Where’s that darling son of yours?” Isolde asked, her eyes flashing. “Last time we had a family get together, didn’t he swim naked in the fish pond?”
“That was five years ago. He was only five,” Penelope replied, forcing herself to keep her cool. She knew Isolde was just trying to provoke her; trying to poke holes in her perfect façade.
Come to think of it, where was Lance? Penelope wondered. She’d left him to get dressed an hour ago and she hadn’t seen him since. Penelope waited until Isolde was preoccupied talking to Great Uncle Theodore. Without drawing the attention of any of her guests, she edged out of the room.
“Just going to check on the hors d’ouvres,” she said when one of her cousins tried to begin a conversation with her.
Penelope hurried down the hallway to Lance’s bedroom. She huffed at the state of his room, which was a total disaster area, as usual. His black dress pants, white shirt and black tie still lay on the bed where Penelope had put them earlier.
He’d probably gone off to hide from all the cheek pinching and red-lipsticked kisses he was sure to get from all the aunts downstairs. Well at least if he was off hiding he couldn’t do anything to embarrass her.
With a sigh, she headed back towards the dining hall.
As she neared it, a strange noise met her ears. It sounded as though a herd of elephants had broken into the dining hall. Penelope hastened her pace and pushed open the dining room doors. Her mouth gaped open. She was confronted with utter chaos. Dignified members of the Waldorf family shrieked and ran about like wild animals. Aunt Arabella stood on the dining table with her crushed velvet dress lifted to her knees, looking outraged beyond reason. Great Uncle Theodore huddled in the corner, shaking, his wrinkled face contorted into an angry grimace. The remainder of the guests were a blur of lace, feathers and fine materials as they ran about in every direction. Penelope could barely recognise who was whom in all the confusion.
She located the source of their panic. In the centre of the room a long green garden hose flailed about like a psychotic serpent as water eschewed from its end, soaking the guests and flooding the dining hall. Horrified, Penelope tried to grab hold of it and twist the nozzle to shut it off.
“Help me!” She yelled above the shrieks.
But no one was game to get any closer to the spewing water. Penelope’s hands slipped on the wet metal nozzle. With each failure to turn it her face grew increasingly red in frustration.
Finally Penelope gave up on the nozzle and followed the green hose to its source. She found it screwed onto a tap in the adjoining kitchen. In her anger she turned off the tap with such force that the pipe burst and water spouted upwards, hitting Penelope in the face. The servants in the kitchen squealed and ran about in panic. The pot of tomato and basil soup on the stove filled with water and the stovetop sizzled and hissed in protest at the soaking. The crusty French loaf, so carefully cut into even slices, turned soggy and limp. Entree was totally ruined. At least the roasted pheasant and scalloped potatoes were safely encased inside the oven and the choux pastry swans stored away in the cold pantry. Though whether the guests would even stay to enjoy main course and dessert was another matter.
Penelope’s face, now dripping wet, was beyond livid. She stormed back into the dining hall, pushing strands of sopping hair from her face. The hose lay limp and all one hundred and forty two of the Waldorf family stood dripping with water. Penelope surveyed the absurd looking scene. Great Uncle Theodore’s toupee sat askew; Grandma Catherine’s silk gown clung to her bony frame; and cousin Isolde’s once elegant curls hung limp and dripping about her shoulders. All the previously proud-looking guests now looked disheveled and indignant.
A giggle came from behind a heavy red velvet drape and Penelope marched straight towards it, her expensive suede shoes squelching in the water. From behind the curtain she pulled out her ten-year-old son and dragged him from the room, feeling both embarrassed and enraged. Lance simply laughed hysterically, tears of utter joy streaming down his face.
The Australian Literature Review