I was surprised to see the amount of people who had turned up tonight. It was Friday and the summer party and forty years jubilee of Hansen & Dale, the oil company Emma was working for. She had done a great job on the preparations. Paper chandeliers hang colourfully from the trees and there were little fairy lights also tied to the trees that would be switched on when the sun went down. The BBQ had already started and the spices from the meat I had helped cut, marinate and put onto skewers wafted towards me. There were also jacket potatoes, hot dogs and hamburgers, potato salad, and a long improvised salad bar that started with vegetables and ended in fruits. Inside the party tent, there would be a chocolate fondue afterwards as well as a 4 story jubilee cake. One for each decade. There were tables and benches outside and on the tables stood various snacks from nuts and crisps to cocktail sausages. They had hired in waiting staff to walk around with champagne trays and I gratefully grabbed a glass as soon as one came my way. I feel uncomfortable when I am at parties where I don’t know anybody unless I’m there for work reasons. Emma, who was the only one I knew, was busy sorting out some details with some entertainers, so I was alone. There were employers both past and present with their wives and children of various ages. I noticed that quite a few of the wives of the younger employees seemed younger than me. And that they had that Oslo West look so common down south in the summer months. A couple of the young wives were even pregnant. I noticed some of them eyeing me up curiously and whispering together. I had felt nice when I’d left home, in my new pink summer dress from Belinda and my nude high heels and matching bag, but I felt plain under their gazes. I took another sip of champagne. I wasn’t jealous of these women really. At first glance their lives may seem perfect. But they struggled as much as the rest of us to add meaning to their lives. Being rich and only working some self-invented job to pass the time could be just as mind-numbing as having a permanent overdraft and working twelve hour long days. One of them was on her way over to me. She had long, perfectly wavy blond hair, and was wearing real Manolo Blanics. I couldn’t help but stare lustfully at her shoes as she approached and also note with a tinge of envy that I would have looked ridiculous in them, whilst she walked as comfortably as if they had been flats.
“I’ve not seen you before.” She held out her hand and kissed the air next to my cheek on both sides. “I am Adriana. The wife of Peder Hansen.”
I had a feeling I should know who Peder Hansen was from the way she so confidently uttered her husband’s name, but my face must have drawn a blank, because she laughed a forced laugh and said “You know, the son of the first Hansen who founded the company.”
“Ah, I should have realized,” I said turning my stiffest British upper lip smile on.
“I’m Sandra Martinsen, the niece of Emma Martinsen in HR. I’m just over here from London.”
She looked like she was about to fall asleep before I’d finished my sentence.
“I see. Would you like to join me and my friends over there?” She pointed to where the other wives were sitting.
“That’s really kind of you, but I need to go and help Emma with something,” I said trying to look genuinely apologetic. Adriana Hansen got a look on her face as if I should have told her that she’d got dog poo stuck to her heels.
“Oh, I understand. By the way, just thought I’d tell you, it looks like you forgot to cut off the price tag on your dress. That style was so last month, but it looks nice on you.”
I swore inside. I’d been so busy getting ready on time having only had fifteen minutes from I was finished helping with the skewers until we had to leave. And I had meant to cut it off, but had obviously forgotten. I started pulling at the tag, only to have my hand brushed away by Mrs Hansen Jr who swiftly cut it off with a pair of nail scissors she dug up from the make-up bag in her handbag.
“So you don’t ruin it. And just feel free to come over when you’re done helping.”
What a cow, I thought grabbing another champagne flute from a passing tray.
“Hello, hello, hello everybody! And welcome to this fortieth jubilee of Hansen and Dale. An Oil company that’s been a pride in Grimstad for forty years! And not just a pride of this little town. We have been internationally recognized as experts in our particular field and have been taken on in a consulting position for a large American company along with two other companies in Stavanger and Oslo. We’re celebrating that too.”
Everybody clapped enthusiastically. A small, fat man who was mostly balled was standing on a makeshift podium outside the party tent. He looked uncomfortable and I could see rings of sweat on his crumpled white shirt.
“I am Peder Hansen for those who don’t know me, although I should think most of you do. And I’m the proud son of my father Ole who will be one of our many speakers today.”
More applause from the crowd.
I stared at the man with new interest. Was he married to that devil in Manollo Blanics who’s just insulted me and my dress? He looked to be at least twenty years older than her.
“As I mentioned, there will be a few speeches tonight, talking about Hansen & Dale from 1975 till today. And we have some great entertainers. We have Madam Mim, a magician for the children and you can have your fortune told by clairvoyant Clara in the small white tent behind the party tent.”
I giggled, as the crowd applauded a third time. The two glasses of champagne had already started to get to my head. Probably because I hadn’t eaten since lunch and was ravenous. Did he know just how funny he sounded stuttering on the name of a Disney character?
“What’s so funny?” I hadn’t noticed Adriana passing me to stand closer to her husband at the podium.
“Your husband. He’s so last century, but he really suits you.” I know it was childish and rude, but how could I not? She glared at me but said nothing.
“So I hope you’ll all enjoy yourselves. The food will soon be ready and we’ll announce when we’re turning on the chocolate fondue.”
Emma came out of the party tent and stood next to me. Her face looked a little flustered, but she looked otherwise pretty in a green dress that complimented her eye colour.
“Having fun?” she asked and gestured for me to come and grab food before the queue got too long.
“There really are a few curious characters here,” I giggled.
“Curious? Interesting choice of word. I’d call them Snobs. It’s more appropriate. Or airheads.” She pointed to Adriana Hansen and a couple of her friends who seemed to be giggling together like high school girls.
“But they’re not all bad. Peder Hansen is actually a nice guy even though he’s totally clueless about modern life and has a wife that could pass for his daughter.”
“What about Dale?”
“He has retired, and there was no junior to take over.”
She started loading a plate full of salad items, bread and three skewers. I followed her example as well as loading another plate full of fruits.
A woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties waved at us as we walked with our plates to find somewhere to sit. She was wearing a navy blue suit with an A-line skirt, and had discrete make-up on. “Over here!” she shouted. She introduced herself as Anita, also working in HR. “Emma is my boss,” she said. Emma and Anita talked about work and some other internal gossip, while I enjoyed my food in silence and watched the people around me. Madam Mim had arrived and her costume was definitely inspired by the Disney witch. But hopefully her personality wasn’t. The children seemed to love her anyway as she pulled a brown rabbit out of a hat.
When Madam Mim had done her thing and the speeches started, I went inside to look for the toilets. I was both bursting and my lipstick needed a touch up. There were two women in there already. Oil wives of the other kind, the kind the younger ones changed into as they got older. These women were plumper, or slim in a softer way, and looked like they’d spent more time at the champagne bar than at the gym. But they still looked elegant in a faded way.
“Well, I’ve never had my fortune told,” said the first one, a brunette redoing her eye liner. “So I simply have to go see that clairvoyant woman.”
“She’s amazing,” replied her blond friend who was applying hand cream. “She told me I was about to embark on a journey of love, spirituality, insights and surprises. Do you think I’m going to be the next Elizabeth Gilbert?”
“Who’s that?” ask the brunette.
“I can’t believe you don’t know!” exclaimed the blond. “She’s the genious behind Eat, Pray, and Love. A woman’s search for answers to Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia.” She turned to me as I got to the sink next to her and started washing my hands. “Have you read it?”
I nodded and got busy with my lipstick. I hoped she wouldn’t ask more questions. I had indeed read the first few pages, but I’d given up. I just found the book too predictable. And it all seemed a bit too planned to be a genuine memoir… I had enjoyed the film more because it seemed more suited to a film. Although I’d found that too quite dull.
“Wonderful don’t you think?”
Oh no. the dreaded question.
“Positively enlightening,” I replied putting my lipstick back in my clutch bag.
“You see Yvonne?” said the blond. “I’ll lend you the book.”
“I don’t think you will be the new Elizabeth Gilbert,” said Yvonne the brunette solemnly. “I mean, can you afford to travel anywhere after you made your poor husband almost bankrupt buying that real diamond tiara at that auction in France?”
“You speak for yourself,” said the blond. “My husband at least doesn’t have a gambling problem”.
I left the two women to air their dirty laundry to each other in the toilet and went in search for clairvoyant Clara. I didn’t believe in fortune telling. But I’d never had it done. And it would be interesting to see what she’d say to me.
I had to wait only five minutes outside the small white tent behind the party tent before the curtains opened and a red-haired teenage girl came out. I walked gingerly through the curtain wondering what the next few minutes would hold.
“What kind of reading do you want?” Asked Clairvoyant Clara. She was wearing jeans, a pink top and had short strawberry blond hair. Her looks were far from the gipsy/new age look I’d been expecting. She was sitting on a stool and the tent smelled strongly of frankincense. On the camping table in front of her, lay three Dec of cards.
“What?” she said when I didn’t answer straight away.
“Ehm, it’s just that you don’t, I mean you look different from what I’d imagine.”
She laughed a deep, throaty laugh
“I refused to fulfill the cliché,” she said. “Hope you’re not too disappointed”. I shook my head.
“There’s something different about you,” she said. I didn’t answer. I knew so called psychics used those kinds of opening lines before they were about to bullshit you further. That, or “You’ve been worried lately”. Everyone is always worried about something, so it’s a safe opening that will have most people go “Yeah, how did you know?”
“You are from overseas and you’re here because you’re running away from something. “I’m right aren’t I?” she said as she saw the startled look on my face. “Come here, Sarah, Andrea?” “Sandra,” I said, wondering how she’d almost gotten my name right.
She drew out a stool next to hers and I sat down.
“You’re also looking for answers to a big and old mysteries. You’re running away and this mystery is linked. It’s all one big chain of events really.”
Surely bullshitting psychics weren’t that spot on.
“You see, I’m a medium,” she said as if she’d read my thoughts. “And the moment you came in, I got lots of voices in my head trying to tell me something. But they’re all talking at the same time. You must be dealing with many deaths Sandra. Many unfair deaths.”
I shivered despite the heat in the tent and nodded slowly.
“You shall find all the answers where you least expect them. All shall be revealed on the eve of Saint John. And fear the living, not the dead. For the dead shall protect you while some living will try to harm you. Go to the lighthouse on the eve of Saint John. You will be expected.”
Clara got up and smiled. “Whatever it is, good luck,” she said.
“How much do I owe you? I asked.
“Nothing. This reading was a pleasure. As I said, you are different from most people who come to me. You seek real answers, not fame or fortune. You’d be surprised how many people want to hear some crap about love or money rather than the actual whole truth about themselves.”
“So do you ever make things up?”
“I don’t, said Clara. “Everybody have degrees of love, money, success and spirituality in their lives. But how much of that, and how much of all the other stuff I talk to people about, depends on how receptive they are.”
“I wasn’t receptive. Was I? I don’t believe in clairvoyance.”
“Oh but you are receptive. Being receptive has nothing to do with believing in clairvoyance. The way I see it, being receptive means being able to take and accept the truth from wherever it comes. Most people can’t and won’t and have subconsciously closed themselves off to it. That’s why they’ll most likely never live to their full potential .And wasn’t what I told you right?”
I nodded. “Too right.”
“Just be careful. You have already been hurt by people you thought you knew, and until all the pieces in this puzzle are put together, you will be in great danger. The eve of Saint John will be the most dangerous in your life thus far. Whether you’ll survive I cannot say. But you should have the strength to do so and the wits.”
And with that, she opened the curtain and I walked out into the warm summer evening and towards the party tent where very soon, the cake would be cut.