But since we have been bought by Turnhaute Publishing Group, my autonomy has been greatly diminished.
Is it really the fault of the corporate Goliath of Turnhaute, fondly known as Turncoat, Greer wonders, or is Enid being pushed out because of her advanced age? Her driver’s license will be the next thing taken, Greer supposes.
My editorial director, Mr. Charles O’Brien, also read your manuscript and he has deemed it “unacceptable.” He has asked me to let you know you have a fortnight to rewrite it entirely. He suggests you use an alternate exotic locale, one you can describe with more “colorful detail” than what he calls the rather “pale” version of Santorini you present here. I’m sorry to be so blunt and to bear this dreadful news, my darling Greer. But a fortnight makes your new due date July 21, and I felt it best to be direct in light of that looming deadline.
With best wishes,
Hell and damnation, Greer thinks. Her twenty-first manuscript has been… rejected, then? Who is this Charles O’Brien and what does he know? Charlie, old Chuck, an Irishman. Greer can’t bring to mind an Irish writer she has ever admired. She has always despised Joyce, pretentious sod, writing in code and asking his readers to follow the twists and turns of his demented mind. She finds Wilde predictable, Swift histrionic, Beckett inscrutable, Stoker overrated, and Yeats dull.
Her cell phone pings. It’s Benji. Roger has questions about the seating chart. Where are you?
In my sitting room. Witnessing the end of my career.
What had old Chuck O’Brien said about the book? Pale. He had called Greer’s description of Santorini pale and suggested Greer use a different exotic locale.
It has been over thirty years since Greer set foot on Santorini. She chose it only because back in August when Benji proposed to Celeste, he mentioned he would like to honeymoon there. Greer’s own memories of the place were brilliant. She recalled stark limestone cliffs and a red beach, colored by iron deposits; robust, bushy-haired Greek men selling freshly caught fish in woven baskets; she remembered the deep aquamarine of the Aegean Sea, whitewashed churches with cobalt-blue domes, the winding streets of Oia, the seafood restaurants where the water practically lapped onto one’s feet and everyone was offered the same wine, a lovely, crisp white that was made on the east side of the island. Greer and Tag had chartered a catamaran, and Tag had sailed them around while Greer sat under a canopy wearing a floppy straw hat and Jackie O. sunglasses. They had swum into the beaches from the boat and paid the cabana boys two drachmas for chaises and an umbrella. Greer had left the island with recipes for garlicky tzatziki, grilled chicken with lemon and fresh oregano, and of course her famous lamb souvlaki.
She had been dismayed to find, upon researching Santorini 2018 via the internet, that Oia is now home to a Jimmy Choo boutique and that the donkey ride from the port up to Fira has been given a one-star rating on TripAdvisor. Greer had adored the donkey ride.
If she is very honest with herself, she will admit that the novel did feel a bit thin on plot, a bit slapdash, a bit “phoned in,” as it were. The key to a good whodunit is a murderer who is hiding in plain sight. Her character with the newly acquired stutter is, perhaps, underdeveloped. She remembers thinking when she handed the novel in, Well, that wasn’t so bad. She had delivered a seventy-five-thousand-word manuscript on time, despite planning a wedding to rival Prince Harry’s, and she hadn’t pulled her hair out or been committed to an insane asylum.
Things that seem too good to be true usually are.
Can she rewrite the novel in a fortnight? (No one but the British—scratch that—no one but Enid Collins still uses the term fortnight.)
She isn’t sure. She’ll have to wait and see how the weekend goes.
She clicks out of Enid, clicks out of e-mail entirely. Thinking about the unpleasant reality of her work life has provided a distraction, at least, from the even more unpleasant reality of the present moment. Featherleigh Dale will be arriving in less than an hour. Featherleigh is the rare party guest who sees fit to show up exactly on time. She does this, Greer suspects, so that she can have some private moments with Tag. Tag is ready for every occasion half an hour early and Greer is always half an hour late. It is a cunning and perceptive woman indeed who notes this habit and takes advantage of it, as Featherleigh does.
Greer changes into her party outfit—a sleek ivory silk jumpsuit by Halston, vintage, that looks like something Bianca Jagger might have worn to Studio 54. It’s one of the most fabulous pieces Greer owns. She had the trousers temporarily shortened so that she might wear the jumpsuit barefoot in the sand, showing off her toenails, which have been painted pale blue. Her mother-of-the-groom dress for tomorrow is proper—which is to say, matronly—and so tonight, Greer is going to emphasize her youthful, fun, carefree side. (Tag might say she abandoned this side of herself in the nineties and he might be partially correct, but she is reasserting it tonight.) For the first time since primary school, she is going out in public with her hair down, all the way down, straight and loose on both sides of her face. She always wears her hair up or back, normally in a chignon, sometimes in a tight ballerina bun, occasionally braided for casual occasions. When she exercises, which is infrequently, she wears her hair in a ponytail. She never allows herself to wear it like this—like a hippie, or something worse.
But it’s sexy. She looks younger.
When she goes into the kitchen, Tag whistles. “You’d better get out of here before my wife sees you. She’s quite formidable, with her hairpins and her diamonds.”
Greer grins at him. She doesn’t do this enough, she realizes. Tag always gets the worst of her: her laser focus, her inflexibility, her condescension, her acerbic tongue. She used to love that she could be herself in front of him, but now it feels like all he gets is the negative, unpleasant, unflattering aspects of Greer Garrison; the sweet, gentle, caring parts of her she saves for others—her sons, certainly, but also virtual strangers, such as her fans, waiters at restaurants, and retail girls in shops. Greer is nicer to Tita at the Nantucket post office than she is to her own husband.
She stands before him, raises her face, lowers her eyelids, purses her lips.
“Darling,” he says. “You look gorgeous. No, I take that back. You look hot.” He kisses her, and his hands cup her behind.
The doorbell rings. That, Greer thinks, will be Featherleigh.
It isn’t a question of if Tag has slept with Featherleigh Dale, it’s a question of how many times, how recently, and how far things went between them emotionally. Featherleigh Dale is the much younger sister of the late Hamish Dale, who was Tag’s closest friend at Oxford. To hear the stories, Featherleigh used to come visit the boys at school when she was merely eight years old and would accompany them first to the pub and then to the Nosebag, where they would reward Featherleigh’s patience with cheddar scones and lime posset. They also used her as a lure for young female students who thought it adorable that Hamish and Tag were minding a little sister.
Hamish was killed six years earlier in a gruesome car crash on the M1. Greer and Tag and Thomas and Benji flew to London for the funeral and became reacquainted with Featherleigh, who was then all grown up and living in Sloane Square, working in the fine carpet division of Sotheby’s. As far as Greer knows, nothing happened between Tag and Featherleigh at the reception following Hamish’s funeral, although certainly cards were exchanged because after that, Featherleigh Dale started to appear at nearly every social event the Winburys attended. She had shown up at a graduation party for Thomas’s law-school roommate held at the Carlyle Hotel in New York, and that was when Greer grew suspicious. What were the chances that Featherleigh Dale would be at that party? Featherleigh claimed she had bumped into Thomas at a club downtown a few days earlier and that he had invited her. Ha! Preposterous!
The next time they had run into Featherleigh Dale had been when Tag and Greer took Thomas and Abby to Little Dix Bay in Virgin Gorda over the Christmas holidays. Featherleigh had appeared on an enormous yacht belonging to some Saudi Arabian sheikh who was quite definitely gay.
Somehow, Featherleigh had insinuated herself into Greer’s life as well. When she left Sotheby’s, she started her own business as a personal shopper who matched antiques with private homes in London. Featherleigh was too smart to come to Greer first. Instead, she started finding pieces for Greer’s London neighbor Antonia. When Antonia mentioned that she had gotten a hard-to-find Kano School Japanese screen from Featherleigh Dale, Greer had said, Oh! I know Featherleigh. And the next thing Greer knew, Featherleigh was calling her about this Morris chair and that Biedermeier walnut commode.