The book arrives, wrapped in brown paper tied with a bow on the front. Your day has finally come. You have seen all your elders with this book at some point. In their formative years, clutching it between their arms everywhere they went. On their wedding day, finally revelling in those precious new chapters in the back. In their adult years, occasionally dusting it off the shelf to check something here and there. It has entered the mind of every great young woman in this nation. And now it is in your hands.
Your mother squeals with delight when she sees you carry the package into the living room and place it onto the glass-top table. She didn’t receive hers until she was fourteen, she tells you. She is very proud that you have received yours so soon. It is definitely a sign of good things to come. She watches over your shoulder as you pull apart the layers of brown paper and undo the strings of the bow. You now hold the book in your hands, feeling its smooth black cover and embossed pink lettering. The title sits boldly in the middle and your name is written beneath it. You are one of them now.
You go to school the next day with the book under your arm. You are only the second girl in your class to receive one, so you are the centre of attention. All your friends are begging you to let them peek at certain sections, to satisfy their curiosities. You know how they feel. You have asked your mother the same things about her book. But now you are on the other side, and you find it easier to refuse them. They are supposed to wait for their own books. This one is yours. The knowledge is only for you.
The nights pass, and you pour over the book with every spare second. You would have read the whole thing all at once, except now you have learnt the importance of your eight hours of beauty sleep so you turn out the light a little earlier than usual. You take mental notes as you turn each page, finally having answers to all the things you have wondered. You alter the length of your school skirt and ask your mother to take you shopping for new stationary. It seems a waste so soon into the school year, but you feel much happier walking into school the next day with your leather-bound diary and fluffy pink pens. You notice that most of the older girls carry the same diary and you are glad you have read the book right.
A few weeks later, you receive a champagne-coloured envelope in the mail with your name written in cursive black lettering on the front. You pull out the silver invitation from inside it and squeal in delight at the prospect of your first ball. It is only a local one, and will be attended by most of the people that you know from school but you are ecstatic all the same.
You and your mother sit down and write out a plan for the ball according to the book. Instead of worrying about which dress, shoes and handbag to choose, it has everything laid out for you. You just fill in the blanks. You look at charts that tell you what neckline and dress cut suits your body type and which colours match your skin. You write everything down and take it to the department store. Three to five business days later, all the items sit at your doorstep. Your dress fits perfectly.
Three hours before the ball, you pull out the book and find the formula for make up marked ‘special occasions’. Your mother is familiar with it, so she helps you through each stage. You start by covering your cheeks, then your nose, forehead, eyebrows, eyelids, eyelashes and lips. You rinse the rest of your body out in fresh, bubbly water to give your skin a clear, healthy glow. You feel like a million dollars, or at least like the diamond-studded crown sitting atop your head.
You walk into the Grand Ballroom, the golden walls draped in sheaths of blue fabric and paper snowflakes to represent the ‘Winter Wonderland’ theme that your classmates voted as most popular. You are swept into the glamour and glitz of the event, your friends dragging you out onto the dance floor the minute that the music begins. You sway back and forth to the music as if this is where you are really meant to be.
A bell rings to signal that the main course has arrived so you take your seat at the nearest table. Everyone is served with alternating courses of the freshest food, so you pick up the fork furthest from your plate and prepare to eat. You engage in polite small talk with the boy seated to your right, and it turns out that he was hoping to receive the meal that instead sits in front of you. You immediately offer to swap the plates, even though you now have the less desirable meal. It is the courteous thing to do.
It pays off, as after you have finished eating, the boy asks you to dance. Your insides are squirming with delight, but on the surface you remain cool and calm as if this happens to you all the time. After all, that is what the book has told you to do. Appearing inexperienced would give the boy the wrong impression. He would think you too young, too naïve. So you must put on a different face.
As the years pass, the rest of your friends receive their own copy of the book. You are not supposed to talk about the book, but when you do, you realise that everyone’s copy is slightly different. Your friend has a facial mask as part of her make up routine, and you do not. Another only requires six hours of sleep instead of your eight. But it is nice that eventually, everyone else starts to get it. You no longer stand out in class, but it is comforting to know that you are now on the same page as everyone else. You all feel like going shopping for the new winter collection at the same time. You can arrive for a coffee date without having to agree on a time or place. You are all perfectly in sync.
Eventually, you push open the gate of your white picket fence and walk up the pathway to your new townhouse. Your husband finishes talking to the realtor and hands you the second set of keys. You squirm in excitement at the thought of your own house, your own home. Your furniture should be arriving later today, all chosen from a set of matching catalogues. The framed photographs of your honeymoon will arrive on Monday and the French wine glasses on Tuesday. It’s all written down inside your diary and it will all happen on time. You walk into the living room and look at the book that sits on the glass table in front of you. You pick it up with both your arms, holding it right next to your heart.
Julia Faragher is a current university student with a passion for writing across all mediums, from novels and short stories to films, plays and poetry. Her adventure with writing began in November 2011, when she competed in National Novel Writing Month for the first time. Three years later, she had written three novels of more than 50,000 words each and fallen in love with writing. Since then, she has also had success writing in other areas, such as co-writing a play that won her high school competition and placing in the top 4 of last year’s ANU Interhall Poetry Slam. She also has a love for film, and served as the director, producer and writer for Dear Jasmine, winner of ‘Best Student Film’ at the Lights! Canberra! Action! Film Festival 2015. Other festival credits include Tropfest Jr, the All-American High School Film Festival and the Screen It Festival. She currently studies English, Gender Studies and Law at ANU and runs her own short film company, Skybound Productions.
This piece has been published with the support of the ACT Government.