I am the opposite of Pretty Woman. People think I’m obscenely rich | Brigid Delaney

OThe next day I ran early to an appointment and with fifteen minutes to spare, I spontaneously walked into a house that was open for viewing. It looked unassuming from the street, but inside it was spectacular. Each room was generously portioned and flooded with light. Just being around the house seemed to improve my mood and make me feel clear and calm. But the most amazing thing was the view. It was on the harbour, with views as far as Manly. Not only that – it had two pools, one invitingly set just outside the patio, adorned with expensive furniture, while the second was on the edge of the garden – a harbor pool.

A real estate agent appeared by my side as I marveled at a bathroom larger than my flat. His name was Tom and his hushed tone was that of a confidant, a consigliere: “Isn’t it incredible?”

I felt trapped and self-conscious, like an intruder – a class intruder – and I did something stupid. I pretended that the house didn’t interest me because it was too small. My best accent at Melbourne private school (that is, I spoke completely through my nose, without opening my mouth) I replied, “I was looking for something bigger, but well done, yes, well done with the interior. “

I sounded like a whale in distress. My cheeks went red from trying to get the words out of my nose. ugh!! i had to get out!! I turned on my heels and left with what I hoped was a convincing hauteur. I burst out laughing in the street. Rich people are absurd, I thought. Two pools!

I assumed this would be the end, but after I got my phone number for contact tracing, the agent called me regularly for the next two weeks.

Sometimes it took a while before the penny dropped and I spoke normally, through my mouth, my mind swirling – Tom? Tom? That is until he started talking about other properties I might like – the one with six bedrooms, a boathouse, a private dock, a tennis court, two tennis courts! Houses bigger than the small box I had seen at the open for inspection. Houses that were $10 million, $11 million, $12 million. My heart would sink if I honked through my nose, “Oh Tom, sounds great but…” I was traveling, my husband was gone, I was on my period, and then there was Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid. All the while Tom was nice, he just wanted me to be happy, to find a really huge, gigantic luxury house to call my own. I sat there and felt miserable. I wanted to correct him, but it felt so uncomfortable. I left too late! I was caught in a lie.

Part of my reluctance to expose my true self stemmed from a humiliating encounter on the 35th floor of a large Melbourne bank about ten years ago.

I was a broke freelancer doing a story for a financial services magazine about private bankers. Who were they? And who were their customers? I was led into an inner sanctuary where everything was not only marginally better than the public banking spaces – but phenomenally better, like a five-star boutique hotel. There were even butlers!

After the interview ended, the banker told me to look myself. On my way to the elevator, I saw about a dozen people milling about. Cake! A seminar or lecture had just ended and people were eating petit fours in pairs or alone.

I was hungry. I took my chance. I took a cake. A butler asked me if I wanted coffee. This was life!

My reverie was interrupted by an elderly gentleman, impeccably dressed—a light gray suit with a faint pinstripe, tie in a Windsor knot. We struck up a conversation, but the feeling he got was absolute attention, a sort of delighted engagement with my observations of the weather, the paintings, the cake. I loved it! We skated lightly from subject to subject as he maneuvered me into a comfortable chair. While seated, he leaned even closer to me and stared at me as if I were the most fascinating person on earth. I drank it. At one point, seeing that my plate was empty, he motioned for the butler to bring me another coffee, another plate of cake.

This way maybe 20 minutes passed until I asked him what he was doing here. He worked here. He was one of the private bankers. Then something slipped, his impeccable benevolent mask. What was l do here? He asked. Relaxed in his company, I told him I was a freelance journalist, doing a story about private banking and… I stopped. We both stopped. A mutual moment of cognitive reorganization. A kind of horror quickly spread across his face, an expression strong enough to curdle the coffee in my stomach.

“A journalist?”

He didn’t have to say it, but I knew. He had thought I was a wealthy person. A customer of the bank. Empire. He said journalist like other people said killer.

In a different voice he now told me to leave – that this was for customers only. My cheeks burned as I walked to the elevator.

Remember that famous scene in Pretty Woman where the store clerk found Julia Roberts poor and treated her with disdain?

Well, the banker and the real estate agent thought I was rich and treated me like a princess. I was an inverted Pretty Woman. I was ugly woman! (or vice versa, Ugly Man…??)

Every time the phone rang, I started to feel sick. I got tense when I saw a real estate sandwich sign on the street advertising an open house.

Then the calls stopped for almost a year. But last week Tom called again. And again it took me a while to post it. He asked if I had found a suitable place to live. “I like where I am,” I said, looking around my rented two-and-a-half-room apartment before realizing it was it, Tom. He wanted to sell me another mansion on the harbor. I would love this one. He could show me tomorrow, private viewing. I could get the first dibs.

I closed my eyes for a moment and felt the tug of war of fate. Surely it would be easiest to just go with the natural conclusion of this misunderstanding – go to the house, say through my nose, “Oh Tom, it’s perfect, it’s just honey” and then agree to buy the house (a bargain at $15 million!) and somehow find myself in an even more absurd situation than the one I was already in. I would buy the mansion not to make us feel uncomfortable, to be polite.

And that was, of course, ironically, my class giveaway. Only a middle-class person would go to such lengths to avoid embarrassment.

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