This story is (very) loosely based on the Greek legend of Calypso (of Odyssey fame), the setting inspired by a group exercise at a Mythology course at CityLit. The course itself wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it got a new story going and that was the point of the exercise.
Calypso sat at the reception desk of Z Fashion International, staring across the acres of empty marble to the rain-streaked windows. She was alone. She was always alone. The Fates were bitches.
Of course it hadn’t always been that way, and on a dreary Friday afternoon where everyone who was anyone was ‘working from home’ or in a ‘planning meeting’ at the pub, she allowed herself to wallow in memory.
It came back to her parents, of course, don’t these things always blame the parents? They’d come together in a mad affair of passion, ambition and hunger. Then discovered their appetites took different forms.
Her mother, Hecate (Calypso privately called her The Witch), was passionate about power, excitement, new experiences and conquest. Her father, Atticus (mentally nicknamed Atlas, he seemed to carry the world on his shoulders) cared about power, tradition, class and appearances. Needless to say, their relationship lasted just long enough to produce a bewildered baby girl before it exploded in a display of fireworks that apparently enthralled the ‘it crowd’ to which they both belonged at the time. The members, now greying but still stylish, still occasionally mentioned it in passing.
The Witch took off for the bright lights and intoxication of Paris, leaving Atlas with a child and no idea on parenting. They muddled through and Calypso sighed at the rose-tinted review of her childhood. She probably would have been a Daddy’s Girl even if mother hadn’t flown the coop as soon as she’d been weaned (it was astounding she’d stayed that long many said). So it was just the two of them, Atlas and his perfect little girl.
Sweet, gentle, considerate, caring, all the things her mother was not. And if she ever felt a stirring of discontent or curiosity for another way of life, she squashed it, hard. Her Daddy was always there for her and so she would always be there for him.
And so she grew, the apple of her father’s eye, into a young woman, accomplished in all the traditional female arts; cooking, fine sewing, household management, music, drawing, languages, deportment, dancing and history. She steered well clear of inappropriate subjects such as science, mathematics (other than for household budgeting), business management and politics. Those were subjects for men, and should be left to Daddy and others like him. The Witch had a degree in quantum physics and Calypso shuddered in horror at the very thought.
While The Witch never seemed to wish for direct contact with her estranged husband or child, they heard plenty about her conquests and antics through the industry grapevine. Inevitable when you’re in the same field, and even more so when that field is Fashion.
When she was old enough – having completed school and then a year at a well-regarded finishing school that also taught skills such as shorthand and typing for those young ladies who wished to be gainfully occupied between leaving education and getting married – she joined her father’s business as an office assistant and occasional model.
Their fashion house was focused on quality, not volume and catered to a very specific clientele. Unfortunately the clientele were, by this time, well past retirement age and numbers were decreasing and Calypso knew enough about household budgets to recognise that their business ‘household’ was going to be in trouble very shortly if nothing happened. She didn’t worry though. Daddy would fix it. He always did.
And then the War came. It was the only way she could think of it. Heralded by a simple, innocuous letter she dropped, unopened, on her father’s desk one morning. She glided out, ready to address the monthly invoice list, only to be recalled by a furious bellow from behind the polished walnut desk.
“Those damned upstarts from Z Fashion want to buy us.”
“Is the business up for sale?”
“No! And never will be if I have any say in the matter. This has been a family concern for five generations and I look forward to handing it on to your husband when the time comes.”
Calypso swallowed the selfish urge to ask after the possible identity of this future husband of hers and instead applied her efforts to soothing her father’s ruffled feathers.
Later that day, she heard from The Witch.
She picked up the central office phone, one of her particular responsibilities, only to hear a husky voice, with the power to command armies, on the other end.
“Calypso is it? Well my girl, I suppose you’ll need to be looking out for a new job now the Z team have Titan Clothing in their sights. I may have a spot for my child in my organisation, if you need it. Your skills will be sadly lacking of course but I daresay you’ll train up quick enough and I can use you as a private showing model in the meantime.”
Even though her mother couldn’t see her, Calypso straightened her already perfect posture, breathed through her nose, and smiled (it didn’t make her eyes), “Thank you so much for your consideration, however Titan Clothing is not for sale and no alternate employment will be required. Would you like to speak to my father?”
Hecate gave a crack of laughter, “The old fossil is in denial is he? Well remember my offer if you need it, but it’s only open while Titan is still independent. I don’t poach Z employees.”
The next thing Calypso heard was the dial tone. She thought it best not to mention the conversation to her father, his shoulders were already weighed with enough burdens.
And those burdens increased one hundredfold in the following weeks. The strongly worded refusal letter had wended its way to Z Fashion’s cathedral-like headquarters and the attacks started.
Nothing so crass as physical assault. This was far worse. The top fashion magazines, who previously referred to Titan with slightly condescending affection as ‘classic’ and ‘enduring’ suddenly started using words such as ‘dowdy’, ‘out of touch’ and (horrors) ‘frumpy’.
She wasn’t terribly au fait with the social media world but apparently the fashion bloggers and Instagram influencers were having a field day, writing wittily cutting captions to accompany photos of the latest Titan designs.
Z Fashion brought out an exciting new line for ‘sexy seniors’ and ‘classy silver foxes’. Calypso thought they were rather crass but when she ran across one of their most stalwart customers in the local cafe, fully decked out in the new Z range, she knew they were in trouble. The lady was very sweet but admitted her grandchildren had refused to be seen in public with her in her ‘beyond uncool’ Titan outfits and really, these Z pieces were rather fun and surprisingly comfortable.
She grew to dread the monthly invoice review, watching as staff were let go, shops closed and lines reduced. The office phone rang, she was the only one there to answer it. All the others were gone.
It was The Witch, “Last chance sweetness. Z will swoop in on the bankruptcy filing faster than a harpy over a trading ship and you’ll be nothing more than entertainment for their C-suite gods.”
Calypso summoned her dignity once again, “Thank you, I choose to believe in my father.”
Hecate sighed, “Oh he’s an idiot. I should have taken you with me but he was the only one able to support you. Now you’ve grown up in some old day nostalgia bubble and are completely incapable of dealing with the real world.”
“My skills and abilities are highly regarded.”
“By who, other than your idiot father? Fine, be a silly girl then but don’t come crying to me when it’s all gone. I am going to ask one thing of you though, and your father will agree with this, so feel free to check with him. Before the signatures are dry on the takeover paperwork, and make no mistake child, that is going to happen, I want you to visit The Fates.”
“The Fates. Think of them as fashion oracles. There’s three of them. They’re creepy as all hell but they know what’s going to happen before anyone else. You need to be presented to them. It should have been done months ago and I hate to think what sort of huff they’re going to get in over the delay.”
Once again, she hung up without warning and this time, Calypso took the conversation to her father.
To her astonishment, he agreed, rubbing his brow in concern as he contemplated the delay in her presentation to these three strangers. She was sent to the letter box with a request for an audience neatly inscribed on Titan’s best letterhead and impatiently watched for the reply.
It did not come through the post.