The hyphen backstory

 No one asked Susannah Fontaine-Williams about her hyphenation. She didn't avoid talking about Bob Williams, it just didn't seem to come up. They'd married on the Greek island of Phraxos when she was just 20 or 23, depending on whose story you believed, produced an adorable set of triplets, then went their separate ways. Still deeply in love they recoupled several times yearly usually with the changing of the seasons. For those brief, blissful periods, mostly spent somewhere in the Mediterranean, they seemed to be nothing more than a passionate young couple traveling with overachieving triplets (more about them later).

She always brought something exotic for Bob and their threesome so most times, she'd check an enormous bag and despite her frequent traveler status, have to pay for the extra weight. But not this time. She whistled as she breezed by curbside check-in at JFK and straight to the TSA pre-screened line with nothing but a carry-on suitcase and a stylish handbag created by a mostly unknown designer.

Macallan finds nothing in SFW’s stylish, yet functional bag

The head of security at Neiman’s, Macallan, saw what he saw in the monitor and radio’d the doormen to stop the blond talk show host as she left the building. The man everyone called  Single Malt very much liked Susannah Fontaine-Williams. They’d met a few times in the massive department store and she chatted with him as if they were old grade school buddies who’d somehow lost track of each other over the years. She remembered his wife’s name and how old his kids were. He made a point to DVR her show though he seldom had a chance to watch it, what with the crazy hours and the side jobs.

So when Darrel’s voice came over the radio, “She’s here boss,” he felt more than a tinge of sadness as he made his way to the 52nd Street entrance. He found Susannah Fontaine-Williams and Darell talking  basketball. “If I was the NBA comissioner, Miss Fontaine-Williams…” “Please, Darrel, just call me Susannah already.”

Darrel continued, “…first thing we do is get rid of at least six, maybe eight teams. Talent’s too diluted.” She nodded appreciatively. “Then, I order the refs to start calling ‘traveling’ again. Anyone can make Top Ten if you can take four steps to the basket!”

“Mac!” SFW squealed. Macallan watched her face and body language and thought, wow, for someone caught shoplifting on camera she is one cool customer.

“Miss Fontaine-WIlliams,” he started. “I mean, Susannah, I hate to ask you this, but I need to have a look inside your bag.”

Inside the bag with Walt

Walt liked going into the storage pod and standing among the objects in Susannah Fontaine-Williams’s purse. It felt cozy to him. And while he had a legitmate reason to go into her bag from time to time to check on capacity and to make sure that nothing too odd was going on as clearly stated in Item 141, Periodic Inspections,” he was aware that he needn’t really do more than poke his head in the door for a moment or two. He also knew that he might have personal issues he didn’t really understand as even someone who crammed as much into her bag as SFW would never come close to filling what amounted to a 12-foot cube. Walt particularly liked those moments the bag was open and he could peer through the ceiling at her world. It was like looking up from the bottom of a pond through the shimmering surface, everything a little bit distorted, especially at the edges. He theorized that the difference in the size of the portal on either side caused the distortion. On his side of the opening, the portal took up most of the ceiling, umbrella-shaped, about ten feet across. On her side, the opening stretched just the width of her bag. That he could have devised such a thing awed him to no end. The few times he’d peered through the opening to her side of bag, he’d seen the underside of a chandlier, or a plain white ceiling. But this last time, he could see SFW’s torso crossing back and forth, and the bottoms of clothes that must have been on hangers or draped on hooks. He thought he ran a small risk of course of getting clunked on the head by some object or other, and wondered what would happen if she reached in while he was there. Could she, he wondered, mistake him for something or other, grab him, and pluck him from the storage pod – her bag – into her world? I will install a transparent barrier, he told himself, and a chaise lounge beneath it to optimize my observations.

After shoplifting

Following the taping of SFW that afternoon, Susannah Fontaine-Williams accepted the invitation of one of her guests, the British  philosopher/astronomer Malcolm Norton-Hollings, for lunch and drinks at Fiorello’s. It was a gorgeous New York afternoon and they sat at a sidewalk table drinking something fizzy and critiquing the passersby. The bag lay at her feet and she checked it by rubbing her leg against it every few minutes. Still there. Norton-Hollings was her favorite (favourite) type of guest: intellectual, witty and tweedily good looking, there to talk up his latest book, generously dishing out the flirty banter. When Norton-Hollings excused himself to relieve himself of too much fizzy, she plopped the bag on her lap and reached inside to check on the contents. She had had no intention of taking more than one item, but once the Vera Wang had been gulped up into the bag’s void, there was the matter of the Dior, the so many things they brought her to try on that they couldn’t possibly keep count of what remained piled on the chairs and day lounge in the dressing room. The dresses were not there, nor were the shoes, nor anything else she had liberated from Neiman’s. She found, however, an envelope that she did not recall placing and pulled it out, did not look at it, and quickly tucked it back. Would it be, she wondered,  better to discuss the bag’s properties with Norton-Hollings before or after their upcoming tryst? As the distinguished scholar returned to the table squinting in the bright reflected sunlight, she thought also that it might be worthwhile to read the license agreement she had so eagerly signed.

The need to know

It didn’t take long before Susannah Fontaine-Williams began to wonder “just what this baby can do.” Would the bag, for instance, block the signal of an alarm tag on a Vera Wang? She felt like that time her producers put her in a formula one car on a closed track. Her guest, international formula one racing sensation Tony Almondswerth gave her a quick lesson. Then they zipped her into racing togs, popped a helmet on her head, aimed a small camera at her face – she thought she looked adorable and so did the audience.  “Take it nice and easy,” he advised. She thought, as did the audience, that he leered salaciously at her. No matter. She floored it, giggling all the while until she sideswiped the wall, emerging exhilarated and unscathed. “Yes,” she said out loud one morning while Antoine happily dozed next to her in bed. “I need to know what this bag can do for me.”

Item #37

Egberto leafed through the license agreement that Susannah Fontaine-Williams had left open on her nightstand. She was painting his toenails purple, not his favorite color, and he'd have to remind himself to pick up nail polish remover on the way home. He'd have to remind himself to remove the color before he went to the pool, not that anyone in New York pays attention to anyone's toenails. The chlorine would do the job if he forgot. Her polish application technique tickled so he wasn't really reading so much as trying to fend off the ticklishness. “Suze, listen to this,” he said. “Item 37: some objects not belonging to nor placed by licensee may periodically appear in bag from time to time.” SFW could not possibly take seriously a sentence with such a redundancy problem: periodically and from time to time. If an assistant brought her uneditd copy like that, she'd fire him on the spot. Or her. She concentrated on drawing a smooth edge on Egberto's big toe toenail while simultaneously tickling the bottom of his foot with the index finger of her left hand. “Hold still,” she said.

License agreement

The man’s name turned out to be Walt and he told Susannah Fontaine-Williams that the bag would cost her ten thousand, not the fifteen hundred he first quoted. And she wouldn’t really own the bag, just a license to use it that Walt could revoke any time. He produced a 40-page document outlining myriad terms and conditions she’d have to agree to. “Here,” he said. “Just check this box and initial. No one ever reads these things.”  She was impressed. Walt told her he got the idea from Apple and Microsoft and Google and… Anyway, she really had no choice. During her trial week with the bag she stuffed everything in it she could: files, books, makeup, pens, a notepad, a straightening iron and a curling iron just in case.  And still it weighed next to nothing. If she shook it, it didn’t make a sound and nothing shifted inside. Once, it fell onto its side on a table and nothing spilt out, as if it was empty. But reach into the interior void, and there was that hairbrush, exactly where she left it. As she saw it, well worth the ten grand. Hell, a decent bag without this kind of storage would run a few thou and not even Oprah had anything like this hanging from her shoulder. “Deal,” she said and extended her hand.

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