The Handbag Gang

 

The tapestry flowers embellished with sequins was Lorraine’s favourite, closely followed by the embossed olive velvet and linen embroidered with thistles and cornflowers.

It was an odd hobby for a 15-year-old, collecting handbags and other accessories, especially as few of them were ever used. It was just as strange that her two closest friends, Sam and Toby, shared the same passion. Every season they would display their collection at a local bazaar to buy, sell and exchange handbags, brightly coloured silk scarves, and gloves. Leather and plastic were banned. Every item had to be fabric; linen, velvet or canvas, lovingly hand embellished with appliqué, needlepoint, embroidery or beads, and very colourful.

Sam had the skill to mend, make and create new items, an ability inherited from her mother who was a florist expert at designing wreathes and bespoke greetings cards for every occasion. Toby was 16 and had a steady boyfriend, but that did not interfere with her dedication to fashion accessories. In fact, Luke was happy to help out, searching for antique handbags, scarves and gloves in charity shops and boutique sales.

And it was Luke who made that extraordinary discovery. None of the friends had seen a handbag quite like it before, its iridescent satin catching the light like butterfly wings.

It also had zipped compartments. When Luke had searched each one in the charity shop they were empty. The mere fact that someone had donated something this expensive was remarkable in itself. Expecting them to leave valuables inside it as well was a little too much to hope for, but Lorraine needed to make sure that the odd diamond had not been caught in a seam. She rummaged about the handbag’s interior and pulled out a black velvet cube.

“But I went through it thoroughly,” protested Luke, “and nobody but us has touched it since. It’s not one of you having a joke, is it?” He knew that the Handbag Gang was too dedicated to waste time on playing tricks like that, but it seemed to be the only explanation.

Lorraine placed it on the trestle table with their recent acquisitions. “What is it? Looks like a jewellery box, but doesn’t seem to open. It’s too large for a key ring and doesn’t have a link to attach it to anything else.”

“Perhaps it’s a demon taxi driver’s fluffy dice,” suggested Toby.

The four of them stood gazing at the mysterious black cube.

Then it moved - very slightly, but just enough to make them jump.

“My God! It must have batteries,” exclaimed Luke.

“It’s an electronic toy of some sort,” Toby agreed. “Perhaps it operates by Wi-Fi.”

“To do what?”

The words were hardly out of Luke’s mouth when its sides opened.

Like a piece of origami, huge, iridescent petals unfurled.

“Oh that is too weird!”

The four friends backed away as the cube rapidly increased in size and exuded a grey duvet of mist.

The room grew dark.

Lorraine, Toby, Sam and Luke would have dashed out if they could find the door.

Then the ghostly mist dissipated and the room returned to normal. The cube resumed its original shape, as innocent as a fur fabric dice dangling in the windscreen of a taxi, albeit driven by a demon.

The Handbag Gang refused to discuss what had happened. None of them indulged in illegal substances or was prone to hallucinations, so embarrassment inhibited them from talking about it.

Months passed. It did not occur to them that the odd experience had been responsible for the sudden burst of energy that had encouraged them to transform their innocent interest in fashion accessories into a serious business. They called their new brand Butterfly Designs.

 Within a couple of years the young adults were supplying accessories on eBay to brighten up drab society. They soon had the funds to expand into clothing and their designs were mass produced for the high street outlets they established. Their commitment to colour and decoration became an obsession. They did not understand why, when people were more affluent than they had ever been before, they dressed in such dull, uniform colours. The chemicals that enabled modern textiles to be dyed in brilliant, exotic shades had never been used to their full advantage in the West. Designers, especially those of the major stores, seemed committed to the dull end of the spectrum as though anything else would scare off the customers. Even the fruit and vegetables on supermarket aisles had better colour coordination than the clothing department.

Lorraine, Toby, Sam and Luke were determined that fashion should embrace bright hues to reflect the glorious world they lived in.

After five years of trading, the entrepreneurs were controlling a huge clothing empire with outlets across Europe. At first fashion magazines had ranted at their unsubtle blending of colours. Butterfly Designs ignored the outcry. Their skirts, jackets, trousers, shirts, frocks and blouses were spangled with beads, sequins, embroidery and appliqué. And then - horror of horrors - they designed a catalogue of bright, brash clothes aimed at the senior market. People in their eighties deserted M&S and wore vivid, clashing colours to demonstrate their lack of respect for convention and drably dressed members of younger generations.

Soon, bright colours were everywhere.

Schools changed the compulsory grey, navy blue and dark green uniforms for rainbow colours which pupils could mix and match. Military designers suggested silver braid and buttons on lavender for a range of dress uniforms, but were promptly reprimanded before they started adding sequins to combat gear.

No longer just a fashion statement, brightly coloured clothes, from Bermuda shorts to burkhas, became the norm across the globe. Rich and poor alike now felt free to express their individuality in the way they dressed whether neat or sloppy. People became happier, more confident, and satisfied with life. Cases of depression dropped and mindless crime became rarer.

Lorraine, with her new partner Larry, Sam, resolutely single, Toby, now married to Luke, decided to take stock of what they had achieved in ten years. Each of them was so wealthy they could have spent the rest of their lives in indolent luxury if they had chosen to. None of them would have admitted it, but they had joined the self-satisfied elite that at one time they had taken such delight in ridiculing with their outrageous designs. The Handbag Gang no longer wore the clothes they had created. Everything was haut couture, tasteful and very, very expensive. Perhaps it was time to retire and let the huge clothing empire they had established float on the stock exchange.

Those early, precious items they had collected before launching Butterfly Designs had been lovingly packed away. Now it was time to remove everything from the crates stored at Lorraine’s mansion and decide whether it should be retained to litter the interiors of their immaculate, palatial homes.

The beaded and embroidered handbags were first to be pulled out. Then Luke came across the iridescent, satin bag that he had discovered so long ago.

There was something inside it, so he shook it out.

A black velvet cube fell onto the polished pine floor and bounced against the crystal encrusted geode Lorraine had collected in South America.

“What’s that?” Toby asked.

Luke shrugged. “Don’t know. Can’t be worth anything.”

“Chuck it away then.”

“Okay.” Luke opened the door of the stove in the centre of the open plan room and tossed the cube into it.

The change was imperceptible at first. Then slowly colour began to leach away from everything; their fine clothes, furnishings, and even the garden furniture outside.

For a moment the companions hardly noticed.

Their world was losing its rainbow hues to reflect the dull state of mind they had dwindled into.

As colour seeped away from the world, with it went the friendly smiles of strangers. The world’s pessimistic outlook returned, so did the petty squabbles, intolerance and murderous wars.

That night the small cube sat in the dying embers of the fire. It shook the ash from its velvet skin like a small dog, and then shot up the flue and out into the dark sky embroidered with nebulae, gas giants and diamond stars.