The Way We Lied

She glanced at Charles and was pleased to see that he seemed to be enjoying himself, looking more relaxed than of late after all the pressure of leaving the agency and starting his new position. Perhaps he would continue to be the urbane and captivating man she had married after all, in spite of his new found principles.
Alex sipped her wine and slipped her foot out of her expensive sequined shoes. As her toes found Nick’s ankle he coughed and commented, “That was delicious. I’m really looking forward to the main course. How about you, sweetie?”
She laughed. “I’m simply ravenous tonight. I just want to devour everything I see! I can’t wait for the rest!”
Nick laughed too and pulled her hand into his and under his napkin to feel the growing excitement there. “Well save some room for me, darling.”
Alex whipped her hand away after giving his fly a quick squeeze. “Mmm, yummy, my favourite,” she pouted, then called across to Charles. “Darling your former business partner has a filthy sense of humour. Was he always so disreputable? Is that why you ditched him?”
“Absolutely, my love, old Nick there has the most disgusting repertoire of jokes in the business. Don’t get me started in front of the children! We’ll save them for later!”
“Yeah Charles,” retorted Nick. “ Why don’t you tell the one about the lady getting a tattoo. That always brings the house down!”
“Nick, I do hope you aren’t going to tell any of your appalling jokes tonight,” admonished Sarah, then turned to Helen, her neighbour. “He really can’t be trusted. Honestly a few drinks and he completely forgets all rules of decent behaviour!”
In response, Nick simply held his glass aloft to toast his wife. “Darling! To us! To my beautiful wife and her wonderful sense of humour!”
“GSOH,” he said, turning to Alex. “ Gross shortage more like!”
Alex giggled obligingly, but puzzled over the acronym.
“You know, good sense of humour, like in the personal ads.”
“Oh yes, of course, I couldn’t quite think what you meant for a minute. Charles used to have a good sense of humour. It’s not much in evidence these days, since he started his new venture.” She took a slow sip of wine. “So what would you put in a personal ad, Nick? Not that you’d ever have to advertise of course, darling!”
“Hmm, let’s see,” Nick pretended to stroke his chin and ponder, “GIB?”
Alex guessed its meaning, but chose to taunt him and frowned. “What’s that mean? Great Ideas Bloke?”
“Yeah, well that as well, but more like,” he dropped his voice. “Great in Bed. That should get a good response, shouldn’t it?”
“Oh, I guess it might work for you,” she said airily.
“Go on then, what would you say about yourself to haul in the fellas?”
She smiled, then turned to him and licked her lips slowly, very slowly with a very wet tongue. “I’ve never ever had to say anything about myself Nick, darling. They just all come running along after me and I just brush them away!”

to be continued April 4

Under Way

Tailing SNext morning the crew rose early and grumpily. It was still dark with the faintest hint of a dawn along the eastern horizon. Emerging sleepily on deck Potkin listened for the sound of birds breaking wind, but heard nothing but the lapping of the tide against the hull and the cook’s curses.

Ebenhaezer Coleye had cooked up a satisfyingly filling Full English for the crew, to be followed by toast and preserves whilst for Potkin he prepared pan fried Portuguese sardines topped with a Kean’s Farm vintage cheddar cheese melt, lightly browned under the grill. The moment breakfast was over and still clutching steaming mugs of tea, the crew turned to on deck and Moses Smith descended into the engine room with a blowtorch. After roughly twenty seven minutes of pumping and hammering, coaxing and cursing in his native tongue and something technical with the blowlamp, the engine gave a wheezy mechanical cough followed by the easy, hollow donk donk donk of a gently idling single cylinder Bolinder marine diesel which made the stern bounce and blew smoke rings from a nine inch diameter exhaust pipe in the mizzen rigging. Potkin tried to keep out of the way as everyone pulled on ropes and the skipper shouted orders.

The mooring lines were cast off and the Centaur chugged a slow gamelan away from the quay, into the main river channel and down stream. With the tops’l catching the lightest airs up above the treetops and the heavy foresail set and drawing, the ageing Bolinder was silenced and the majestic barge ghosted down river in company with more of her ilk. The morning grew lighter despite the glowering blanket of cloud.

“Get the mains’l hauled out,” ordered the mate.

The mainsheet block was dragged out, hooked to an iron ring on the horse and moused securely in place. Four burly mariners heaved on the sheet until the sail was taught and filled with wind.

(For those of you who, like me, are finding this a bit technical: a sheet is a rope what controls a sail and a horse isn’t a horse it’s a big beam of wood going from one side of the boat to the other so as the sail can flap and clank along it; and I have no idea what the mouse was doing. Or… if you are still confused, imagine a lot of fluttering sails and slapping ropes and people jumping about and a bit of shouting followed, mostly, by a period of calm and everything looking like it’s supposed to.)

A stays’l thrashed it’s way slowly skywards and was brought under control.   The mizzen sail was set and trimmed. Rick offered to teach Potkin to ‘tail’. The stalwart cat was not sure what he was doing, exactly, but he gripped a rope firmly in his teeth and pulled backwards, when instructed, as hard as he could while Rick and the mate heaved and grunted. Eventually all the sails were billowing out and the barge heeled to le’ward, straining in the freshening breeze. It started to rain.

 

The Way We Lied

Nick had been surreptitiously feeling Alex’s thigh since the start of Caroline’s special millennium dinner. It would have looked obvious if he had leant over and slipped his hand further up her skirt, but when he dropped his napkin he had ducked beneath the tablecloth and grasped her ankle, then traced his fingers up her calf as far as her knee.
“Got it,” he gasped, as he straightened up, then inclined his head towards hers and whispered. “ I’m such a butterfingers.”
“I just love buttered fingers,” Alex whispered back. “My favourite.”
Nick winked and took a large pat of butter from the dish on the table and proceeded to lavishly spread it on his melba toast, then take a large bite. “Mmm, delicious, all buttery….”
Alex laughed and smacked his hand.
“Come on now you two,” called Charles. “Behave! Got to set a good example for the children!”
“Oh I am, dear chap,” laughed Nick. “Just trying to teach your wife some table manners!”
“Honestly Nick,” she giggled. “You are so awful. I don’t know how Sarah puts up with you!”
“What don’t I put up with?” Sarah called from the far end of the table. “Is that Nick you’re talking about? He really is the pits, isn’t he? I expect he’ll have the soup in his lap if he’s not careful!” She then turned away to help one of the children to a portion of croutons.
“You know, if I do spill my soup as my dear wife predicts, I might need help in mopping myself down….” Nick murmured over his soup bowl, peering at Alex.
“I’m sure you won’t, but I’ll give you a helping hand if necessary,” Alex simpered, carefully sipping the hot broth, so her lipgloss would not melt.
A groping hand responded to her offer of assistance and Alex was pleased. This dinner was going to be so much more fun than she had thought. I mean, trust Caroline to come up with such a long and elaborate menu. And as for letting the children have dinner with them, well it was just asking for trouble. Thank goodness the twins weren’t yet old enough to stay up ridiculously late.

to be continued March 31

The Way We Lied

She paused, her head held a little to one side. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever thought of sex as a gift, have you? Something you can give to make others happy. No, I thought not. For you it’s a bargaining tool. A means to an end.”
Alex was feeling increasingly uneasy and looked around for Helen. “I’m really not sure I know what you mean.”
“Well, let’s say you met someone who did not meet your normal standards, physically or financially, but who needed the comfort of a physical relationship. Could you give them the ultimate gift? I don’t think you could.” Mary paused for a moment, and Alex could feel her eyes absorbing her reactions. “I think you are the sort of person who can only relate to those who already have everything. People who can give to you, not you to them. I don’t think you could ever give to someone who really and truly had nothing to give you but simply had an immense need for human contact and comfort.”
“I honestly don’t know what this is all about. I mean, I’m happily married with children. What a strange conversation!”
Mary then turned and walked away, leaving Alex feeling that she was the one who had been judged and found wanting.
“Are you alright?” Helen asked as she returned.
“That woman’s unbelievable!” gasped Alex. “Do you really like her?”
Helen glanced across at Mary, laughing with an attentive audience, “Oh but she’s so interesting when you get to know her. She can seem a little strange at first, I know, but she is really very kind and so different to everyone else.”
Alex snorted. “You can say that again! She’s…. well she’s very rude actually!”
“Oh I’m sure she didn’t mean to be, Alex,” Helen said in that irritatingly girlish way she had, shaking her fringe from her eyes. “I find her so encouraging and helpful. She says outrageous things just to make you think about yourself and ask questions.”
“Well that’s alright then,” Alex said more quietly. “I hope her advice helps you sell loads more pictures. Look, I ought to be going. I promised Charles I’d be back for dinner tonight. I’ve hardly seen him all week.”
She started to walk away and then turned back. “Put one of your little red stickers on the jug of flowers, will you? I’ll pick it up from you next week some time.”
As she left, she glanced back through the plate glass window. That damned woman was watching her go and was still smiling serenely.

to be continued March 28

The Rotting Hulk Tavern

The Rotting Hulk Tavern SThe local haunt of the Maldon seafaring community was an alehouse called the Rotting Hulk Tavern. It had a faded sign swinging wildly in the wind and was a high, eccentric, weatherboarded building, clinging tenuously to the edge of the salt flats.   Inside, the bar was cramped, dark and warm. Every nook and corner was cluttered with nautical paraphernalia donated by travellers on all the seven seas, fixed to walls and ceiling by drawing pin and Blue Tack were tobacco browned paintings of ships, sharks’ jaws, blocks, fishing floats, dried puffer-fish, half hulls and postcards, many creased and dog eared, from every location with a seaboard. In an obscure alcove there lurked the scrimshaw carved tooth of the very whale that had devoured Westward Ho Smy. Wax encrusted Mateus Rose bottles with worn down candles graced every table. The customers jostled noisily, fierce looking people, some ragged, others flamboyant in feathers and ribbons, some boiler suited or Guernsey smocked, and occasionally an embarrassed yachty in yellow wellies trying to keep a low profile. Many of the rapscallions carried cutlasses or harpoons and exuded an aroma of Stockholm tar and bilge water, scurvy mariners all.

Rick ordered pints of deep headed bitter beer for himself and the crew and a saucer of milk for Potkin. Eben smiled at the cat and poured a tot of Pusser’s Rum into the milk. He felt kindly towards Potkin who was shy and nervous in the press of strangers. As Potkin was lapping his milk a slim torti-shell coloured cat came up to him.

“Hello sailor,” she said, “Would you like to buy me a drink?”

Potkin thought it would be impolite to refuse so he ordered her something mauve and very expensive in a champagne coupe. It came with a cherry on a stick. When they had finished their drinks she said,

“We could pop upstairs for a cuddle if you would like to.”

Potkin replied that he could not as he had to keep an eye on Rick. She smiled gently at him and sighed.

“You’re a sweet cat. Come and see me again sometime.”

When Potkin rejoined Rich he was sitting at a table chatting with the skipper of a local smack, Heartsease Finbow, whose cordate, jade velvet eye patch trimmed with lace complemented perfectly her shock of flame red hair

“I thought you’d scored there.” she said to Potkin with a smile and girlish laugh.

The drinking and talking, some singing and roistering, went on late into the night.

Finally, “That’s enough, now.” shouted Absalom Rowbottom above the din; “We rise at sparrows’ fart.”

Arm in arm they reeled back to the ship and turned, gratefully, into their hammocks.

 

The Way We Lied

Alex found herself being regarded with a cool haughty stare and felt she was being judged. In the tight black trousers and soft black leather jacket she had chosen for this occasion, she had thought she would seem edgy and cool. But suddenly she felt ridiculous before this woman with piercing blue eyes, who had made no special effort with her appearance. Mary was wearing jeans with a man’s shirt. Alex noticed that her hands were rough and workmanlike and she wore a long chain bearing an old fob watch, dangling between her breasts.
“Well since you are an established connoisseur of Helen’s work, what do you make of her new style?” Mary asked. “Do you like it?”
Alex hesitated, “It’s very interesting, but I think I like the flowers in the jug best.”
Mary smiled her lazy smile and nodded. “You prefer her old style. Safer, isn’t it? I guessed that’s the one you’d pick.”
Helen came briefly to the rescue. “I suppose that’s because it’s like the ones Alex’s got already. Maybe the new style does take a bit of getting used to.” She gave them both a small nervous smile, then said, “Actually, will you excuse me a minute, someone’s just arrived.” She rushed away and Alex was left feeling exposed.
“Helen’s right,” Alex flustered, wondering why she felt she had to justify her taste before this critical face. “It would look very nice alongside the ones I’ve bought from her previously. And the new work is very different. But I think perhaps it could grow on me in time.”
Mary was still looking at her with amusement. “Maybe it will. I rather doubt it though in your case.”
“Why do you say that? You don’t know what I like!”
Mary shrugged. “No? Well, I know you like decorative things, just as you yourself are decorative. You like to be desired for your attractiveness without actually giving of yourself, just as you like flirting with the men around you, toying with them. You are playing with Nick and there are probably others too.”
Alex felt herself growing hot. “Nick is my friend’s husband and my husband’s former business partner, actually. We just happened to bump into each other at that country house sale last week.”
Mary smiled again, that secretive knowing smile which implied she knew far more. “Of course you did. You are far too clever to make a mistake. So is Nick. But you should both be careful. You might get caught out one day. The sexual games you both like to play, can have serious consequences you know.”

to be continued March 24

The Way We Lied

The New End Gallery was quite smart, quite London, Alex thought for a provincial town. It was bleached and modern, with one bare brick wall revealing the seventeenth century origins of the main building. As she entered, Helen spotted her and rushed over, hands ready to grasp hers. Helen was really Caroline’s friend, but they had met many times at various dinners and lunches.
“Alex, you came! It’s so good of you! Let me get you a drink,” Helen said, taking her towards the back of the gallery where a table was set with platters of snacks and a slim girl, probably a student from the local art college, was holding a tray of full glasses. Alex took a glass of elderflower presse, as she was driving and also did not intend staying very long.
Helen guided her around the displays, pointing out various works and their creators. “But I want to see your pictures,” Alex said. “That’s what I’ve really come for, you know how much I like your work.”
They stopped in front of a group of still life paintings. One was in the style familiar to Alex, depicting a large pot of yellow daisies, shining with the sun, an open window behind them. The others were rougher, darker, cruder almost, presenting platters of grainy bread, pitted vegetables and leeks so green and muddy you could almost smell their pungent scent.
Alex was stunned. “Oh, these paintings are nothing like the ones you’ve done before.”
“I know,” Helen said, smiling. “I’m quite pleased with them. It’s a completely new direction for me. The most wonderful artist has been acting as my mentor, well to all of us really, and she suggested I should develop a new approach. I mean I’ve had mentors before, we all do in the Guild, but this time I really feel I’ve found something different, more meaningful. What do you think?”
Alex was unsure how to comment, without sounding critical. She liked the old soft style and already had a couple of Helen’s flower paintings at home. “Well it certainly makes a change. Do you think they will be popular?”
“You mean will they sell? Actually so far they seem to be going rather well, but that’s not really important to me. I just want to feel that my painting matters and Mary says my art should be like a voice from the soul.” Helen gazed at her paintings, regarding her work with a look of satisfaction.
“Mary? That wouldn’t be Mary Reid by any chance, would it?”
Helen looked up at Alex with bright, eager eyes. “Yes, that’s right. Do you know her?”
“I’ve met her briefly. She seems to be everywhere at the moment.”
“She’s wonderful Alex, in fact she’s here right now. Mary! Over here!” Helen called to the tall figure Alex was beginning to think was shadowing her and intruding into every corner of her life. “Mary, this is Alex Wilson. I believe you two may have met before. And Alex is one of my best customers,” Helen laughed. “Or should I say patrons!”

to be continued March 17