Darling Helen. My mother’s best friend. I remember them gossiping over coffee. There were children’s birthday parties. She looked after me and Ben when Mum had to rush Sam to A&E when he fell out of the tree house. And many other times when she picked us up from school.
And I don’t remember when she wasn’t successful. I wasn’t aware of it when I was younger, but now her paintings are reproduced everywhere as cards, prints and there are the books of course. Some people call her the Hockney of the home. I turn to look at the picture she gave us as a wedding present. A pile of pitted lemons in an earthenware bowl on a rough table, set before an open window with a view of blue ocean. She knew we were going to Xanthe for our honeymoon and this is the essence of Greece. I can just smell the zest and the sun baking the sand.
I can’t think when she and Simon divorced, but I never liked him. A sour, sullen man. Not at all friendly. But Helen has been happy, as far as I can tell, for many years. She still lives in the village, working in her old shed. But she’s not alone any more. She lives with Ted, a sweet man who gave up a career in marketing years ago, to be a carpenter. He always says he can make anything, as long as it’s wood. He carved my father a shepherd’s chair with a high back from a single trunk of oak, when a tree fell one hard winter at the old house.
There’s nothing in Helen’s letter that would worry my mother. In fact, it would please her, because Helen says such nice things about her. But I’m curious that she too had dealings with a Mary. It sounds as if this Mary was good for Helen. Yes, it sounds as if she was good, encouraging Helen in her work and maybe giving her the strength to break away from Simon. Was she the catalyst that broke their marriage? I wonder.