The Way We Lied

As she licked and sealed the gold envelope, Caroline shook her shiny blonde bob aside. That is all I shall allow myself to say, she thought, as she sat in the quiet kitchen. Now let there be an end to it. She has gone and I must let it go for all time.
Now, I must concentrate on the important things in my life. After all, I must focus on what really matters to me. I am a good wife and a good mother. That is where my priorities lie, not with obsessive fantasies. I have always believed that our primary purpose here on this earth is to procreate and that our children are our future.
We think at first, that love will last, but it just persuades us to make a choice. I think I made a good choice. I have the children anyway. They are beautiful. Blonde hair like mine and mostly kind. Although I can see some of my father’s arrogance and impatience coming out in Ben, even though he is only 13. Oh dear, I hope he will be tolerant and kind. I hope he finds a good wife and has a family. He should remember his mother, shouldn’t he? I haven’t given him a horror of efficient women as well, have I?
Caroline propped the envelope on the kitchen table against the beribboned flower pot filled with a Christmas candle decoration which Lisa had made in school. She hoped her letter would eventually be joined by other contributions. She refilled the kettle and started emptying the dishwasher as she waited for the water to boil. Although the New Year celebrations had not finally finished until 2am, she had woken early and had quietly left David still snoring in the darkened bedroom. Dressing in silence in the bathroom, she had contemplated her pale face, its pallor emphasised further by her fair eyebrows and the dark shadows beneath her blue eyes. She did not have Alex’s elegance or her cheekbones, but it was a decent face she thought as she applied a slick of pink lipstick and pursed her lips.
As she stacked the clean plates and glasses, Caroline felt a sense of pride and satisfaction. It had always been this way, she thought. Even when she had shared a flat in London, she had always been the one to get up early after a dinner party to clear the table and tackle the washing up. Sometimes she had even cleared up before bedtime, just as she had last night. Jolly good thing I did too, she thought, once I’d sent the others staggering off upstairs. With so many breakfasts to cook, I need to be organised. She checked the frozen croissants, which she had remembered to leave out to thaw and rise last night. They were plump and ready to bake, so she slid them into the hot oven.
Then she opened the freezer and rummaged through the boxes and plastic tubs of homemade sauces to find two large packs of sausages which she placed in the microwave to defrost. As it hummed and turned, she was reminded of the record deck in the London flat years ago. After one particularly riotous evening, at which she had not been present, she had returned to the empty flat the next afternoon to find a dish of peanuts sitting on the turntable, its surface stained with red wine. Even though she had not been the one entertaining, she had started cleaning up, taking plates to the kitchen and scraping saucepans into the bin. It had obviously been a good evening, but even if she had been there and had enjoyed herself, she would not have left the flat in such an awful mess.
Just as she was wiping the last of the plates dry, her flat mates Pippa and Kathy had returned with their boyfriends Ian and John. “Caroline, you didn’t have to do that! We were just coming back to clear up,” protested Pippa.
“I’ve nearly finished now. I didn’t know how long you’d be.”
“We thought you weren’t coming back till tonight,” said Kathy reaching round her for the teapot. “Weren’t you meant to be spending the whole weekend with your parents?”
“Yes, but they’ve gone to visit my grandmother today so I thought I’d get back early. That’s alright, isn’t it?”
“Not a problem, we’ll just carry on as if you weren’t here – won’t we, eh?” Pippa winked at her tall boyfriend. “John, go and put some music on while I make tea.”
“Oh I haven’t wiped it yet.” Caroline pushed past them with a damp cloth in her hand. “You can’t play anything till I’ve wiped the turntable. It’s all sticky.” She rubbed at the stain and then turned to see the four conspirators, standing like naughty but defiant children, watching her from the doorway. All of them stifling their laughter.
Caroline would always remember that look. She sometimes saw it now on her children’s faces, when she chided them for eating a biscuit without a plate or for not wiping their feet on the doormat. But back then, when she was only in her early twenties, it had been a look that marked her out as different, as someone whose concerns were old-fashioned and out of step. She had stared at them and then returned to the kitchen in silence while they made their tea and retreated to the sitting room to joke loudly and play their records. As they giggled, she had stacked the crockery and returned the cutlery to the correct sections in the drawer and while they scurried to their bedrooms where their cries were muffled but still audible, she had vigorously rubbed the stainless steel sink and taps with abrasive cream and rinsed them again and again till they shone like polished silver.
How fortunate that, when she had met David soon after this, he had appreciated her skill and dedication. She had realised the first time she had invited him back to the flat for coffee that he was different. He had not tried to grope her as they sat on the sofa; he had talked and talked and thanked her for a lovely evening.
Caroline had felt then that she was understood and valued. But over the years, that feeling had faded. It had not resurfaced until Mary. She could remember everything Mary had said and she could remember how it had begun.

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