The Way We Lied

At the time, Caroline had felt almost guilty, seeing the woman she was so curious about driving past and catching her in that spot. But she soon forgot about it once she was home unloading the shopping and checking on messages on the answering machine. She unpacked quickly, ensuring the fresh and frozen goods went into the fridge first, as something usually interrupted this regular chore and she wanted the kitchen to be clear before Jean arrived to do the ironing and Helen came for tea.
Without both these dependable women Caroline often thought her life would be impossible to manage. Jean had begun helping in the house when the children were much younger, arriving on the recommendation of a friend and saying they could ‘try it for a while and see if it suited’. Well it did suit both of them and now, five years later, Jean came over three times a week, hoovering carpets, dusting and washing floors, ironing whatever had piled up in the clean laundry basket or simply washing up if Caroline was rushing around. Sometimes, as often happened if David’s agent wanted her to act as a last minute stand-in at a local event, Caroline would leave the house in chaos and return to find everything was neat and tidy with the shopping sorted and stored. Jean was a dear and Caroline tried to make sure that she knew how much her calm, capable skills were valued by anticipating pay increases and finding suitable presents for all occasions.
And Helen, well Helen was not paid to help. She just did. They had met when Sam was at nursery school and both of them had just moved into the area. Neither of them knew anyone locally at that time and although having young children in village schools is the easiest way of making new friends and they both inevitably acquired quite a social circle, they had bonded from the start. And now Helen was the only friend, apart from one or two long standing acquaintances from school and university, in whom Caroline regularly confided. Helen was utterly reliable and generous with her support and her listening. Caroline also knew Helen could be counted on to be discreet but irreverent, at least she was when the two of them gossiped and giggled together and Helen’s husband was not present. If Simon was nearby, Helen would watch him out of the corner of her eye and it seemed to Caroline that her behaviour was muted, as if she was wary of his reactions.
Helen taught art two afternoons a week at a local retirement home, giving her time for her own painting which she sold through the local artists guild gallery. Yet despite regular sales she had little faith in her skill, referring to her work as ‘pretty wallpaper’. One of her children had inherited her artistic talents and her son was following in her accountant grandfather’s footsteps, being both musical and a capable mathematician. “Someone has got to balance the chequebook,” Helen would laugh. “It’s no good just being able to draw money, ha ha!”
Caroline really looked forward to her visits and over the years they had developed a standing arrangement for tea at Caroline’s house every Wednesday, unless other matters cropped up. But as Caroline sorted through the bags of shopping, she realised that she had forgotten to buy this week’s afternoon treat. They always had luxurious biscuits or a cake. She checked the pantry but all that remained were a few soft digestive biscuits looking sandy and dull in their split wrapping. Helen would forgive anything, but not the failure to provide sweet tea-time temptation.

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