The Way We Lied

Caroline briefly wondered whether to ring Helen and ask her to bring supplies, but as they always met at Caroline’s house at her husband’s insistence (in case of constituency emergencies) Caroline felt it was her responsibility to provide the refreshments. So she realised she would have to run out again. But she thought that perhaps forgetting to buy anything at the supermarket was a blessing in disguise, as it meant she could pop into the farm shop on the other side of the village which had the most wonderful homemade cakes and pies.
As soon as Jean arrived and they had quickly exchanged news about the children, Caroline hastily finished her makeshift lunch of cold coffee and a ham sandwich then rushed off in the car again. It only took a few minutes to reach the shop, which occupied an old stone cattle shed with some bronzed hens scratching happily in the grass outside. She would have liked to have taken time examining the various cheeses and hams displayed under glass, or mulled over the many preserves and pickles on the shelves, but she went straight for the table of baked goods and chose a large coffee cake decorated with walnuts.
She was just about to take it to the till when she noticed another customer lift her head from the piled shelves of fresh vegetables and look directly at her. For a moment Caroline’s heart sank, thinking it might be a local constituent or party worker who had noticed her. But then she recognised the face staring in her direction. It was the woman she kept seeing in the lane.
It was impossible to ignore her look of recognition and although Caroline realised the woman might perhaps know her face because of David’s role in the constituency, she was also aware that she might have been remembered from that morning. So she smiled and said, “Hello. I think I’ve sometimes seen you in the road near the woods, haven’t I?”
And the woman gave a faint little smile in return. Yet it was not her smile that struck Caroline most, but her intense, pale blue gaze, her eyes shining at her, willing her to be her closest friend.
“That’s right,” she said. “I’ve just moved to the area. I’m Mary Reid.” She held out her hand for Caroline to shake. It was firm and rough.
“I’m Caroline. Caroline Harper. Perhaps you’ve heard of my husband? He’s the local MP.”
The woman’s expression did not change. She continued to gaze at Caroline. “Yes I have, but I am afraid I don’t have much faith in politicians.”
At this, Caroline smiled and was pleased that this evoked an echoing smile in Mary. “I don’t blame you. Trouble is, I can’t avoid him. Do you work locally as well?”
“Actually I work from home. I’m a sculptor.”
It made sense. Caroline could imagine her strong fingers shaping and moulding clay and hammering stone. “That sounds very exciting. Do you live near here?”
Mary mentioned the name of a remote cottage on the other side of the common. Caroline knew of it, but had never been there and when she said so, Mary replied, “Well why don’t you come over? How about tomorrow morning?”
Though surprised by the immediacy of her invitation, Caroline agreed. They shook hands again and Caroline left Mary examining the pumpkins and gourds. As she drove back, she could not help feeling pleased that they had met. All thoughts of why Mary had been wandering in the woods along the lane were absent from her mind; she just felt that this might be the start of a significant new friendship.
Helen arrived at the house half an hour later, her red hair clipped up untidily at the back. She was wearing the old blue canvas smock she used when she was working and her hands were still smeared with green and yellow paint.
“About to enter a blue period are we?” Caroline joked, pointing at her stained fingers.
Helen spread her hands out in front of her. “Lime green more like,” she groaned. “It’s just not coming out right. But the thought of lime does make me think that a vodka and tonic with a slice might inspire me!”
“You’ll have to make do with tea for now,” Caroline said, pouring her a cup. “A slice of posh coffee cake alright for you madam?”
“Ooh I say, you are pushing the boat out this week. Bit better than your usual standard, I must say.”
“I know, it’s from the farm shop.”
“I feel honoured,” Helen mumbled appreciatively as she took a large bite. “It’s delicious. I must remember to shop there more often.”
“Me too. I don’t use it nearly enough really and I should do, or at least David would say I should, to show support for the local producers.”
Helen sniggered. “You don’t have to feel your shopping should be politically correct as well, do you? Honestly Caroline, everything you do is constrained by flipping politics! Is any part of your life free from party policies?”
Caroline was laughing too, by now. “Well at least this time I didn’t have to fight my way through a bunch of protesters or do-gooders wanting me to help on their cake stall. In fact, I met someone interesting for once. An artist called Mary Reid. She’s new round here. I thought you might know her because of your arty friends.”
Helen frowned. “The name is vaguely familiar. Is she the one who did all those moulds of their own body parts? You know, breasts and bums?”
Caroline told her she had no idea, but she did not go on to say that she would soon be able to find out more about Mary. For now, she wanted to keep her new friend to herself, until she had decided whether to share her.

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