The Way We Lied

It wasn’t just David’s unpunctuality which annoyed Caroline, it was more the assumption that she could be drafted in at any time as a stand-in for him. Last week it had been the Chamber of Commerce reception at the Town Hall. Yes, he had been delayed by traffic, but she was expected to mingle and chat with pompous nobodies who were only there because their family had owned the same hardware store in the town for fifty years. And here she was again, pretending to be interested in the cakes and cast-offs at the Bazumble, whilst keeping a firm grip on eight year old Sam, who would really rather be outside learning to skateboard with the older village boys.
“So good of you to join us today, Mrs Harper,” simpered Deirdre Beckforth, the Conservative Women’s Chairperson. “And I believe Mr Harper is still going to be joining us later?”
“I’m sure he will do his best,” Caroline said with a tight smile. “I expect his weekly surgery has delayed him,” adding under her breath, “and that wretched Peter.”
“Well let me take you round to meet everyone, just to make sure you don’t miss any of the goodies,” gushed the exquisitely dressed Deirdre, wearing a check tweed that emphasised the breadth of her hips. “Dorothy,” she called to a small elderly lady clad entirely in navy, “Dorothy dear, do you have a jar of your wonderful homemade lemon curd for Mrs Harper?”
A jar decorated with a colourful label, its top covered with red crepe paper tied with metallic green trim, was presented by its maker, whose companion presented Sam with a platter of small meringue shells, which Caroline could tell by their pristine whiteness were dry imitations of her own gooey confections. “Would it be alright for your little boy to try one of these, Mrs Harper?” asked the proud stall holder.
Sam declined for himself, so Caroline was spared some embarrassment there. However she felt obliged to buy the lemon curd and also a jar of blackberry jam, which she suspected would contain a high proportion of pips if it had been made with that year’s crop of small wizened hedgerow brambles.
“Now I’m sure you’ll be interested in the flower arrangements, Mrs Harper,” Deirdre said, ushering Caroline and Sam towards a stall decked with stiff and twee arrangements of chrysanthemums and autumn foliage. “I expect you know Ursula Timms, she does all the church flowers and she also runs a simply marvellous class for the WI in the village hall. Just don’t know how you find the time, Ursula dear, I really don’t.”
Caroline knew the white haired florist all too well. Helen had once offered to help with the church flower rota and had only lasted for one session, castigated for her inclusion of contemporary striped grasses with the dahlias. Like every other aspect of village and Party life, each discipline had its own moral leader and in floral artistry Ursula was queen. The rigid little collections of flowers on the table bore little resemblance to the luscious blooms that Caroline picked in her own garden, where she found colours and shapes of interest nearly all year round. But Sam was not so critical. He pointed to a boat shaped arrangement of burnt orange and green chrysanthemums, with prows of variegated ivy, saying, “I want to buy that one Mum. I want to give it to Granny tomorrow.”
“Oh what a dear little boy,” gushed Deirdre, “isn’t he just sweet?”
Caroline had to agree with smiles and an encouraging hand on Sam’s head, even when he could not find enough money in his Batman wallet and she had to pay for him. And just as she was fumbling in her purse, she heard Deirdre say, “Oh good, your husband’s just arrived. Do excuse me Mrs Harper. I simply must just dash across and welcome him properly.”
Taking her time, Caroline mused over the bric-a-brac and craft stalls, buying a pair of padded and scented coat hangers, before she finally joined David at the tombola. “Thanks again,” she muttered as she stood by his side, while he felt aimlessly for cash in his pockets. “You took your time,” she added, not even expecting an excuse because she had already detected stale tobacco and beer on his clothes, and knew without being told that he had come straight from the pub.
“Hope you’re wishing me luck,” David laughed, as he fumbled in the bucket of tickets once Caroline had paid for him. She pretended to enjoy the joke, and the tightly folded papers revealed only one winning number – for a jar of pickled onions. The loyal watchers dutifully laughed when the prize was presented and David held it victoriously aloft as if it was the Ashes cup. He was good at this. Very,very good. People loved him because he made them feel that he was one of them and that their contribution mattered and made a difference. Exactly what difference a jar of pickled onions made, Caroline was not sure, but that was the effect he had on a receptive audience.
After completing a thorough inspection of all the stalls, wishing all the workers well and buying a couple of tea towels, a fruit cake and a spotted pulmonaria which Caroline suspected was exactly the same variety as the ones already growing in her borders, they were ushered to the refreshment area for tea.
“Mrs Brown, you’re a star. That’s exactly what I need at this moment,” David loudly proclaimed as an extremely tiny, elderly aproned lady shakily poured stewed tea from a large committee sized aluminium teapot. “The stronger the better, I always say!”
Caroline sipped the deep brown tea slowly. David was much better than she was at ignoring unpalatable food and drink. She assumed boarding school had helped, but she also knew that he considered it to be an essential part of his role as the universal friend and patron.


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