The Way We Lied

“What was her name?” Caroline waited for an answer, but Evelyn appeared not to have heard and by now they had reached the gallery entrance, where a small entry fee was charged and posters announcing local events were displayed. Although the building still bore evidence of its former ecclesiastical life, it had been converted into spacious but comfortable living quarters by its more recent owners, so the works were not hung in sterile, white spaces, but in light rooms amongst well used items of furniture. A labelled Ruskin pot with its distinctive dark red Sang de Boef glaze was displayed next to a cosy armchair and a still life painting was placed above a fireplace, just as I might hang a picture in my own house, thought Caroline.
They walked the rooms in silence until they came to a hallway, where a small but richly coloured oil was hung, its deep frame complementing the thick paint strokes layered onto its surface. It showed a woman sitting, her head hanging heavily in her hands, her face buried in agonising sobs. The piece was powerful in spite of its size and as Caroline moved forward to view it more closely, she felt Evelyn’s hand clawing and tightening on her arm.
“This is such a moving picture,” Caroline said. “It’s quite disturbing.”
“It’s her,” whispered Evelyn. “I remember him finishing this.” Her hand wavered towards the painting, as if she wanted to comfort the distraught woman.
Caroline glanced at her and then read the painting’s description printed on a white card mounted on the wall. It said, ‘ A Mother Weeps – Alexander Grozny. On loan ( anonymous).’
“Did you know the artist, Evelyn?”
“I did many years ago. I knew him for what he was. So beautiful but so cruel.”
Evelyn turned away in silence, her head lowered and although Caroline was intensely curious, she guessed no more would be said. So she thought this would be a good time to suggest they left the gallery and found some lunch. She settled Evelyn at a table in the adjoining refectory while she fetched a tray of sandwiches and coffee and as they ate she attempted to steer the conversation back to the painting and the past.
“Please don’t feel you have to talk about this, not if it would upset you, but that painting you recognised….? I get the impression you knew the artist. Is that right? Was it painted here? In this country?”
Evelyn nodded. “He lived here before and after the war. I think you know where. You have been there,” Evelyn said with a shrug. “ I know you have.”
“You mean Mary’s cottage, don’t you? That’s where he lived. I’ve seen the painted room.”
“He lived there with all of us. It was wonderful…for a time.” Evelyn put down her cup and looked sad. “These young people today, they think they are the first generation to discover love. But we knew all about free love long before they were born.”
Caroline looked at her with renewed interest. This was not the sort of conversation one normally expected to have with an octogenarian. “You said you all lived there, at the cottage. Were there many of you?”
Evelyn gave another little shrug. “People came and people went. Sometimes it was just the three of us. Before the war there was Alex, me and my sister and sometimes there were friends. And then afterwards there were others. My sister always loved to encourage them.”
“Mary told me about her aunt. That would be your sister Mo, I suppose. Mary said Mo helped a lot of struggling artists. I thought she sounded like a very interesting character.”
“Foolish more like. They all took advantage of her.” Evelyn sniffed.
They were both silent for a moment, then Caroline said, “I didn’t know you and Mary were related. How did you know I had met her? Did she tell you?”
Evelyn looked straight at her with a sweet smile. “My dear, she showed me the drawings. I knew then she had caught you and you were under her spell.”
“Oh, I see.” Caroline was a little shaken, wondering why Mary had shown her the drawings and which ones she had shown. Were they the ones she had done early on in their acquaintance or the more revealing ones of recent weeks?
“What do you mean caught me?”
“She takes after her father. She captivates people, then takes what she wants without a care for the consequences.”
“She told me Alex Grozny was her father. Is that true?” Caroline asked, tentatively.
“Of course, if being a father is simply the biological act of insemination.”
“Then who was her mother?” But Caroline knew without waiting to hear the response.
And Evelyn just dabbed at her lips with her napkin and smiled.

Action Stations!

Augusta wiped her mouth with a fine linen napkin that had a skull and crossbones neatly embroidered in one corner.

“With Les Chats Souterrains against us I can’t access the Analytical Engine.”

“Huh!” Rotskagg was staring into his empty glass. “Your thinking machine hasn’t exactly proven itself to be indispensible so far. There be more pressing matters. This conflict be stagnating. There be stalemate in the west. The Résistance be holding out against the Corporate ground forces who be overstretched and short of supplies, but we be not pushing them back. We still do not control the aerodrome and for now Fluffy is out of reach. If the fighting drags on others will get involved. We can’t take the Yanks head on.

“They already have clandestine special forces operating here in Jersey’s dark heart,” added Mother Superior.

Boz sighed. “It didn’t seem this complicated when we set out. I wish…”

“Sod this,” said Kiki, “let’s just get in there and kick ass.”

Consuella gave her a stern look, which was ignored.

The airship’s first mate burst into the cabin.

“Cap’n.”

“Smee?”

“We be approaching the stockade, skipper, but there’s something up. Lookout thinks he can hear gunfire.”

“That’s more like it,” roared Rotskagg. “Call all hands to action stations. Run out the guns. Launch armed scouts 2 and 6. We’ll work round and come in from down wind.

“Looks like you’ll get your wish Kiki, mon brave. Kit up young Flo. And here…” he casually tossed a Tokarev SVT-40 snipers rifle in the direction of Augusta King, “if it’s troops we’re up against, lass, take out anything looks like an officer.” She caught the weapon instinctively and checked the magazine. “Every one to the command deck.”

 

As the Queen Anne’s Bounty crept, as silently as could be contrived, to within view of the Corsair camp it was obvious that an attack was in progress. There was heavy small arms fire coming from the undergrowth along the edge of the woods and the pirates behind the stockade were shooting back sporadically. Within the clearing a cluster of corpses gave testament to a failed assault on the main gate.

Generalisimo Starcluster tweaked the focus on the airship’s pod mounted brass BBT Krauss 12×72 Battleship binoculars. “Those bodies look like Captain Midlands’ renegades.”

“Starboard gun crews, target the tree line. Three rounds each.” Captain Rotskagg Blenkinsopp turned from the ship’s intercom and picked up the VHS microphone, “Scouts, as soon as the shelling stops commence strafing run.”

Augusta opened a window and poked out her sniper’s rifle.

“Anyone runs out of the woods, your ladyship, terminate ‘em.”

The thunder of Queen Anne’s artillery shook the vessel from stern to stem. The Kittens clustered excitedly around the bridge windows, Phoebles’ heart pounded, and Boz stood resolute, stony, silent.

The forest erupted in fire and smoke as vegetation and earth were thrown upwards and outwards. Then the ornithopter scouts went in, tearing into the foliage with their 50 calibre machine guns. The first run met with a smattering of returned fire, but when the warbirds ripped a second stream of tracer into the renegade’s positions they met no opposition.

“Take her in Smee.” Rotskagg turned on the Tannoy. “Open all hangar doors. Cutlasses men. Deploy as soon as we touch down.”

The Queen Anne shuddered slightly as she came to earth and a mighty roar went up as the corsairs, and Kittens, fanned out across the clearing led by their captain, falchion bladed cutlass in one hand, Uzi Pro 9mm in the other and smouldering tapers knotted into his ginger beard.

Feeling a little left behind Boz and the gang stepped out from the dirigible. They clustered indecisively. The pirates were disappearing away into the woods, with Consuella and Flo racing to catch up, the stockade was some distance off and suddenly, glaring at them from only yards away at the boundary to the forest, was a menacing figure clad in nothing but tattoos and a US Army issue hard hat, wielding a gore stained Indonesian Golok Machete.

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The Way We Lied

They were waved off as if they were embarking on a lengthy expedition, instead of a short drive, but Caroline felt as if this could be the beginning of an arduous journey because Evelyn remained silent. It was almost as if this was not the woman who had whispered to her only a few days ago and whose words had made her feel so disturbed and curious. As they drove through the twisting lanes and beneath the avenues of blazing autumn colour, Caroline attempted to make conversation as a prelude to more searching questions.
“Isn’t this weather simply glorious? I just love these crisp mornings and bright sunny days. It really is a lovely time of year.” She glanced at her passenger, safely strapped into the seat beside her, staring intently ahead as they sped past woods and fields. They came to the crossroads outside the village and Caroline turned right, passing the track to Mary’s cottage. Just at that point she thought she heard a faint murmur, closer to a moue than a clear utterance, nothing more. She glanced quickly at Evelyn again, noticing that she was looking in that direction and that she had raised her hand towards the window, almost as if she was signalling to someone in the trees, but there was no one there.
They soon came to the gallery that Caroline had in mind. It was set in a clearing near woods, at the foot of a hill which was sprinkled with daffodils in spring and now was scattered with brown and gold fallen leaves. “I thought we could have a little look around here and then perhaps get a bite to eat,” she suggested. “Would you like that?”
All she received in reply was a nod and hands fumbling to unbuckle the seat belt. Caroline jumped out of the car and walked around to the other side to help Evelyn. Offering the old lady her arm in support, they began to walk slowly along the winding path that led to the gallery. It was housed in a converted and extended chapel and large sculptures were displayed in the churchyard, amongst the old gravestones blotched with orange and grey lichen.
As they walked, Caroline continued with her conversational crutch, commenting on the statues they passed. “That one rather reminds me of Henry Moore. I quite like his work. I think I prefer him to Barbara Hepworth.”
Then suddenly, just as she was becoming used to the silence of her companion, Evelyn spoke. Her words were soft, but still quite sharp. “Cruel hard-hearted woman. Abandoned her children.”
“Sorry, what did you say, Evelyn? Something about children?”
“She left them. Left them with a nanny. Didn’t want to be a mother to them.”
“Oh yes, I think I’ve read something about that. I suppose she must have been devoted to her art and couldn’t be both mother and artist.”
“There’s no creation more precious than a child,” Evelyn pronounced definitively.
Caroline looked at her with interest, wondering whether to ask if she had ever had children of her own, but not sure if she would be entering a delicate area. “You are so right Evelyn, I felt overwhelmed when my first child was born. It seemed like a miracle. And now I have three and though I love them all to bits, I sometimes look forward to the day when I shan’t have to run around after them any more!”
“I had a child once,” Evelyn murmured. “Just the one.”
“Oh did you?” Caroline wondered whether this was possibly leading to a delicate disclosure about an untimely death or a still birth, but wanted to hear what else might be revealed and pressed on. “What did you have? A girl or a boy?”
“A girl. Just the one. “

The Way We Lied

The dedicated gardener looked as if this was an unwelcome disturbance, as she suddenly jerked her head up from the seed tray when she finally heard Susie’s commanding voice. “Evelyn dear, Mrs Harper is very interested in the Manor and particularly asked to see the gardens. She’d love to hear all about your plants. So you won’t mind if we join you in here for a minute, will you?”
No assent was required for this last question, but a slight nod was given and the white head bent again to its task. “We met briefly last week,” said Caroline. “When I spoke at the WI meeting. The flowers you gave me were really lovely.”
Evelyn turned her head slightly to glance at her, but still did not speak.
“And I’ve been hearing all about your knack with geraniums. I gather you are a very experienced gardener. Still, it must be nice not to have too much hard work to do now. I know I find it exhausting weeding our borders at home!” Caroline paused, thinking her laboured attempts to elicit a response were not proving to be successful.
“And I can see you’ve been very busy in here,” she gestured at the rows of neatly trimmed geraniums, snug in their pots for the winter. “I expect these will all look marvellous next summer.”
“Oh they will,” said Susie, coming to the rescue. “And many of them will go on sale at our annual garden fete, so this is all very valuable and useful work! Evelyn is one of our most reliable allies where the fete is concerned, aren’t you Evelyn?”
Again there was no reply. Evelyn was absorbed in slowly scooping sandy loam from a tray into another batch of pots awaiting their cuttings. “Well it’s been most interesting to meet you Mrs Tinwell,” Caroline finally said. “Perhaps I could come and look in on you again another time when I come to visit.”
And then, just as they turned to leave the greenhouse, they heard a faint voice behind them. “You could take me out for a while. I’d like to go for a drive.”
“Now Evelyn, I don’t think we can impose on Mrs Harper,” Susie responded automatically. “She’s a very busy and important person.”
“Oh I wouldn’t mind a bit,” Caroline jumped in quickly. “Really I wouldn’t. In fact, I’m free right now. Would that be any good? I haven’t got to be anywhere until later this afternoon. And it’s a lovely day for going out.”
“Well that’s awfully kind of you, Mrs Harper. Are you sure? Evelyn? Did you hear that? Mrs Harper is saying she could take you for a drive today? Would you like that?”
Evelyn nodded and brushed her hands free of soil. She picked up her stick and slowly tottered towards them. “Let’s go inside then and help you get ready,” Susie said, holding a hand out to the old lady.” We mustn’t keep Mrs Harper waiting too long”. She turned to Caroline and said in a half whisper, “ Don’t feel you have to go far. Half an hour or so would be more than enough.”
While Evelyn was gone, Caroline sipped a cup of coffee in the morning room and wondered whether she would be able to dismantle the old lady’s reticence in only thirty minutes. When Susie returned to announce that her passenger would only be a minute or so longer, she had an idea. “Mrs Price, do you think it would be alright if I took Mrs Tinwell out for lunch? I was just thinking that it is already getting late and we could go somewhere with a cafe. I thought that little gallery outside Furzecombe might be just the spot.”
“That’s very kind of you Mrs Harper, but you mustn’t feel you have to.” Susie clasped her hands in front of her. “Why don’t you just see how it goes. But if you aren’t back by lunchtime, I shan’t be sending out a search party!”

World Domination

Beryl’s radio crackled into life. It was Dark Flo.

“Karaoke night’s going to be a bit quieter from now on.”

“Come on down, Flo. We’ve got them.”

Mother Superior emerged from the Hougue Boëte portal followed by Generalissimo Starcluster, who stopped to help the aged Master Dorje off his knees, then the three Kittens, boggle-eyed and confused.

“What just happened?” asked Scarlet.

“We opened the portal,” replied Boz. “We were trying to get in to rescue you. How come you knew to be there?”

At that moment a mottled blue bat detached from the Queen Anne’s Bounty and swooped towards them. There was a crack as a parachute deployed, far later than was advisable, and the creature thumped to earth close enough to Boz for him to flinch.

“Ooof!” Dark Flo slipped out of her wingsuit and began to reel in her chute. Divested of her birdman costume Flo was clad in a skin-tight black leather cat suit and Converse All Star Black Mono leather baseball boots. Her outfit left little to the imagination and had the zip on the one-piece been pulled up a little higher Mother Superior may not have scowled so disapprovingly. Beryl climbed down from the cockpit of the shuttle and joined them.

“We’ve been holed up in the bubble universe where my Analytical Engine is installed,” said Augusta, as if there had been no interruption in the conversation.

“I’ve told them a bit about your mechanical computer,” said Zelda.

“Good. It’s been processing all the data Zelda here gathered off the Internet We added details of our plight and it came up with a set of parameters to program into the time-tunnel. The tunnel’s an artificial worm-hole that can be set up to terminate anywhere in space-time, but cannot escape the Atlantean passage system due to the constraints on dimensional shift.”

Phoebles began to glaze over.

“So we found ourselves in a stone chamber with a dead horse and no door. Then, wammo, there’s a hole and you lot on the other side of it.” The hummock from which they had emerged quivered. Thrup, and the portal was gone.

“Ooer.” Mrs King continued, “I don’t know what Les Chats were playing at. I thought they were supposed to be on our side.”

“World domination,” said Phoebles, “with them it’s always world domination.”

Shriek, shriek, shriek, shriek! A fiddle scraping in their collective imagination, the party glanced about nervously. Arboreal talons seemed to close in around them.

“Perhaps we’ve out stayed our welcome. Let’s get back to the airship,” said Beryl. There was a mad dash for the shuttle. Beryl Clutterbuck swung up into the cockpit and the aircraft’s diaphanous wings began to clatter and beat.

 

Captain Rotskagg Blenkinsopp broached a fresh keg of grog.

The gang had disembarked into the main hangar of the Queen Anne’s Bounty. Zelda and Flo had slunk past the charred and still smouldering remains of Rotskagg’s sound system as they were all ushered in to the saloon, carved oak panelling, pure Grinling Gibbons on steroids, vast oak table and benches.

“Tuck in.” Silver, the ship’s cook, smiled as he laid out second breakfast, Phoebles’ favourite meal of the day. It was the gaudy macaw perched precariously on his shoulder that had spoken.

“Kippers!” exclaimed Phoebles.

Zelda began to devour a substantial bacon banjo.

Mother Superior was scowling again. She had selected two dry bread doorsteps to be washed down with fresh, clear spring water and felt righteous. Master Dorje was dipping a lightly toasted soldier into his soft-boiled egg.

“Let it be, for now. Exceptional times, these are.”

“I shall be having a word with that one later.”

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The Way We Lied

The Manor Retirement Home could not be seen from the road and nor could the residents look out on passing traffic or pedestrians. It was set outside the village in a dark thicket of rhododendrons and pine trees, with views of a distant valley and hills. As Caroline’s car skimmed along the gravel drive, she thought how isolated this felt, how far it was from the noisy and cheerful bustle of everyday life.
She had been wondering how to make contact with Evelyn Tinwell and had finally decided to take advantage of the cover provided in her capacity as an MP’s wife. She had told the Manor’s principal she was helping David by doing some research for him into care services for the elderly and was interested in chatting to any residents available. Choosing a day when the WI was not meeting, she hoped Evelyn Tinwell would be there.
“Mrs Harper. How very kind of you to come.” Susie Price, the owner and manager of the Manor greeted Caroline with an effusive smile, her chained spectacles resting on her generous bosom. “So good of you and your husband to take an interest in us all. I thought you might like to start by taking coffee with some of our clients in the morning room.”
The Manor advertised itself as a retirement home for ‘gentlefolk’. It reeked of potpourri rather than ill health and the mostly female clientele wore pearls and tweeds. As Caroline followed the bustling, broad-hipped Mrs Price, she noticed the large displays of silk flowers and the gilt framed paintings brightening the wide hallway. They entered a large panelled room with fringed lamps on every wall and long velvet curtains framing wide windows which looked out across the extensive lawns. In the distance, a gardener was pushing a barrow piled with autumn leaves.
“Now let me introduce you,” smiled the ever cheerful Susie as they approached the first group of residents who were all engrossed in their copies of the Times and Daily Telegraph. Caroline shook hands and asked polite questions about their lives at the home and the quality of the food and was then ushered across to another group who were mostly knitting, although one was reading a book. After further brief conversation, Caroline distracted the efficient Susie from any more introductions by asking questions about the gardens. They stood by the french windows for a moment looking out at the immaculate grass and the distant shrubbery.
“The grounds do require such a lot of upkeep,” sighed Susie, “but they give our clients enormous satisfaction and so we feel we simply have to keep up appearances.”
“Of course,” Caroline sympathised. “They must be a real pleasure for many of your residents. Especially those who have always had an interest in gardening.”
“Oh yes,” enthused Susie. “Some people really miss their own gardens when they come here. So if anyone is interested, we arrange for them to have a little patch of their own. We can’t let them get involved in any major work of course, health and safety would be on our backs in two seconds flat!” She laughed at her own joke. “But they can still enjoy having a little potter about with their plants. It’s quite therapeutic, physically and mentally.”
Caroline smiled in response then said, “Actually, I believe I met one of your keen gardeners the other week. I think the name was Tinwell, if I remember correctly. Is she here today?”
“She most certainly is. In fact knowing Evelyn I would say she is out in the garden right now. We simply can’t keep her away from her little plants! Perhaps you would like to meet her next?” Susie opened the french windows and gestured for Caroline to follow her. They stepped out onto the wide paved terrace dressed with tubs of heather and conifers and Susie pointed in the direction of a greenhouse roof which could just be glimpsed across the thick barrier of a dark yew hedge. “We’ll probably find her in there sorting out her geraniums for the winter. She really has such a way with them.”
Amorphous topiary, bearing little resemblance to their original shapes, squatted on either side of the path that led to an area of raised beds. “So much easier for older gardeners to reach,” explained Susie, marching ahead and calling out to a little figure wearing a long navy skirt and a shapeless grey cardigan, who was bending over a tray of pots on a slatted shelf in the glasshouse. “Yoohoo, Mrs Tinwell! I hope we aren’t disturbing you. I’ve brought a visitor to see you.”

The Way We Lied

Once Helen had left, Caroline reflected on what Evelyn Tinwell had said and realised that if she really wanted to know more and to fully understand, she would have to visit her and ask her what she had meant. And those whispered words in that aged voice echoed again. “Be careful with Mary, my dear. I know she’s started on you. Don’t let her take you over.”
It was all the more disturbing, because it was only a few weeks previously that Mary had first sketched her. They had been drinking tea in the kitchen, and Caroline had been telling her about the huge amount of paperwork David was increasingly bringing home so he could continue working late into the evening. “He works so hard it really worries me and it means he is losing touch with the children, he sees so little of them.”
Suddenly Mary had said, “Stop there! Stay just as you are. I want to capture that look right now before you lose it.” And she had picked up a large sketch pad and a stick of charcoal and begun working with swift, bold strokes. “Keep talking to me while I draw you. I want to get that little frown and that intense look you have when you are fretting.”
So Caroline had continued to talk, telling Mary all her fears for David and the children and finally telling her how alone and unsatisfied she felt. “Sometimes I think I’m just a facility, not the girl he loved. We have no time alone any more. If we go out together it’s to some boring official function and if we’re home then David’s working in his study or on the phone. I feel his job is draining him and me and slowly killing our marriage.”
At that point, as Mary ripped yet another sheet of paper from the pad, she had looked up and asked, “So how often do you sleep together?”
Caroline had blushed as she answered. “Well all the time of course, unless he is staying overnight in London.”
“No, I mean how often does he make love to you? Come on, Caroline, how often does David fuck you?”
“Oh Mary, I couldn’t answer a question like that. I never talk about such things.”
Mary had shrugged and resumed sketching. “Fine. But look, I’m not asking out of crude curiosity. I’m asking you because you’re a friend and you’re unhappy. And if a husband and wife don’t get it off on a regular basis, that’s a recipe for disaster.”
“Well I suppose if you must know, the answer is not very often. In fact, I’m not sure if I can remember the last time.”
“And does that bother you?”
Now it was Caroline’s turn to shrug. “Sometimes I suppose. But when you’re tired and bored, it hardly seems important.”
Then Mary had said the words that had been troubling her ever since that afternoon. “My dear, you have got to rediscover your desire. Passion is a life force. You will die all too soon if you don’t experience ecstasy.”
But Caroline felt doubtful that she could rediscover desire and passion. In fact, she was not sure she had ever known how to find them in the first place. David had been loving and gentle from the start, but his lovemaking had never inspired depths of passion. It was pleasant enough, but that was not ecstasy, was it? It was not that she had set sex on a pedestal as some of her school friends had done, when they were seventeen. She had actually been one of the first to lose her virginity. But when they had asked her what it was like, all she had been able to truthfully tell them, was that it was alright. She had slept with a couple of other boyfriends before David, but that was all it had ever been for her,‘alright’.
Sometimes she had wondered if there was something wrong with her when she watched films in which actresses writhed and moaned, or when friends giggled about certain men having an ‘amazing technique’. And Alex sometimes slipped into areas that made Caroline feel uneasy, referring to Hazel Spillers’ gardener as ‘really fit’ and saying ‘he could come and hoe my borders any day’, with a knowing wink. Caroline was never sure what the wink implied, and she didn’t like to ask. It hadn’t seemed that interesting before, but now that Mary had spoken,she began to wonder. And she wondered whether Evelyn knew what Mary was encouraging her to think and to question.