The Way We Lied

Audrey beamed and ushered her back to her place of honour for the second half of the proceedings. Caroline continued to smile politely and applaud the other speakers as the afternoon continued. Most of the audience were considered to be the pillars of the community. These were the standard bearers for jumble sales, plant fairs, the garden club and the many other focal points of village life. They could bake Victoria sponges without even glancing at a glossy recipe book, knit cabled socks that would keep the dampest cold at bay and pot chunky marmalade that could set strong men salivating. They were the domestic dragonesses of the provincial household and Caroline knew that despite changing times, there were still thousands of them up and down the country, upholding the highest standards of housewifery, crocheting every spare scrap of wool into blanket squares and running hundreds of charity shops.
Caroline admired them and loved them, but she did not want to be one of them. Well not yet. And certainly not since she had met Mary. Her own mother was a WI member in Oxfordshire and she recalled that an older aunt had been a member for several years and had won prizes for her scones, but she could not imagine Mary ever accepting this cosy, comfortable club nor agreeing to speak to its membership.
While the scarf tying speaker was demonstrating her art and showing some slides of her cruise attire, Caroline’s mind drifted away to Mary’s cottage, where she had told Mary about this commitment. She had just laughed. “God, the things you have to do! Be careful they don’t convert you! Be on your guard! Too much tea and bikkies and you’ll become one of them!”
One of them. A narrow minded, but safe and respectable woman. What was wrong with that? At one time she would have said it was her destiny, but Mary had shown her what was wrong. And Mary was right. She had to tackle challenges, not learn to make shortbread and pot lemon curd. Then suddenly she heard her name and realised that Audrey was suggesting a vote of thanks and there was once more a round of polite applause. She stood and smiled, mouthing her gratitude to the rows of beaming dentured faces.
Then a tiny little old lady shuffled forwards, bearing an enormous bunch of yellow chrysanthemums. “And on behalf of us all,” Audrey announced, “I have asked Evelyn Tinwell, who has been a member of this institute for over forty years, to present our thanks and a bouquet of flowers to Mrs Harper for giving us such an interesting talk today. Mrs Harper, thank you so much for finding the time in your extremely busy life to spend this afternoon with us.”
Caroline stepped forward and bent to take the flowers from the stooped white haired figure. “Thank you all very much. It has been a real pleasure,” she said as she faced the audience. Then she noticed that the little lady had grasped her hand and was trying to say something. She leant down to hear better and had to put her ear close to the old woman’s lips. The whispered words were barely audible above the applause and laughter, but she heard them and as Evelyn moved away Caroline stared at this knowing figure.

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