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.”


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