The Way We Lied

The hospice was peaceful the following evening. My mother was lying in her bed, supported by soft pillows. Her favourite piece of music, that sacred composition by Thomas Tallis, was playing again; the repetitive chanting encircled her in a choral spiral that was slowly lifting her to heaven.
She turned her head a little as I entered, her thin hair and bruised hollow cheeks the most obvious signs of her diminished body. She was no longer the bold, strong mother of my youth; she was a little broken bird. I could do nothing to help her now. I could only try to give her the gift of a peaceful, untroubled death and the reassurance that I loved her for being a devoted mother. I could only give her one more lie to preserve all the lies.
And then I told her that I had been. I told her what I had found. And I told her that none of it could be read. She closed her eyes for a moment as if she was relieved, then she looked at me and laughed, the tiniest rustling tissue of a laugh that shook her shoulders as if she had just heard the funniest joke in her whole life.
“All that is past is forgiven,” she whispered through her laughter. “I have never put my hope in any other but you.”
Then she closed her eyes for the very last time.

The Way We Lied

He stood back and Alex saw his cheek quiver in that peculiar way manly actors employ to convey deep emotion in rite of passage films. She was about to make a joke about having converted him from politics to religion when she realised that there were tears in his eyes and he was struggling to control them.
“Drinks, darlings. Over there. You must be gasping.” She detached herself from his emotions by waving her friends across the refectory to another committee member who was smiling and holding up a bottle. As they moved through the throng, Alex reflected on the power of music. Or was it something else? Was it a heavenly or an earthly influence that had provoked such a powerful response in David? She had only ever seen him as a smoothly groomed career politician until now and had never suspected that a soft heart lay beneath his professionally polished surface.
And as she wondered about David’s reaction, she saw again that tall figure in the doorway, surveying the crowd. Her face was calm and imperious. She looked across the room and smiled, a slight, secretive Mona Lisa smile, then turned and left.
Alex watched her, transfixed, but then looked back at her guests, desperate to know who or what had made this strange woman smile. And she saw Charles gazing at the empty doorway, straining his neck as if to catch a last glimpse of this aloof enigma.
Alex frowned and bit her lip. She was an ungroomed woman in a drab old raincoat. Why should anyone possibly be interested in her?
“What’s the matter, darling?” Charles was by her side, surreptitiously fondling her curves again. “It went well didn’t it?”
“Everyone seems to think so, though that awful culture snob Richard Graham said it was much more effective when he heard it performed years ago at the Roundhouse. They put the audience in the middle of the singers apparently so the singing encircled them.”

“Well I think everyone here really appreciated what my little baby has organised,” he said reaching behind and giving her another slight squeeze.
“Charlie, be careful. People are watching.” Alex purred and pushed herself back against his hand. It was so reassuring, knowing that she could make Charles want her and that Nick was still available too.

to be continued February 25

The Way We Lied

The choral music resounded in the aisles, wave after wave of singing in the vast gothic space. Slowly, Alex found herself responding to this anthem to heaven. She sat still, attentive, upright. She could not say what it meant, but as the eight groups of singers echoed each other with chords of ethereal beauty, she felt the back of her neck shiver. Was this what it meant to have the hairs stand up on the back of your neck? Wasn’t that a sign of fright? Or was it meant to be someone walking over your grave ? But this was not fear, this was rapture, an indication that even a sybarite such as she could be transported and given a glimpse of the divine. She closed her eyes and tried to picture austerity and self denial, fed only by the richness of this sacred music.
Later, when the applause had finally died away, Alex and the other members of the committee greeted important guests and friends in the adjoining cathedral refectory, which was functioning as a wine bar for the evening. “Wasn’t it wonderful?” she quipped to everyone as she gave them the obligatory air kiss or warm handshake as appropriate.
“Alex, that was simply stunning,” pronounced Ann Biddell, the chairman of the village riding club. “ Well done you for putting on such a good show.”
“Oh it was a team effort, really it was,” smiled Alex, silently hoping Ann with her loud voice, her dated tweed suit and large, shiny husband would drift towards some of the local councillors gathering around the trays of wine.
“Jolly good,” said James Biddell, firmly shaking her hand and also lunging for her cheek, his moustache bristling against her skin. “Not really my cup of tea, but jolly, jolly good.”
Alex could not help a little smile as they turned away, heading, as predicted for the chairman of the parish council. She shouldn’t despise them, really she shouldn’t. Oh they were decent enough people of course. He was financial director of a large conglomerate and she bred horses on their substantial estate. But….but… Alex sighed, they were so unimaginative and so, so boring.
“You’re looking awfully pleased with yourself,” laughed Caroline, as she hugged her friend. “That was quite wonderful.”
“It was, wasn’t it,” beamed Alex, genuinely pleased to see a real friend and know that she had enjoyed the performance. “I’m so pleased you liked it. And what did you think, David,” she asked, holding out her hand to Caroline’s husband.
He held her hand in both of his, then leant forward and hugged her. He was silent for a moment and then spoke in a strange, slightly husky voice, unlike the strong tones he normally employed. “I was deeply moved, more than I can say. Superb. Utterly superb.”

to be continued February 22

The Way We Lied

Alex nudged him then he pulled his eyes away. “Looks like you’re going to have a good turnout,” he said in a flat tone of voice.
Alex gave him a brilliant smile, knowing her smiles usually kindled a glint of fire in him. “Caroline says everyone who is anyone in Guildford is going to be here.”
Nick snorted. “Town hall officials and ten a penny councillors you mean.” He turned again to look over his shoulder.
Alex glanced back too and saw that the woman was changing seats, moving forward a couple of rows, nearer to them. “Who is that? Do you know her?”
“Some artist woman. Friend of Helen’s I think,” muttered Nick, turning away. “Mary something or other.”
Alex looked back once more and then, glancing at her friends in the row in front, noticed that David was also looking in that direction. His look was that of a pleading, hungry spaniel.
“What ever do you see in her?” hissed Alex. “Do you think she’s attractive?”
“What?” mumbled Nick, “Who’s attractive?”
“That woman. That woman back there, the one you can’t take your eyes off. God, what’s got into you all? She must be fifty at least, and just look how she’s dressed!”
At this, Nick laughed. He leant towards Alex and whispered in her ear. “Maybe dress isn’t important, my jealous little pussycat. Maybe she’s just got what it takes.”
Alex shoved him away with a sharp dig of her elbow, but he moved closer, his breath warm and damp on her ear. “I know how to recognise the woman beneath the exterior, my darling, don’t I? Mmmm, you smell divine….”
Alex giggled, satisfied that she still held him fast, then she felt a pat on the knee from her husband on the other side. “Stop flirting you two, it’s about to begin.” Charles tucked a possessive hand around her arm as they stood in honour of the arrival of the conductor and the dean who was to deliver the opening address.
“You can misbehave when I get you home,” he whispered, and he let his hand slip down her back to fondle her toned bottom in its tight pencil skirt in the shadow of the shielding pew. It worked. She inclined just ever so slightly towards him. He knew he could coax her, keep her contented, undemanding, but his eyes too slid towards that tall figure with the dark hair, her head held high.

to be continued February 18