Game Overby Adele Parks
Cas Perry wants nothing to do with love -- her dad walking out on her mother was quite enough romantic drama, thank you very much. And why should she bother with relationships when she can manipulate just about any man for sex? The steely-hearted TV producer plays with other people's love lives and orchestrates unscripted fireworks on the edgy reality show Sex… See more details below
Cas Perry wants nothing to do with love -- her dad walking out on her mother was quite enough romantic drama, thank you very much. And why should she bother with relationships when she can manipulate just about any man for sex? The steely-hearted TV producer plays with other people's love lives and orchestrates unscripted fireworks on the edgy reality show Sex with an Ex -- a ratings blockbuster that is sending her already-hot career skyrocketing.
Now, the woman who has all the answers meets the man who, for the first time, poses questions other than "buy you a drink?". Stunningly handsome Darren would be a sensation on Sex with an Ex -- and Cas needs him to ensure the show's success. So why is she wining and dining the sexiest man she's ever met -- and talking about family values, marriage, and fidelity? Darren's principles are changing the rules of attraction. And this may be one game Cas won't mind losing....
- Gallery Books
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- 0.82(w) x 5.50(h) x 8.50(d)
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What an inauspicious start to married life," Josh comments.
"Is there such a thing as an auspicious start?" I ask. He grins at me and Issie scowls. She likes weddings. The rain is falling so hard it's bouncing off the pavements and up my skirt. I'm bloody cold and wish the bride would stop hugging her mother and simply get in the car. I look closer. Maybe she isn't so much hugging as clinging. Maybe the seriousness of what she's done has hit her and she's having second thoughts. Issie shakes the remnants of confetti from the blue box but misses the bride and groom. The confetti settles on the grubby road. The filthy street is a stark contrast to the finery of their clothes, the car, the flowers, the smiles that radiate.
"Josh, what's the proper name for a squashed cube?" I ask, pointing to the little blue box of confetti. "They should redesign this packaging," I add.
"No!" Issie looks horrified, as if I'd suggested exposing my bikini line to the vicar. "Weddings are about tradition."
"Even if tradition means tacky and predictable?" Two big sins in my book.
"By definition," she defends. Then she leaps forward to jostle for a front position to catch the bouquet. She nervously hops from one foot to the other, her sleek, blonde, shoulder-length hair brushing her right shoulder, then her left, then her right again. Issie is a fidget. I am a still person. She continually rubs her hands together, taps her feet, jerks her knee. She once read that this constant nervous activity uses thirty calories an hour, more than a Mars bar a day, pounds in a year, a whole dress size in a lifetime. Her constant unfocused activity strikes me as a fairly accurate metaphor for how she lives her life.
I don't try to catch the flowers. I don't try for two reasons. One, Issie will lynch me if I catch them. She's spent the entire reception spiking the drinks of single women, in the hope that this will diminish their co-ordination. And two, it's bollocks.
No really, the whole marriage thing is bollocks. I mean I'm as happy as the next one to have an excuse to wear a hat and drink champagne. Generally, wedding receptions are a laugh, a big, fun party. But that's as far as it goes for me. Beyond that, it's bollocks. I'm not a man. And I'm not a lesbian. I'm not even a man hater Josh is one of my best friends and he's a man. I'm a single, successful, attractive, thirty-three-year-old, heterosexual. I just don't want to get married. Ever.
Issie doesn't catch the flowers and she looks as though the disappointment will break her.
"A drink, Cas? Issie?" asks Josh, in an effort to cheer her up. He doesn't wait for a response but turns back to the hotel and heads directly for the bar. He knows that we'll willingly join him for a drink Martini-style: any time, any place, anywhere. We elbow through the elegant crowds. This morning they sat demurely in church pews but they have now abandoned any semblance of civilization. The exit of the bride, the groom and the oldies leaves the rest of the guests free to indulge in what brought us to the wedding in the first place. The opportunity for some hedonistic, no strings attached, unashamed sex.
I selected my target in the church, before the "I dos." I relocate him. He's tall, dark and handsome. Admittedly, he doesn't look that bright. Rather too in love with himself to allow room for anyone else. Perfect. Deep and meaningful is an overrated phenomenon. Shallow and meaningless but well endowed gets such a hard press.
It's important to pick out a target early on in the proceedings and it's important to let him know he's it. I smile. Directly at him. If at this point he looks around and tries to locate the recipient of my smile, I'll instantly go off him. I like my men to be arrogant enough to know that I'm flirting with them.
He passes the test by grinning back at me. Only turning to catch his reflection in the mirror that hangs behind the bar. He grins again. This time at himself. The difference in appreciation is fractional. I don't mind. Vanity is a safety net. I flick my hair and turn away. Job done.
Issie and Josh are still fighting their way to the bar. I call them back.
"What? I was nearly at the front," Issie complains.
"Don't worry, drinks are on their way," I assure.
"Oh." She relaxes into the chintz chair. Josh lights a fag, trusting me. We are all familiar with my routine. Josh and Issie know all about me.
Josh is like a brother to me. We met aged seven over our suburban fences. It is this meeting that makes me believe in fate. We met when our families' stars were crossing. His in the ascendant. Mine spiraling downwards.
That summer we shared Rubik's cubes, cream soda and an uneasy sense of impending change. Our childish sixth sense told us that we were both powerless in the face of adult whim. The five-bedroom detached, in Esher, Surrey, that my mother and I had thought was a dream home turned out to be a temporary residence. That summer my father announced that he was in love with another woman and couldn't live without her. My mother showed rare wit and emotional honesty by asking whether he'd prefer cremation or burial. My father moved out immediately following his announcement. I was to see him three more times in my life. A week later when he came to collect his records and he brought me a Lundby doll's house (presumably to replace the real home he was destroying). A month later when he took me to the zoo (I cried the entire afternoon, saying that the animals behind the bars upset me. In fact, they didn't, but I was determined that both my father and I would have a terrible afternoon after all, my mother and I were having plenty of them). And the following Christmas (when I refused to open his present or sit on his knee). After that, he just sent Christmas and birthday cards, which petered out before I was ten. Josh's seventh summer wasn't great either: he was told that he was to be wrenched from his comfortable local primary school and prepped at the hallowed ground of Stowe. Thinking about it, perhaps it wasn't so much a sixth sense. The prep-school prospectuses and the endless rows were a giveaway. Although very nearly entirely submerged in our own terror, we settled into an uneasy mutual sympathy that passed as companionship. Sulkily learning to rollerskate and eating raw gooseberries has an enormous bonding effect. I still think he got the best deal. At that time we had lived in identical homes, distinguishable only by the color of the Formica on the kitchen units. I was never to live in anything so spacious again. He, in anything so compact. As a child I identified the difference. His father kept quiet about his affairs.
I suspect that our childish friendship, although intense in a sharing gobsmacker type of way, would have petered out except that we met again, aged twelve, at a county tennis tournament. Josh recognized that knowing a girl, any girl, would improve his standing at Stowe. I was attracted by his rounded vowels, and even at that early age had recognized that competition was healthy, a challenge that the boys at Westford Comprehensive rose to. It turned out that we still liked each other. We liked each other so much that Josh insisted on disappointing his teachers and parents by joining me at Manchester University. They'd had their sights set on an establishment that was a little older and altogether less red-brick. I was determined to go to Manchester; for the trendy bands, the radical students union, the men in turned-up Levis and DMs, but mostly for the outstanding media studies course.
Josh is tall, six foot two, blond. If I look at it objectively, I have to admit he is the most attractive man I know that I haven't slept with. Whenever I introduce him to my girl friends and colleagues, they unilaterally swoon, they go on and on about how fanciable he is. He is what's described as "handsome" or "dashing." Invariably, because they lack imagination, they assume we are an item. I explain that I like him far too much to complicate things by having sex with him.
In fact, I love him. He is one of the three people I love in the world. I love my mother in a no-nonsense, non-demonstrative kind of way. And I love Issie.
Issie and I met at Uni. In her first term she read biology, then chemistry and finally chemical engineering. It wasn't so much that she'd finally found her vocation, it's just that her tutor wouldn't hear of another change of direction. Issie is frighteningly intelligent and alarmingly optimistic. It's an unusual combination, which largely leaves her dissatisfied. She's a little taller than most women are (five foot nine) and a little thinner (U.K. size ten), achieved through the constant fidgeting rather than gym visits. Therefore she's slim but untoned. She bewails her wobbly upper arms and potbelly but hasn't, in the fifteen years I've known her, ever seriously considered stomach crunches or lifting weights (unless you count carrying heavy shopping bags). She's a natural blonde: eyelashes and brows prove it. Therefore she doesn't tan but has a sprinkling of freckles on her (wide) nose and (slim) shoulders. She has the sexiest mouth in the Western world. It's broad and red. Women describe her as stunning. Men are diametrically opposed; they either fail to notice her at all, her paleness rendering her invisible, or they want to be her knight in shining armor and put her on a pedestal. I don't think either of these responses suits her. Issie's fierce intellect and brutal honesty ought to be dignified with something more than indifference or insulation. But then there's a lot of things that ought to happen and won't. I don't hold much hope for Issie finding a man that is worthy of her. Especially since her optimism has overpowered her intelligence and she has spent her adult life in a stalwart but senseless crusade to discover hidden depths in the men she dates. I've explained on countless occasions that there isn't a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
It's really Josh who is responsible for Issie's and my friendship. He spotted her at Freshers' Week and developed an intense crush on her. He begged me to befriend her. I did. By the time I discovered how much I liked her and how ethereal and fragile she was, Josh had slept with half of the students in Withington and Fallowfields. I decided that she was far too special to allow him to have his wicked and transient way with her. I discouraged both parties, in what I admit to be a Machiavellian manner. I pointed out his shortcomings to her and other women's attractions to him. It was a successful ploy.
I still think I made the right decision.
If they'd wanted each other so much, they'd have found a way to make it happen.
We settled into a healthy flirty relationship where we often confused who fancied whom. Instead of any of us sharing each other's beds, in the second and third years, we shared a student house. Just the three of us, loath to let anyone else into our inner sanctum. This was sensible, as arguments over who bought the last loo roll and put an empty milk carton back in the fridge put a full stop to any romantic notion any one of us harbored.
We were typical students. We avoided lectures, joined clubs and societies rugby (Josh), Literary Soc. (Issie), wine appreciation (me); we drank copious amounts in the Uni. bar, relied on last minute cramming for exams and shagged relentlessly. We were atypical in that none of us fell victim to the statistic that says one third of all graduates meet their long-term partner at university. We were all hopeless at anything long-term. Issie fell in love with every man she shagged. It was a warped attempt at respectability. She shagged until the men she was shagging got fed up of her reading metaphysical poetry as foreplay. Josh fell in love with every woman he screwed, at least until he'd eaten breakfast and sometimes for days on end. He was forever breaking hearts. I never fell in love and often got bored before the first post-coital cigarette.
This youthful pattern set us on the path we would follow throughout our twenties and, likely as not, until we draw our pensions. This thought doesn't bother Josh or me. The law chambers which he so successfully wafts around offer enough intelligent and willing women for him to fall in and out of love ad infinitum. The same can be said of my job in the media. The abundance of loose-moraled young men is a necessary criterion for any job offer I accept. I have no illusions about commitment, which makes me a deeply attractive proposition to men who have no intention to commit 99.99 percent of them. So I use and abuse. It's easier all around. Actually, I don't do too much abuse. To abuse someone they have to be emotionally involved and in my experience men are happy to forgo this nicety if good head is on offer. So when I leave their beds failing to leave my telephone number on the empty fag packet or when I shoo them out of my flat with the empty promise that I'll call, no one really minds that much.
Issie is a lab technician at a huge pharmaceutical company. Her white coat is quite fetching but I know Issie is still looking for something more than a quick game of doctors and nurses. I'm always telling her it will be a fruitless search and she wants to count herself lucky that we have each other to love.
"Can I offer you a drink?" I never say yes to this question without first checking out the origin, however busy the bar is. I look up and see Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome. On cue. He is presumptuously holding a bottle of Bollie and a fistful of glasses. I like presumption, extravagance and the recognition that my friends will want a drink too. He has sparkling green eyes and the floppy-haired look that was all the rage when I was nineteen. I resist telling him that since Brideshead Revisited, no man (other than Hugh Grant) has ever successfully pulled off this look. I resist because besides the height, eyes and cheekbones, I like his suit.
"Fine." I grin.
He does the usual stuff: he asks me my name, and I tell him it's Cas and he says, "Oh, what's Cas short for?" And I explain it's short for Jocasta and I grin and add, "I was named after my father's mother, very Oedipal." And sometimes they get this reference and sometimes they don't but it doesn't matter because either way they grin maniacally. Because usually by this time the men I talk to are well and truly in lust with me. They may not be interested in references to Greek plays but they are extremely interested in the possibility of steamy foreplay. They are checking out my full, pert tits or my long, brown, muscular legs, depending on whether they are breast or leg men. And, if their tastes are more sophisticated and long, black, glossy hair, or clear skin, or slim hips, or blue eyes, or straight white teeth turn them on, I can offer all these things too.
Believe me, I know I'm blessed.
I wear my hair long, because it drives men wild. They look at me and see a sexy bitch or a nineteenth-century heroine, whichever is their bag. Strictly speaking, I think my personality would suit a razor-sharp, chin-length bob, but I work in television and "give them what they want" is my war cry.
I ask his name and try to commit it to memory. I ask what he does, and he does something or other. It doesn't matter. His prospects only matter to women who want a future. I notice he has very large feet and this is exciting. In my experience (wide and varied) the old adage is true. I constantly touch him. Little light touches on his arm and shoulder. I even pick off an imaginary piece of lint from his breast pocket. It always amazes me that men fall for this clichéd crap but they always do. I run my tongue around my lips, my teeth and the olive in his Martini. He is not vulnerable. He knows this routine. He's played it himself on countless occasions. He's a little bit taken back that it's being played to him but my audacity excites. He tries to regain control of at least the conversation and asks what I do for a living. I tell him that I'm a TV producer for the new terrestrial channel, TV6, and this, if we were in any doubt, clinches it.
My glamorous job has huge pulling power. My job is glamorous, especially in comparison to most people's jobs. It is an affectation of those who work in TV to continually deny that the job is fun or alluring. It's a way of neutralizing our guilt at the hideously high salaries we earn. It is undoubtedly more glamorous to sell TV airtime than baked beans at a leading supermarket. It is unquestionably more exciting to spot Des O'Connor in the lifts than Dave Jones from accounts. However, TV is also bloody hard work. I've been in the business for twelve years now. I started as a gofer on Wake Up Britain straight after Uni. The pay was a pittance but I was thrilled. I had a job in television. I spent most of my time in a state of perpetual fear. I had no responsibility so the level of misdemeanour that I could aspire to was putting sugar in someone's coffee when they'd distinctly asked for saccharin. My most constant dread was that my clothes, hair, figure, accent, jokes were unacceptable. I spent all my money on the right clothes (black) and the right hairstyles (long, short, very short, long again, black, blonde, red, black again), happily reinventing myself until I could be myself. It was vital to me to do well. Not just well but best. No job was too small for me to accept it cheerfully. No ambition was too large for me to hold it greedily. I worked obscene hours, even working once on Christmas Day, which wasn't really a hardship. Holidays bore me. It was worth it. I leaped ahead of my peers and by the time I was twenty-three I was chief researcher. I rushed through the ranks of associate producer and producer, and I reached the dizzy heights of executive producer the week before my thirtieth birthday. It's who I am. It's what I am.
"That must be fascinating," Mr. Tall, Dark, Handsome with Green Eyes comments.
"It is. As we are now living in the digital age and there are hundreds of extra channels all fighting for the consumer mind share, it's extremely tough." I don't bother to tell him that besides the terrestrial channels, BBC 1 and 2, ITV, Channels 4 and 5 and TV6, there are 200 digital satellite channels, 500 digital cable channels and 70 digital terrestrial channels on offer, not to mention interactive television, the Internet and home shopping. Yet viewing time per capita has declined. The more we have to watch, the less often we tune in. So the challenge hasn't let up; I'm constantly being asked to introduce more demanding or aggressive promotions, programs or plans. I don't bother to mention it because even Josh, my most devoted listener, glazes over when I give too much detail. I know I can be boring about my work but it means so much to me. I try to think of an entertaining star story. In the corridors of power I often bump into someone famous, especially those who are famous for being famous they make themselves very available. I like them the least and admire them the most. It's much harder than being famous for being talented. I know a story about has-been soap stars won't interest.
"I eat my sandwiches in the same canteen as Davina McCall." That gets him.
I wake up to birds screeching and a swarm of bees hovering threateningly above me. I fully expect to open my eyes and see a fan whirling from the ceiling. It takes me some seconds to understand that my pounding head is not because I'm on set in Apocalypse Now and Again but that the audibility of feathered friends is due to the fact that the windows of the country-house hotel bedroom are wide open. The night before it had been a good idea. I'd insisted on it. Naturally, as I am paying ©170 a night (not on expenses), I wanted my money's worth. Shortbread biscuits, mini bottles of shampoo, shower cap and fresh air.
The swarm of bees turns out to be a lone ranger. This is a relief. I survey the room. The debris suggests I had a really good time last night. I move my head a fraction; the hangover confirms it.
I concentrate on focusing: empty champagne bottle, empty mini bar, horizontal wardrobe and handsome stranger in my bed.
His name eludes me. This is not a disaster but it is an irritation. It seems rude, even by my standards, to ask a man to leave without addressing him on a first-name basis. Big boy, although an adequate term of endearment last night, seems faintly ridiculous in the harsh light of day. I'm saved from immediately confronting this dilemma as the phone rings.
Tring, trinnnnnng, tring, trinnnnnng. The tone is definitely getting more insistent. I feel around for the handset.
"Issie." I pull myself on to my elbow. "You OK?"
I try to concentrate on her story. It starts good scored with one of the ushers. But it gets muddled through her tears. Seemingly she had a passion session last night. Peppered with orgasms, blowjobs and him murmuring, "You are amazing." This morning she'd woken up to him trying to sneak out of her room. She'd asked for his number. He gave her one but it was made up. It was one digit too many.
"He called me Zoë," she wails. It's true Zoë isn't generally the accepted shortening of Isabelle, however familiar the parties involved. "How could he forget my name?"
"I don't know, honey. I really don't. What's your room number?" I want to stroke her hair, hunt a tissue from my handbag, blow her nose and pour a substantial G&T. I want to make her better. I hurriedly climb out of bed. Momentarily noting the slight strain in my groin. I turn and have a last wistful look at big boy. I wouldn't have minded a bit of early morning naughtiness. But it is out of the question. Issie needs me. I don't even have time to wash off the sperm and smell of rubber.
"Hey big " I stop myself. "Hey." I shake him gently. He opens his eyes and tries to pull me back into bed.
"What's the rush?" he asks with a lazy grin. I maneuver away from all his hands, pull a jumper on and throw his shirt at him.
"My friend called. I'm going around to her room."
"I'll wait for you," he offers.
"No, that would be" I play with the idea of saying tedious and opt for the more polite approach "too kind but unnecessary. She's very upset; I might be gone all morning. All day."
"Should I leave you my card?"
"Yes, great. Do that." I kiss him on his forehead and feel a bit like his mother. How young this guy looks in the daylight. Of course I have no intention of calling him, but I'd like to have his name. I keep immaculate mental records in these matters.
Issie opens the door; she's wrapped in a sheet.
"Oh Issie." I hug her. Fighting down the swell of irritation that washes over me when I see her tear-stained face. I'm annoyed at him for doing it to her. I'm annoyed at her for doing this to herself. "Have you called Josh?"
"Oh, makes sense. I saw him slope off with that woman in the huge navy hat."
"Which one?" asks Issie. "There were a dozen navy hats."
"The Emu one."
"Oh." She grins, despite herself, and I think, not for the first time, that Issie is too nice to be treated like this.
I put on the mini kettle and throw the biscuits to her. She needs the sugar. She catches them with one hand and this simple gesture makes my heart swell with pride. It is so unfair. There is no way Issie would ever have managed to do something so cool in front of a guy she fancied. Women are always so much nicer, more composed and funnier when blokes aren't around. Why can't we be our best selves in front of them?
"Did you have full sex?" I ask, trying to establish the level of disappointment.
"Yes." She sounds guilty.
"Don't sweat it, forget it. I'm not your mum." But I know she's wracked with shame and an overwhelming sense of self-loathing. She's explained it often enough. I try to cheer her up. "I also had full sex and I'm not expecting to see him again either."
"But you don't care. You have no feelings." Fair point. I shrug. I'm as hard as nails on the outside. Scratch the surface and I'm as hard as nails on the inside. Impenetrable. Well, emotionally impenetrable, not the other. Not frigid. Technically, I guess, for want of a more user-friendly term, I'm a slapper. I start to run her a bath. I'm overly generous with the bubble bath. Bubbles are so frivolous. They never fail to cheer me up.
"Was it good sex?" I shout above the running tap.
"Not particularly we hardly know each other."
So why is she so upset? I walk back into the bedroom and start to drag her toward the bathroom.
"What did I do wrong?" she wails. I've heard this question so often that I have a stockpile of answers. "You did nothing wrong." "Men are simply incapable of more." Etc., etc. None of it helps. She still regularly has her heart stomped upon.
Whilst she's in the bath I order room service. We require serious comfort food so I order a big, greasy fried breakfast (powerful medicine for hangovers and broken hopes), a pile of pastries and huge steaming mugs of hot chocolate. I quickly shower while Issie flicks through the Sunday papers. We eat breakfast lying on the massive bed, wrapped in luxurious, white toweling dressing gowns. I couldn't be happier. To me this is a perfect Sunday morning. I know Issie would be happier if I were a man.
"But why does it matter?" I ask, genuinely confused. "You had your servicing and you don't have to put up with the inane conversation this morning. Best of both worlds."
Issie sighs. "What if the conversation wasn't inane but stimulating?"
"It's a bit unlikely, isn't it?"
She sighs again, very deeply this time. I know I am trying her patience.
"No, it's not unlikely. Men are people, Cas, and they are capable of relationships."
It's not that I think men are any more awful or dishonest than women where such matters are concerned. That's such an archaic view. But as soon as sex comes into the equation, integrity, candor and decency invariably make a swift exit. Someone is bound to get hurt. I simply prefer it if it's not me. Or Issie. Or Josh.
I catch sight of my reflection in the dressing-table mirror. I can see what other people see, a five-foot-seven, size eight woman, with huge blue eyes and long dark hair. Sexy, cool, flawless. But it still surprises me that they can't see what I can. The seven-year-old chubby tyke, left behind by her father. Not only was I not pretty enough to make my father stay, I actually suspected it was my fault he'd left. Had I been naughty? Was it something to do with digging up his vegetable plot with Josh? By the time I realized this wasn't the case at all, and it was actually more to do with Miss Hudley his buxom, blonde and willing secretary it was too late. I'd spent a decade blaming myself. Rationale and reason were too tardy. The psychology isn't difficult to figure out. Intense feelings of betrayal, blah, blah, blah. I have a complex about men not loving me enough to stay and about their general ability to be faithful. My defense is a life awash with cynicism, constraint and calculation. And it's an extremely effective preclusion to pain. I hurt before I can be harmed. I dump before I'm damaged. I never get involved.
"The mistake everyone makes is thinking sex and love are at all compatible. Why? No one imagines they are in love because they feel hungry or tired or cold. Why imagine you are if you feel randy?"
"Oh, you are too clever for me." Issie evades my argument. She doesn't think I'm clever, she thinks I'm cruel, but she's too polite to say so.
I had planned to spend Sunday afternoon with my mother, and Issie decides to join me, as she can't face a Sunday afternoon on her own. I'm pleased she's joining me but frustrated that she thinks there is such a thing as "on your own" when you live in a city with seven million inhabitants, dozens of museums, scores of galleries, hundreds of shops, and millions of bars and restaurants.
When we arrive at my mother's, she is sitting in the garden reading a romantic novel. I pointedly put down the bag of improving books that I have brought for her. She thanks me, but I doubt she'll swap the stolen glances and passionate embraces to learn more about the trials of the Irish during the potato famine. My mother is delighted to have both Issie and me to fuss over and immediately scuttles to the kitchen to put on the kettle.
Mum lives in a small, immaculate house in Cockfosters. The house is cramped full of furniture that she rescued from her marriage. My mother brought everything from our five bedroom detached home and put it into her two-bedroom terraced house. The result is overpowering. It is impossible to walk through a room without banging your hip on a sideboard or stubbing your toe on a chair. In some rooms furniture is literally piled up on top of other bits of furniture. Chair on table, poof on chair. There are two beds in each bedroom, although no one ever stays. I wish she'd throw it all out. I wish she'd start again at Heal's. The house is stuck in a time warp and so is Mum. When she married my father everyone commented that there was an amazing resemblance between her and Mary Quant. It was a very successful look at the time. She's never been able to leave it behind. Over thirty-five years later she still wears her hair in a thick dark bob. She applies a home dye kit every three weeks. She wears her skirts too short and a ton of eyeliner. I find her look mildly embarrassing. Not simply because she's unfashionable and being a trend leader is important to me, but because of what her look signifies. It is a very public statement that she has not been able to move on since my father left her. She's never said so, but I know that she's preserving herself in this way. She hopes that one day Father will come home and the last twenty-six years will be magically erased. A modern-day Miss Haversham.
My mother is a tall, strong-looking woman. The height comes from her thighs, which are slightly longer than average. She's kept her figure. The only concession to her age is that her tummy is gently rounding, comfortably protruding but certainly not huge. Her back is broad and her shoulders wide. Her body tells of capability. Her face is thin and she has high cheekbones. Her nose is narrow and straight, giving the impression that life's discomforts slip from her without disturbing her. But her chin is pointy and juts out to catch all pain and atrocity. She has watery blue eyes that punctuate the solidness of her face. And because her eyes are the window to all her delight and disgust she often hides them behind dark glasses. Even in the winter. I've inherited this from my mother. Whilst I don't actually wear dark glasses I do see the world as a slightly shady place.
"Did you get my message on Tuesday?" Mum asks. I don't say yes and that it made my day. I say yes but I've been too busy to call back. She nods.
"How was the wedding?" She knows all about my social life and what I do with myself on a daily basis. It's a tactic to avoid living a life of her own.
"Fluffy," I reply.
"Beautiful." Issie smiles.
"What a shame about the rain, especially as today is so beautiful. Isn't that always the way?"
"They must have expected rain or at least thought there was a fair probability. It is August, it is England." I don't know why I do this. Behave badly. But I always do. My mother always brings out the worse in me. The moment I am in her presence I am incapable of being polite, let alone charming. I become petulant, sulky, churlish and unreasonable. My mother authorizes this appallingly childish behavior by silently indulging me. The harder she tries to please, the meaner I become. I always leave her house ashamed of myself.
"Ignore her," says Issie.
"Oh, I do," giggles my mum.
"You know how she hates weddings."
I pretend to have an overwhelming interest in the yellow patches of grass on the lawn. My mother cuts me a piece of chocolate fudge cake. It was my favorite as a child. I consider telling her I'm dieting but it's a lie. I'd only be doing it to be pathetic.
"Did Josh enjoy the wedding?"
"Seemed to," I mutter. I know where this conversation is leading. It's leading where every conversation my mother ever has about Josh leads. She mistakenly labors under the apprehension that Josh and I would make a "lovely couple." She insists on deliberately misconstruing his innocent acts of friendship as overtures. Her inference would irritate me, but I comfort myself with the thought that my mother knows absolutely nothing about the male psyche.
"Didn't he want to come for tea too?"
"He was otherwise engaged." I haven't the heart to elaborate she looks crushed as it is. Rallying herself, my mother turns to Issie.
"Issie, are you courting at the moment?" asks Mum as she passes Issie a slice of cake. Issie and I avoid catching each other's eye because although we are thirty-three years old we still think the word "courting" is hysterical. Hearing it said out loud is enough to send us into peals of helpless giggles.
"No." Issie manages the single syllable by cramming a load of fudge cake into her mouth.
"Oh. What a shame. Are you working too hard? You're not neglecting your social life are you? Don't forget there's more to life than work." My mum and I agree on one thing. If Issie wants a man it should be possible.
"It's not work. It's just that all the men I meet are bastards." Mum blushes at Issie's expletive. I'm amused and watch the exchange with interest. My mum and I run through this routine every week. It amazes me that while her marriage made her so unhappy, she still thinks it's the answer to everyone else's dreams.
"I met someone last night." I catch Issie's eye we both know she is giving my mother false hope. "But I took his number down incorrectly, one digit too many." She's just bending the truth to protect the feelings of an older lady. Anyone would do it. My mother and Issie then spend an hour looking at the telephone number working out which is likely to be the wrong digit. This is one of the most pointless exercises I've ever witnessed. I spray the roses, which have a spot of greenfly.
Copyright © 2001 by Adele Parks
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