A spiteful revelation had shattered my life – and now, it was payback time. But could I go through with it?
The tables have turned. Now it’s time to see how she likes being on the receiving end of the sort of blow she dealt to me.
I study the photos I took on my phone. There are two, but either of them will do. Slipping the phone into my bag, I set out for the party on foot.
It’s a beautiful day for a garden party. The sky is the sort of intense blue that makes drifting clouds dazzle with whiteness. There’s warmth in the air, too, but a breeze keeps it deliciously fresh.
My heart beats faster at the thought of what’s to come, but I know I’ll have to pick my moment, so I take time to enjoy the gardens and hedgerows as I pass by.
In terms of beauty, West Bleebury is idyllic – exactly what I’d craved when I lived in the city and longed for village life. We’ve had both rain and sunshine in recent weeks, so the lawns are lush and flowers bloom brightly.
I inhale the heavenly fragrance of yellow roses and dusky drifts of lavender, watch bees buzz amidst tall, pink spires of foxgloves. And, after just five minutes, I reach the village green.
I first saw it on the Internet when we were researching where we might live. It looked charming on-screen, and the reality hasn’t disappointed.
It’s an exceptionally pretty green with Victorian-style lampposts supporting huge baskets of flowers. More flowers grow in semi-circular banks behind benches to make small bowers of tranquillity.
The buildings around the green are quaint and gorgeous. They include the timberframed pub and the village store – and High Leigh, an achingly lovely house with arched windows, set in immaculate gardens of almost an acre. This is my former home. The Bancrofts live there now – nice people.
‘Oh, dear. This must be hard for you, Catherine,’ Janet had said, when she learned why the house had been sold.
‘Don’t feel uncomfortable,’ I urged her. ‘I didn’t live at High Leigh for long.’
There was no need to state the obvious: that it was quite a climb-down for me to move from High Leigh to the cottage.
There’s nothing wrong with the cottage – it’s charming. But it’s tiny, inside and out. The front garden can be crossed in a single step and there’s just a narrow strip of land at the back.
After everything went wrong, my intention was to move away. Why would I torture myself with daily reminders of how I’d lost both my home and my dreams? It wasn’t as if I’d lived here long enough to put down roots. Or so I thought…
West Bleebury had other ideas. Having welcomed me warmly when I first arrived, it wasn’t willing to let me go without a fight.
‘Do you really want to return to the city you were so glad to leave?’ one friend demanded.
‘Or start over in a different village?’ another asked.
The answer to both questions was ‘no’. I liked the friends I’d made here. And, besides, my budget was limited and the cottage was just about affordable. It also had three tiny bedrooms, which meant the kids could come and stay: Jack from his job and Alice from university.
Marina’s home – another substantial village house – is just along from the green. Strains of music reach me as I approach. Walking round to the back, I pause to survey the party: gazebos, chairs, tables and people. Lots of people, raising funds for village causes.
My gaze seeks out the red hair of one particular person, but, before I locate her, a group of friends call to me to join them. I head for their table, only to be stopped halfway by Marina swooping in to kiss my cheek.
‘Everyone loves your idea of selling off the table decorations, Catherine,’ she says, smiling. ‘They’ll raise a lot of money, being so beautiful.’
I’d used flowers and foliage from my little garden and the larger gardens of friends to make the decorations on interesting pieces of bark and wood I’d found in nearby copses. Along with two raspberry pavlovas for the dessert table, they were my contributions to today’s event, as I’m not in a position to donate much money.
I always do what I can to help our small community, whether I’m feeding people’s cats when they’re away on holiday, or helping elderly residents with gardening. I like to think I’m giving back for the welcome I’ve received.
Marina spots another arrival and I move on to my friends. They find a chair for me, press a glass of wine into my hand. And, although my dress is old, they tell me how nice I look. It’s lovely to feel so popular.
I finally spot the red hair of Pamela King. Pamela is a tall, angular woman given to voicing opinions and advice.
‘Catherine, I hate to interfere,’ she’d said that awful day, ‘but, in your shoes, I’d want to know.’
‘Know what?’ I’d asked, though suspicion was already creeping up on me.
‘I’m afraid I saw James on a train, and he wasn’t alone. It was perfectly obvious what was going on. I’m sure you don’t need me to go into detail.’
Darkness stole in and squeezed my heart. Pamela
Pamela is a tall, angular woman given to voicing opinions and advice
patted my arm, and I remember looking at her scarlet-tipped fingernails as though her hand belonged to an alien.
‘I do hate to be the bearer of bad news,’ she said smoothly. Sure, she did.
But I don’t blame Pamela for the failure of my marriage. It was hardly her fault that James chose to have an affair, and he and I were drifting apart anyway.
Nor do I blame her for the fact that her bombshell launched me into a bitter confrontation with James, in which we lost any chance of the sort of amicable parting that might have reduced the hurt to the kids, and the money we spent on lawyers. The responsibility for that is mine.
But I do blame her for taking pleasure in her moment of power over me. I know spite when I see it, and, that day, spite had gleamed hungrily in Pamela’s eyes.
Now it’s my turn.
I sit in the sunshine, sipping my wine and planning my approach. Should I begin the same way she had – by saying that I hate to interfere? Why not? The irony is irresistible!
I bide my time throughout the barbecue and wait until the queue for desserts has subsided. ‘Time for pud,’ I announce. Pamela has been ‘supervising’ the dessert table. ‘To be sure everyone gets what they want,’ I’ve heard her telling people, even though Marina has labelled each dessert clearly.
It’s impossible to avoid anyone completely in a small community like ours, so I’ve managed to coexist with
Pamela in the year since she dropped her bombshell. We’re not friends – we were never more than acquaintances – but I’m subtle about melting away whenever she’s near, as I don’t want to make other people feel awkward. I make excuses about needing a cardigan or talking to someone about their cat.
Pamela appears to be awkward around me, though. I suspect she isn’t as satisfied with the outcome of her bombshell as she expected. I’m not the only one who’s cool with her as a result of it.
She shows telltale signs of awkwardness as I walk towards her now. Her eyes blink quickly; her hands look like flippers she’s forgotten how to operate.
The closer I get to her, the more apprehensive she looks, and I wonder whether there’s something in my expression that makes her fear me.
‘Catherine,’ she says, attempting a smile. ‘There’s plenty of trifle left. I love trifle, don’t you?’
Pamela herself contributed the trifle, and it isn’t proving popular with the other guests.
Before I can answer, Mary Bridges comes up. ‘I was hoping for more of your delicious pavlova, Catherine, but I see it’s all gone. Oh, well. Better for my waistline, eh?’
She leaves us with a titter of laughter, but is immediately replaced by Annie Fox and Jill
Her momentary spite doesn’t justify unkindness in return
Campbell. ‘No pavlova?’ Annie asks. ‘Pity.’
‘I love the table decorations,’ Jill tells me. ‘I’ve got my eye on one for Tuesday, preferably the one with the lavender as it’ll go so well with my curtains. You’re still coming for dinner?’
‘Of course,’ I assure her. ‘There’ll be eight of us. I’m planning a casserole.’ ‘Wonderful.’
Marina glides past, but pauses to grab my arm. ‘You’ll stay for supper tonight? Once the hordes have gone?’
‘Love to,’ I reply warmly, then I notice Jim Thomas waving and send him a smile. I walk his dog whenever he’s away on business.
When I turn back to Pamela, I’m surprised to catch a look on her face that I haven’t seen before. Instantly, she tightens it to studied indifference, but by then I’ve already registered what it was. Longing…
Goodness! Pamela has lived in West Bleebury for more than 10 years, but remains on the outside looking in when it comes to intimate friendships. I’ve always assumed she prefers being the village busybody, but perhaps I’m wrong.
Maybe her interfering ways aren’t actually intended to be interfering at all. Maybe they’re just clumsy attempts to make her mark on village affections because she hasn’t the insight to see that it’s easy warmth that leads to friendships – and that interference merely gets on people’s nerves.
And maybe – just maybe – it wasn’t really malice, but a sudden and much-regretted burst of jealousy that sparked her moment of spite against me, because I came along two years ago and was welcomed with open arms.
If that’s the case, Pamela isn’t really bad at all, but sad.
‘Trifle would be great,’ I say, because there’s no way I can show her the photos now.
I can’t be the bringer of grief.
Pamela’s eyes light up in surprised delight, and I find myself more than a little moved by her obvious desperation to please. I carry the dessert back to my table and force it down, although it’s not my favourite.
Later, I notice Pamela’s husband standing alone. He’s a distant sort of man and I’ve never spoken to him beyond a polite ‘hello’. But I walk over to him now.
‘Isn’t Marina’s garden looking beautiful?’ I ask.
He nods, bored – and he’s arrogant enough to see no reason to hide it.
‘I’ve seen lupins like those in Croxford Garden Centre,’ I say. Now his face grows wary… ‘There was a fabulous clematis growing around their café window,’ I tell him. ‘I took a picture of it.’
It was in the café that I’d seen David holding hands with a woman much younger than Pamela.
‘I got some glorious shots of the hydrangeas in the car park, too,’ I add.
It was in there that David and his woman had kissed.
I smile a meaningful smile, then walk away. I won’t expose his affair, but I hope I’ve given him cause to think about the wisdom of continuing it.
How strange. Pamela’s prying triggered the end of my marriage, yet here I am trying to prop up hers.
I suppose I feel that her momentary spite doesn’t justify unkindness in return. In fact, maybe kindness is the very thing Pamela needs.
I see her sitting at a table, alone apart from an elderly couple who are talking among themselves. I walk up, smiling. ‘The trifle was delicious,’ I say. ‘Really?’ She blinks rapidly. ‘Thank you.’
‘I’ve got some people coming for a cuppa in the morning, around 10am if you fancy it?’
‘Me?’ she asks, overwhelmed. There’s even a sheen of tears in her eyes. ‘I’d love to join you.’ ‘Great!’
Doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance, after all?