Excerpts

(from Rosy George’s Convention Conundrum, Section 1, Chapter 2)

Sod it, she thought, on the day of departure. It’s probably the last chance to shop properly so I may as well splurge. And she did – on a pair of strappy vertiginous heels that made her look like a celebrity hippy.

It was these she was wearing in Lytton Farm Shop as the bell ‘ding’ed behind her on her first Tuesday in the village. Looking up from the wheat-free pasta, she reddened. Angus Hart stood before her in corduroys and a faded polo shirt, holding a baby’s head.

She screamed. Not just a scream; a screech a banshee would have been proud of. On the far side of the shop, a bottle smashed. People stared. Angus blinked.

“My God! What the…?”

“It’s not real.”

She looked again and saw it was true. It was incredibly life-like … but plastic.

She’d been less disturbed by David’s Speedos. “What on earth are you doing?”

Smirking, he raised an eyebrow. “Shopping with a friend.”

He was too weird for words. She picked up a basket and made to go, but he fell into step beside her and the aisles were too narrow to run.

He cornered her by the soft fruit. “I’m sorry I scared you.” He gestured towards the doll’s head, which sat like a curious pineapple, gazing up through the bars of his trolley. “It’s just a prop. I use it with the children at camp. It prompts interesting discussion.”

God help the children; who knew what sort of conversation he was into. She hurried on, but he followed.

“I thought you’d be in the beauty section.” She steeled herself for the inevitable. “Buying nail varnish.”

She threw him a withering look. “I have enough left, thank you. It was only a very small scratch.”

“The tree wasn’t quite so lucky.”

Boy, was he hard work. She turned to face him. “I’m sorry. Again. But it’s a tree. It’ll live.”

He explored her with his eyes. “Why are we arguing?”

She was temporarily thrown. Because you scared me. Because of your arrogance. Because you like to fuck people in the bushes. “I don’t know.”

“I’m sorry if I scared you.” His hair curled into his neck at the back, she noticed. Just at the back. Otherwise it was quite straight.

She exhaled slowly. “That’s ok.”

And that was that. Rosy’s shopping list was thorough, but as she didn’t know her way around it was useful to have Angus point out organic salads, local wine and the deli counter, bursting with olives and pungent salamis. She was particularly impressed with the wide range of artisan chocolate, including Montezuma’s which she loved more than life itself. Everyone in the shop melted before Angus and she marvelled as he delivered perfect dollops of discourse. Despite a few puzzled glaces, Rosy too was smiled at warmly. Unlike the garage in Kilburn, people here seemed happy to look you in the eye. She looked on approvingly as he scooped up ripe Brie and salmon pate.

“Entertaining?” she thought of Alison.

“Picnic.”

“Lovely.” She was a little envious. Picnics with David were few and far between. It was a beautiful day and she had no plans at all.

He smiled. “I’m taking a couple of kids out back at the sailing club at lunchtime.”

She felt strangely elated by the word, ‘kids’. “Oh, right. What do you sail?” Not that she knew the difference between boats.

“Kestrel. Wish I could go out today but I’ve got plans. How about you?” He looked doubtfully at her jewel-encrusted feet.

“I don’t get much chance in London. What?” she bristled at his expression. “Don’t you like them?”

“It’s not that. I just can’t imagine how you get around.”

There was no way she would admit how much her toes throbbed. “They’re great,” she said brightly. “David loves them.”

“Great,” he echoed. “That’s all that matters.”

She shoved him affably as they queued. “They’re actually incredibly comfortable … and good for your back,” she crossed her fingers at the lie. “I can walk for miles.”

“That’s good … though I don’t believe you for a minute. I’d offer you a lift, but far be it for me to stop your workout. It’s a fair way back to Lytton, mind.”

Three miles to be exact, but she’d shot herself in a decorated, levitated foot. “As I said, I like it.” Plus she had nothing better to do.

If he was disappointed he masked it well and regarded her coolly. “Suit yourself.”

They stepped out of the shop together. The heat was intense and Rosy felt a rush of recklessness. He was the only person under forty she’d met in a week and he gave good banter. Shading her eyes, she squinted up. “So, when are you going to introduce me to the masses?”

He laughed. “There’s a guitar evening in the Moon on Friday if you’re interested. Starts at seven. Come along if you want.”

“Sounds thrilling.”

He was unmoved. “Or not. I’m easy.” He swung his cotton shopping bag easily into the back of the Triumph and slammed the door.

She was stung. “I’ll see.”

“Suit yourself. But you should get involved. After all, you’re going to be here for the next twelve months and a year’s a long time to be bored.”

Don’t I know it, she thought, as she watched him drive off, leaving a trail of fine dust.

 

(from To Be Honest, Chapter 6: Monday)

So the day gets lighter in a way but the sky starts to fall into the Thames in as we troop over the Millenium Bridge to The Globe. Miss Mint’s up front and she’s so slim and pretty in a fitted black coat; not like our baggy parkas and we all love her more ‘cos the only extra teacher she’s brought is Mr Morlis and three LSAs. One of them’s Erin’s mum; she likes to help out but keeps losing things and how embarrassing would it be to have your mother along to a trip.

My group’s up front too. I try and listen to what Miss Mint’s saying to Mr Morlis but it’s drowned out by other people, there’s a lot in London. We go along the river and through the entrance, where we stop for manky snacks like they would’ve eaten in Shakespeare’s time like dried figs and whelks, whatever they are. Then we file in and we’re not allowed to lean on the pillars. However, (that’s a connective: Miss Mint told us in year 7) because the rain is coming down in big sploshes now and of course we’re standing because we’re here for ‘the experience’, not so we can have a nice day out, and Courtney’s yakking in my ear about Kai, I nearly start to lose it.

But when the play starts I find I don’t care anymore. ‘Cos it’s good. The costumes are like velvet cake and the actor playing Orsino’s fit – he could talk Shakespeare to me any day. The words sometimes make sense; crazy words I’ve stared at in print hating. I didn’t know they could sound like this.

Courtney flops about between Rach’s and my shoulders, rubbing her chin on Rach’s collar, whining about stubble rash but I’m watching someone else.

Miss Mint’s in the middle of us all; her hair’s down and blowing but you only notice how it frames her eyes. Her coat’s trapped in her bag strap but you only see how the leather’s the exact brown of the stage front. She’s holding a programme and watching, watching, and she looks, basically, like Gwyneth in Shakespeare in Love. It’s not full. We must be the only school in the country that’s doing Twelfth Night, Mum reckons. Anyway, I’m glad we have space ‘cos Olly’s just farted.

It’s just gone three o’clock ‘cos I hear Big Ben strike and the next thing is the sky breaks and I’m blind.

Then it’s like Tao’s talking loudly. Like he did when I rubbed his tummy and he’d squirm on his back, especially if he had fleas. The thunder rumbles, grumbles and goes. The actors don’t even pause.

But we’re all getting sopping now. Fat, froggy drops drenching heads and shoulders; the type of rain Dad says they get in Sri Lanka and he should know. The lightning and the thunder mean business.

“Shit,” screeches Erin, whose hair goes mental in the wet.

“Shit,” echoes Joe Brannigan, who fancies her, covering it with his parka.

It’s the biggest storm I’ve ever known and it’s not stopping. Everyone crushes together squealing ‘cos there’s no shelter unless you’ve got seats or you’re on stage. They don’t let you bring umbrellas. Only Jenny Sargent and her geek friends brought Macs and they’re wet all the way through.

Cold hijacks my fingers and my scarf’s a good thing to wrap them in though it means my neck gets wet. Josh hugs me, which is damp but nice in the end, then Erin and Rach latch on so we’re a massive warm crab and it feels a bit better but I wish we could be dry.

Mr Morlis stomps over and gives us a thumbs-up, trousers all stuck. He seems excited and I think weather’s more his thing than words.

Then the rain starts to stop.

It’s stopping.

Stopped.

Bodies unfurl like ferns all around the yard.

I look up. The clouds are strange: I’ve never seen them like that before.

And somehow I’m still the audience. Maybe ‘cos Miss Mint, although she’s hoiked Courtney off the floor and hasn’t done her coat up properly so it flaps like wet, black, felt wings, is too. We’re both watching Cesario in Act III say to Olivia “I am not what I am,” and as the words hit my ears, Josh squeezes my waist and I look at Miss Mint at the exact same moment she looks at me and then my fingers feel cold and I look down and my scarf’s not there.

And also it just so happens I’m nowhere near Josh now. He’s ten metres away, with my friends.

Where I was.

Making sure it’s not like I fainted or anything, I take my pulse and then I do.

‘Cos I’m wearing Miss Mint’s bangles.

* * *

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