Si and I are standing in Fiona & The General’s sitting-room-cum-dining-room clutching our glasses of fizz tightly. “Sit, sit,” barks Fiona, as five year old Fenella clumsily hands round nibbles. I look at the seat nearest to me, a dark antique throne. As I bend my knees into a squat about to plant my bottom, Fenella shouts, “No! Not that one. That’s an antique.” I snap back erect and sit next to Simon on a Wesley Barrell drop-down sofa.
Fiona: “Well done, Fenella. Brought that back from our travels in Burma, didn’t we darling?” The balding, smooth-skinned General flashes her a lurid sexual smile. My mind immediately produces an image of him in a vivid purple gimp suit; her in the leather jumpsuit (like the one I saw with Mandy on their fridge). I try and cough the thought away and take another glug of prosecco. A-hem.
The General: “Used to be a throne for a Prince of the Burmese Royal Family. Mag-Yar. Mahogany. Intricately crafted. Definitely one for the Antiques Roadshow. Ahahah.”
Stab me in the eyeballs now. I want to get out of here and I can feel my breasts already swelling to the size of footballs, I’m not going to last the evening. I imagine them busting like milk filled balloons drenching the dinner party. Simon loves them like this. And General Gimpy-pants can’t take his eyes off them, if he were a lizard his fork tongue would be flickering in and out.
The doorbell goes. Fenella says, “Can I answer it, Mummy?”
Fiona: “Fenella you’re doing nibbles, you can’t go to the door with vegetable crisps, can you? Door or nibbles, Fenella? Quickly which is it?!” I watch as the poor child stammers as she tries to make a decision.
General Jeremy: “Fenella!”
“Door!” She puts the crisps down, rushes out and utters a well-rehearsed greeting.
Doctor Nick and Doctor Anna walk in. Simon perks up: “Ah, the doctors. Typical. Always late.”
“Sorry,” says Doctor. Nick. “Anna’s just got back from Africa and the babysitter was late.”
“No she wasn’t,” I say stirring. “She arrived an hour ago.”
“Thanks Vanessa.” He grins at me. He is looking so damn fine this evening. It’s the salt n’ pepper hair, like Richard Gere in An Officer & A Gentleman.
I whisper: “Count yourselves lucky, we were rounded up from our house.”
Doctor Nick: “No.”
Doctor Nick: “How’s the rash?”
Me: “Not the time or the place, Doctor.”
Si: “The good news is that I haven’t caught it yet, probably because it’s sexually transmitted and we’d have to be having s…”
I kick Simon in the shins a bit harder than I intended. Simon absorbs the pain looking ‘non emotional’ as they call it in military parlance. “It’s the mental abuse that’s the hardest to take,” he winces.
At dinner I’m sitting next to The General. Whoop whoop. Si is opposite me and has a serious dose of verbal diarrhoea. He’s going on and on and on. And on and on and on. I don’t even remember the starter my brain is so numb with all the military chat. And if I have to hear his views on ‘women on the front line’ one more time, I think I’ll punch him.
I escape to the loo. My breasts are hurting so much. I unzip my evening jumpsuit, and am left standing in only my Spanx girdle and zepplin-sized nursing bra. I release a breast and start squeezing it into the basin like an udder. Oh the relief.
The door opens. Jesus! It’s Simon. He dithers in the doorway and General weirdo gets an eyeful whilst passing with the main course dishes.
Si: “What the hell are you doing?”
Me: “Get in! They’re bursting.”
Si unzips and takes his ‘lad’ out. “So am I,” he says peeing like a pit pony.
Me: “This is romantic.”
He rezips, flushes and kisses me.
Si: “We need to get out of here.”
There is a bang on the door. “What are you two up to in there?” asks The General
Si: “If I told you Sir, you wouldn’t believe me!”
Simon slips out without washing his hands. Dirty, dirty boy.
When I return, Fiona is looking directly at me. “I was just telling everyone that we have a mutual friend in Wiltshire.”
“Just the one?” I say returning to my seat. “It’s a big county.”
And then she says it. The name of the man who was my first love, an addictive, bad, lusty, forbidden love-of-my-life: Humphery Hurtwood. My heart falls out of rhythm, my face flushes like a blood orange and I sit down. My phone is vibrating in my handbag under the table. I kick it away.
Simon looks uncomfortable.
“Who’s Humphery?” says Doctor Nick pipping up.
“Humphery…” I say trying to pull myself together.
Fiona: “…is a famous event rider and ex-flame of Vanessa’s, decades older than her. How much older?”
Me: “30 years.”
“What!” Says Anna choaking on her wine. “How long were you together?”
Me: Four years. I was 23…
General: “…And he was 53. The man is my hero.”
Si: “He’s a bastard. If I ever lay eyes on him I will bang him out.”
I can hear my phone vibrating again as Fiona casually says, “Well you know he’s been very ill, don’t you.” She exits to arrange the pudding. I call after her: “What’s been wrong with him?” She doesn’t answer, the conversation moves on and I am left wondering. And fretting. Doctor Nick can see I’m upset. He looks under my gaze. I take a breath and check my phone.
F***! I have twelve missed calls from Granny. I dart out into the hallway to listen to the last message, which sounds like something out of The Nam: <<Vita is screaming, Sienna is shouting and Roge (my father) is saying ‘more hot water!’ “Help You’ve got to help us. Sienna won’t stop being sick, Vita won’t stop crying. Come now!” Sienna chunders again. “Not over Grandpa! Oh dear God!!!!!”>>
If I don’t call her back IMMEDIATELY she will come over but I’m pissed and my fingers keep selecting my Home number….
Holy mother of god.
I open the door subtly, sneak out and close it behind me. Granny is standing there in the cold holding Vita who is red-raced from crying. “I’ve been calling and calling you. For god sake! One’s being sick and this one won’t stop screaming. We can’t cope. Not at our age. Your father is 73 and I’m 68, but with all my conditions I’m 87 inside and it’s just too much. We want to help, but this is just TOO much.”
The General is in the doorway. He’s heard everything and invites Granny in. She needs a restorative drink. As I take the baby, my boobs start leaking milk and I rush across the Close. Frazzled, Granny, enters the house calling after me, “Warm water and sugar for Sienna to sip. And just a tiny bit of brandy”
“Brandy. What an excellent idea,” says General Jeremy escorting her in.
I run into our kitchen, don an apron, rubber gloves and grab an antibac spray, mounting the stairs like a fell runner. Roge is VERY happy to see me. He can keep cleaning up the sick if I can deal with the children.
I settle Vita with one dummy in the mouth and one in the hand and beloved Bunny. Sorted. Next, I make Sienna some warm water, brandy and sugar and help her sip it. Roger continues soaping the carpet on his hands and knees. He thinks he’s got it all. I thank and hug him. I sing Sienna five nursery rhymes and she finally falls asleep…
Roger is knackered so I blow up the vast American mattress with a electric pump and make up his bed in the sitting room. “That will do nicely,” he says my father already in his M&S boxers.
I return to the party as everyone is slowly edgeing away from the dining table towards the exit but Fiona is standing in the doorway, redirecting everyone to the comfort of her Wesley Barrell sofas. Granny, two brandies down, makes a bee-line to the highest chair, the one best for her new hip, everything else is too low. The words ‘Noooo’ fail to come out of my mouth as she plonks her bottom down heavily on the antique throne. The mahogany splinters on impact and she is sent flying backwards into several ornate planters which explode. Granny, legs in the air, is shouting, “Help me, help me!” Simon runs over and yanks her up. She is covered in leaves and compost but her brandy glass is full.
There is silence. The kind of stillness that follows a high impact car crash, or precedes a tsunami. We know we need to go NOW. In a split second, veterans Nick and Simon return the fields of Afghanistan and Medi-Vac Granny ‘out of danger’, sneaking her passed a pole-axed Fiona and a sweaty General to safety. I fast trot after them clutching my exploding breasts and I can hear Fiona shrieking like an urban vixen. I try to tune out the sound as I look at Granny muddy and bleeding laid out in our kitchen.
I’ll deal with Fiona tomorrow, I think. Buy her flowers, give her a snivelling hand-written note, offer her cash from my Capital One credit card at 29%APR.
And then I remember I said Miss Julie could park her car on The Patch over the weekend.