‘Sometimes the truth will hurt and a lie will set you free; just as a lie will hurt and the truth will set you free.’
George Fowler opens the front door. A broad smile ripples across his face under his Chevron moustache, revealing a fine set of glistening incisors. Surprising for a man of his age with a passion for Cuban cigars.
‘Lucy, how lovely to see you.’ And I know he is being sincere because, if it hadn’t for me, he would have ended his days very differently.
‘Hello, George.’ I respond warmly. ‘It’s good to see you too.’
I make sure all traces of grime on the soles of my shoes are left on the substantial coir matting doormat in the porch, before stepping over the threshold onto the recently laid New Zealand wool carpet. The memory of Tom tramping dog poo onto its
Axminster predecessor is still fresh in everybody’s minds.
The grandfather clock chimes. I have arrived at exactly 7.00p.m. George’s wife, Edna likes us to arrive at 6.50p.m. She is always there to open the door so we can start promptly at 7.00p.m.
Our lives are governed by time. It is constantly driving us forward, we can’t go back, and change things, however much we would like to.
‘I’m a little bit late I’m afraid. All trains in and out of Waterloo were delayed today. Maintenance on the line… I’ve come straight from the station.’ George chuckles as he helps me take off my coat and a whiff of cigars disappears up my nose.
‘There’s no need to apologise, Lucy dear. It’s par for the course when one works in London. The others have only just sat down.’
George is always so upbeat on a Thursday. I imagine he enjoys a few hours to himself drinking a glass, or two, of his favourite Scotch and puffing on a Cohiba cigar; even more so these days. I can see a decanter, a cut-glass tumbler, and a large glass ashtray, perched on a small table next to his red leather chair in the snug. I wonder what goes through his mind during his periods of alone time? Does he dwell, or has he moved on? It is difficult to read what goes on beneath his constant bravado.
‘Go on through.’ He extends his arm in the direction of the dining room and I walk in and shut the door behind me.
Edna, at the head of the table, is leaning forward. She lifts her ample bosom with her right forearm before resting the pendulous orbs on the edge of the rosewood dining room table as she pulls in her chair.
‘I’m so sorry I’m late, Edna. Good evening, everybody.’
‘Ah Lucy, dear. There you are. Don’t worry. My spies told me there had been a few disruptions on the Waterloo line today.’ The others look up mouthing words of welcome as I look around the table smiling.
We are like family now. Bound together by an invisible thread, our stories intricately woven together, ad infinitum. I know everything about each and every one of them. I uncovered secrets from their past that I know they would have wanted to let lie. It doesn’t make them bad people. The sins of their past only make them human, fragile, vulnerable. We all make mistakes and, I believe, the truth has set them free.
‘Sit, sit!’ Edna pats the upholstered Rococo dining chair next to hers and, obediently, I sit down. Despite everything, our age gap and her unwavering self-belief that she is about to join the ranks of world-renown authors, I am very fond of her. Every inch of her reminds me, so much, of Patricia Routledge’s Hyacinth Bucket.
Throughout our lives we create illusions of the people around us, blurred by our own perspective and, so often, we get it wrong. The reality that lies beneath the image we have created in our own minds about other people is sometimes shocking, sometimes sad.
Every time I come to these meetings, I can’t help but think of you and I wish I had known the real you. The real Jocelyn Robertshaw that lay beneath the image of my teenage perception of you. That vulnerable fragility, a side of you kept so well hidden from everybody who knew you. You created the illusion of loving wife and mother, who captivated everybody you met with your enthusiastic wit and wisdom. But, underneath that illusion, you successfully hid a double life. Or should I say lives?
© 2019 TESSA BARRIE