| Books : THE WOMAN IN BEIGE - 2003
Autumn 1995 - Enter the Charlatan.
Tetley and Typhoo aren't good enough for Pat these days;
it has to be herbal and not just any herb. Sandra, the new
girlfriend, knows a special shop selling ''nature's products'
in the Cotswolds. Pat carries a small tin, one of a series
of dainty presents she'd had off Sandra last birthday; it
was divided into five airtight compartments; a different
variety of herbal tea bag in each. I remembered the days
when Pat carried an airtight tin of 'Golden Virginia', and
always kept a card of 'five lighters for a pound', about
'So, I told her', I continued, 'she was a stuck-up, bigot'.
'You didn't?', Pat said, open mouthed over her tea cup.
'Well as good as...'
'But last week, you said, you'd thought there was a definite
spark flickering between the two of you'.
'That was last week. A week's a long time in affairs of
the heart', I replied glibly.
'Lorna, what is the matter with you? You say these things,
yet you don't really mean them, why can't you just be yourself?',
which was rich coming from Pat, who'd been herself for thirty
years and then overnight, some eighteen months ago become
a very different kettle of fish.
'I'm trying to be myself', I said, 'which is why I'm seeing
a counselor, only as you know we're still at the boundaries
and personal contract stage'.
Pat sniffed dismissively and we drifted into the new and
thus relatively lively debate of her counselor versus mine.
On my initial visit, my 'opportunity to dip in my toe and
test the water', visit, Jenny Salter, my counselor, had
said, 'we'll be like two close friends, only I will know
more about you, Lorna, than you will know about me. We will
unlock doors and go through them together'.
Pats says this is outrageous and that her counselor, who
is a proper counselor
with her own Victorian cottage in a desirable road in Walthamstow
Village, populated by similar intense and worthy woman,
would never encourage such familiarity. Pat does admit to
a certain personal bewilderment that after nearly two years,
her counselor still seems underwhelmed by her attractive
personality and other unique qualities, i.e. her sex-appeal,
which to be honest I'd never particularly noticed and I'd
known Pat since secondary school. Of Jenny Salter, Pat said,
'How like you to get mixed up with a charlatan', pursing
her lips and dunking her fennel tea bag virtuously.
I was sorry when she went home to Sandra, who was making
one of her leek and parmesan risotto's; leaving me to work
on my epic poem of star-crossed lovers set in Abney Park
Cemetery. Hard to stop resentment creeping in, (regarding
Pat and Sandra, not the lovers). Pat and I had been best
friends since since the day in the fifth form when my brother,
David had asked her out, and she'd replied, 'No thank you,
David - no offense meant, but the opposite sex make me queasy',
which had seemed a very sophisticated response at the time,
although I'd felt sorry for David. One of those difficult
things about being related - even when the relation appears
perfectly cheerful, you can tell deep down they've been
hurt. David spent the next week studying his face and profiles
in Gran's three way dressing table mirror, practicing casual
smiles and sneering disinterest to deal with Pat the next
time they met. I don't think she even noticed. She has a
thick skin, has Pat.