They returned to the task, trying to think of neighbours, old friends from Girl Guides, the Church and primary school who had drifted out of touch, finally ending up with a motley list of forty.
‘You know, I think that’s enough,’ said Alison, looking around the house a little doubtfully now, imagining these rooms full of jazzy music, cigarette smoke, people jiving and … whatever else might happen. She supposed her parents wouldn’t mind in the least; after all it was the kind of thing they did often. They were great party-people; in fact on that very evening they would be at the Devonish soirée, although Julian and she were never included in such shenanigans.
‘I could make some invitations if you like,’ suggested Molly. ‘Perhaps do a little drawing on each one.’
‘What sort of drawing?’ asked Nicola, doubtfully. ‘Kittens and daisy-chains tied up in pink ribbon bows?’ Alison was not sure she liked the way Nicola took the mickey out of little Molly. It was decent of her to make the offer, after all.
‘Well, if you like …’
Nicola snorted. ‘I think maybe some bottles, glasses, cigarettes, sausages on sticks might be better …’
‘Oh yes, I see. All right then. I’ll do that. Thanks Nicola.’
The sun came out and they went out into the long garden that extended maybe a hundred yards, where it backed onto woodland and heath. The herbaceous borders, displaying a feast of colour, were initially and keenly planned by her father and now, with barely a square inch of soil showing, were maintained by a gardener, an ex-soldier who had been injured during the war and walked with a limp. The warm air had that summer smell, pollen-dusted bees buzzed in and out of the resplendent bright pink hollyhocks, lupins, foxgloves and delphiniums, while tortoiseshell butterflies fluttered around the spikes of a buddleia bush.
Lying like the three hands of a clock-face, on a tartan rug spread out on the mossy grass beneath a rowan tree, they were squinting up through the delicately splayed out foliage, dappled sunlight flickering across their faces. A distant ice-cream van was playing Greensleeves; they could faintly hear the rhythmic churn of a lawn-mower and a nearby blackbird trilling its heart out. Otherwise, it was peaceful. The house was tucked away along a driveway about half a mile from the village green with just one near neighbour.
Alison then fetched lemon barley drinks and the other two sat up as she handed round a tin of broken biscuits. ‘You know what we said about not having any secrets?’ Nicola and Molly nodded. ‘I think we should get any secrets out now, don’t you? It’s part of the bonding process.’
The other two frowned at her as if she had spoken in a foreign language.
‘Mmm. OK. You mean confessions,’ agreed Nicola, with a wicked smile. ‘Are you a virgin? Alison, you go first.’ She was suppressing a giggle, Alison could see. I didn’t ask you here to be mocked, she felt like saying. She wanted to tell them that was her business and retain an air of mystery, but realised she was hoist by her own petard, a metaphor she had recently come across and seemed pleasingly apt.
‘It depends what you mean by virgin,’ she stalled.
‘I think we all know what ‘virgin’ means!’ cried Nicola, laughing, and Alison wondered if Mrs Brown, who could now be heard clipping her lawn edges in the adjacent garden, had caught that.
What would Miriam order in our café? “Latte and Danish pastry with, if possible, raisins, nuts, apricot puree or confectioner’s custard – not that I’m in any way fussy.”
Miriam was inspired by Neil Sedaka.