You Really Shouldn’t Have
I’d always prided myself on being quite the domestic goddess. I’m very proud of my family, particularly my boys who’ve grown into such lovely, creditable young men. I haven’t worked since the days when I was Robert’s secretary and as soon as we got engaged he made it clear my place was in the home. And what a home it is!
Everything has its place, though I like to think it’s still very welcoming and comfortable. It certainly welcomes the boys on regular occasions, even though they’ve both had their own flats for quite a while now. They’re always calling round and we still have our family Sundays where I do a great big roast or, if it’s sunny, Robert does a barbeque.
It was on one of these Sundays that Josh brought Her. Jamie had had a long-term girlfriend for years – Susie, a lovely civil servant, very pretty and polite, ever so pleasant to talk to. Excellent manners too, I’d be happy to introduce her to any of my friends, even the more particular ones.
It was sunny that day so we were outside in the garden. I’d made an elderflower punch – with a splash of white wine! – and Robert was enjoying himself immensely creating a great deal of smoke and charring meat.
I was mid-conversation with Jamie and Susie when Josh walked in, smiling, with Her on his arm.
“Mum – this is Penelope.”
She was laughing, long dark curly hair bouncing down over, frankly, eye-popping cleavage, body wrapped tightly in a fire engine red strapless dress, manicured nails around my boy’s arm.
I stumbled slightly getting out of my chair to greet her, wrong-footed from the start. Why are young women so horribly confident and sure of themselves these days? I tried to play the hostess, I really did, but she soon took over, ladling out my punch to everyone, dominating the conversation with her endless jokey anecdotes and tales of her extraordinary travels. I don’t know how she’s managed to get any studying done or forge any kind of career the amount she’s been off having a merry old time all over the globe. Apparently she’s some kind of beauty journalist. With family money.
Everyone seemed dazzled by her. Is it just me, I thought? Even Susie, normally a girl of taste and sensibility, seemed very taken.
In no time at all they were engaged. Her idea, I’m sure – Josh had never seemed bothered about any of that. I dread meeting her parents – and, worse, the day itself. At least we don’t have to pay for it; we have the Family Money to thank for that.
They announced their engagement on my birthday. I was put out about that too – the one day I get a year, and, no, I don’t count Mother’s Day as the boys never remember – and my thunder totally stolen. The champagne Robert had bought to toast me was used to toast something quite different. I didn’t feel like celebrating.
Penelope told me they’d got me something for the garden as a present. I love my garden, it’s my pride and joy and I keep it absolutely immaculate. It’s where I go when I need to switch off and have a bit of peace.
They led me out onto the patio and there was a very large, bulky shape hidden under glittery paper and an ostentatious bow.
There was no elegant way to unwrap it so I simply tore the paper down the middle and pulled the whole lot apart. Underneath was a fountain.
I’d wanted a water feature for a long time but hadn’t envisaged anything like this. A large stone man reclined, totally naked, with an equally brazen woman draped over him in a very vulgar pose. I won’t mention where it was proposed the water was to spout from.
I can’t remember if I thanked them properly. I suppose I did, my stunned brain on autopilot. Robert and Josh wheeled it into the garden and plonked it right in the middle, in front of the shed.
After midnight, when everyone had gone to bed, I came out onto the patio alone and looked. It was ghastly; my lovely garden ruined. I wondered if she’d done it on purpose, knowing I couldn’t get rid of it without causing great offence and looking like a villain.
Suddenly, I hated this girl. She was taking over everything, creeping into every corner of our lives, climbing all over us, intrusive, domineering – and impossible to get rid of. Then, suddenly, I had an idea.
It was high summer by the time they came to visit us again. Wedding planning had kept them in London for weeks and weeks.
I mixed gin and tonics and took them out onto the patio. “It’s gone,” Penelope said, shading her eyes and furrowing her lovely brow. “The fountain’s gone.”
I followed her gaze as I put the tray down. “Oh no, dear, it’s stilll there. I wouldn’t get rid of it for the world! It’s over there by the shed.”
She looked confused.
“Yes, that’s the trouble with ivy. You can’t help where it gets a mind to grow. You take your eye off it for one minute and – pouff! – suddenly it’s taken over the whole place and there’s no stopping it. We’ve tried everything but it just clings on to that lovely fountain and won’t go. It really is the most dreadful kind of creeper.”