If the restaurant had ears — or more likely a fly-on-the-wall — it wouldn’t believe it. Nor could I. Was Mary thinking of using Junior as her bargaining chip? Call it a cliché, but the words coming out of her mouth belonged to someone I didn’t know, or never had known.
Something I wanted no part in. Not if she was exploiting Jane’s baby. I listened to her enrol Hamish into her little scheme.
‘Talk to Rod. Persuade him to set up a meeting with me and the father.’
Hamish looked at me in a way that was somewhere between sympathy and puzzlement. I didn’t hold his gaze, but glanced away and focused on the menu board. I heard Hamish consoling her.
‘I’m sure he’s doing exactly that. I can check it out if you like.’
Mary said, ‘today would be good.’
Why the rush? This morning it was the boys being given their marching orders, and now she was pressing Hamish.
I said as much. ‘Mary, we haven’t got Jane’s funeral sorted out, yet.’
‘Petal,’ she said, ‘I’ve only got a week before my flight.’
Say “petal” one more time, I’ll throttle you.
Hamish laughed. ‘That’s an unusual name. How did that come about? Oh don’t tell me. You were glitter girls. It has to be Chelsea?’
…Chelsea Flower Show, May 1979. After we had battled our way through the jam-packed turnstiles, Mary egged on Richard to spoil me. He bought me a rambling rose with white blooms. A week later my father died, leaving me a financial fortune…and a paper headache. I planted the rose, by then bereft of petals, next to my father’s grave…
‘…a long time ago,’ said Mary. ‘The name stuck.’
I sighed. ‘Things have changed since then,’ I said. ‘And so have we.’ A whiff of stale tobacco filtered into our veranda, accompanied by a waiter with stained fingernails. He stood there, pencil poised over a notepad. I lost what was left of my appetite.
‘Only black coffee,’ I said.
Mary flashed her eyes at me, decided against mentioning the “P” word, smiled at the waiter, at Hamish, then ordered (and mostly consumed) the three-course luncheon special — spicy seafood chowder, spicy chicken curry, and a spicy dessert that could have been anything but pleasant.
All told, more spice than she could manage.
In. My. Opinion. Which counted for nothing, it seemed.
During her banquet, I learned nothing about her plan — most disappointing. Talk became inconsequential, Hamish glanced at his watch, and I brooded over the last cold dregs of a coffee cup. Mary, unfazed, glanced at her empty glass of water, and at last asked the question I anticipated.
‘Is this an alcohol-free zone?’
At that, Hamish stood up, put a few banknotes on the table. ‘Ladies. Please excuse me.’ He nodded at Mary. ‘I have a few calls to make.’
‘Wait.’ Mary scrabbled in her bag and pulled out her phone. ‘Damn,’ she said, ‘my battery’s flat.’ Her smile deceptive. ‘Let Delcie know when I can meet up with Jane’s ex.’
Hamish saw through her ploy at the same time as me. ‘Don’t worry, Mary, we’re quite informal here. All of my patients’ numbers are on hospital records.’
Oh, well done, sir.
It was Mary’s turn to be disappointed. She still didn’t know whether we’d had more than a doctor/patient relationship. If only. Wistful thinking of comforting arms — I needed more than consoling words — to help me through the loss of Angelique and Jane.
After he left us nursing our feelings and thoughts, plus enough money to cover our costs, we ordered a bottle of white wine. Whether the restaurant — like one or two others that were frequented by Aid workers — had some dispensation regarding alcohol, I wasn’t sure, and I wasn’t going to argue. If the wine loosened Mary’s tongue, so much the better.
It did. And mine. We were like two cats both protecting our territory. She hissed first.
‘Calling you Petal.’
‘I don’t want to remember my past.’
‘It’s still too raw.’
I softened. She hadn’t seen me for nigh on two decades; how could she know that my Daddy’s death — followed by my marriage to Richard — had begun a chain of regrets.
‘Mary, don’t you remember? We were young, foolish, and fancy-free. We had the world in our hands. My inheritance saw to that.’ I paused to take a sip of wine. ‘When Richard suggested a belated honeymoon in Sumatra, how could I resist? The thought of staying in an exotic paradise thrilled me to the core.’
A frown crossed Mary’s brow. ‘I don’t understand,’ she said, ‘I thought you had it made when you never came back.’
Don’t go there. Not now.
How could I explain, without disclosing the one secret I had stored for over twenty years? A few disclaimers, maybe?
‘When we left England, I was expecting Angelique, Mary.’ I searched her face, but she appeared none the wiser, so I carried on with my cover story. ‘A difficult pregnancy caused us to find a place to settle until after the birth. The Manor became our home.
A pigeon flew past our veranda, then soared up into the sky. Clouds were forming again, and I suspected it would rain again. I picked up my glass and swallowed the remains, before turning back to Mary.
She sucked it all in. ‘And you stayed?’
I nodded. ‘At that time we were happy simply to be together with Angelique until she grew up and went back to England to study. Of course, she came back to visit us during summer holidays and at Christmas.’ I paused, recollecting our time here. ‘The years flew by. We were accepted in the community. Nobody bothered us.’
We finished our wine. I ordered another bottle, but Mary still pushed me. It was as if she had to follow my path, had to know where it went. I knew. Please. Not now.
As if I could never forget.
A sob at the back of my throat, I could hardly choke out the words. ‘And then…and then…the tsunami destroyed our lives.’
Mary picked up her glass and swilled around the wine. My words affected her, I knew. She drained her glass and slammed it back on the table. Tears streamed from her eyes. ‘And it fucking well destroyed my life, too. Why the fuck did Jane come here?’
Her sudden outburst scared me. I flinched when she reached out and grabbed my hand. She spat out her angst.
‘And who the fuck’s going to support my sodding grandson?’
That’s what I wanted to know.