This is Carol’s story picking up from yesterday’s story called “Brilliant”. Readers might prefer to take these in chronological order.
“I don’t know how I became the woman I am,” is what is said the night Carol meets a young lady for a drink at Bottle Tops, a trendy bar on Chapel Row. The young lady sips her lager, her blue eyes glinting effortlessly in a lozenge of light from the ceiling as she coils her lopsided fringe around a studded ear.
“Because you’re the woman he turned you into.” she suggests with a wan smile.
Carol has known Keeley for only six months, since the night she first came to Chapel clutching a violin case. Not long graduated she was, back home at her parents’ in Surbiton from where she’d be applying for jobs in London and beyond. A Performing Arts Degree is what she studied and what she passed with distinction and what she hopes will metamorphose into a profession. She’d received good notices in small touring productions as an undergraduate, and heard good noises from theatre practitioners about her chances of success. Most recently she’d played Ange in the Baptist Chapel Players’ production of Abigail’s Party, to keep her hand in, and brought the house down every night of a four-week run. But now, she is having a drink with Carol and discussing a role of a different kind.
At first she has grave misgivings about the plot the girl has hatched, but something in the mischievous glint in Keeley’s eye has become infectious, persuasive, such is Carol’s unhappiness at what she found in Simon’s work drawer and made her know the marriage is over and she must confront the man who’s made her so unhappy – the man who told her she must say was brilliant and she could never, who’d dismissed the idea of children, who’d seen off two previous marriage, one of which ended in tragedy and unanswered questions… Yes if it were to be gauged in financial terms she married well; the man has a good job that pays handsomely, he’s risen through the ranks, afforded them their annual holiday in Cornwall, their lovely house with its dancing perennials, its modern fitted kitchen and two thousand pound Rangemaster in which she can bake the hundreds of cakes that have gone down so well at Chapel functions. She’s tried to be the woman he wants her to be but has failed enough to believe she is at fault. Gradually, however, she’s come to know she doesn’t love him, could never love him the way he wants her to and behave the way he wants her to… because one week ago she found the answer to the unanswered questions about the court case and acquittal and more besides in the drawer he believed she’d never look in.
“How did that make you feel?” she’d asked.
“I wanted to swear. I wanted to call him names.”
“I wanted to call him a bastard.”
“It’s fine to swear. God would’ve understood.”
“Would He understand what I don’t? The reason I’ve become the woman I’ve become?”
“He would. Because you do too, in your heart of hearts.”
And so it is that on a morning Carol is in the kitchen with her favourite Delia tome, “How to Cheat at Cooking”. As she takes her favourite knife, she trims the chuck steak into one-inch cubes and the ox kidney even smaller, and allows herself to think about what might be happening at the conference. Did Keeley manage to get through security and infiltrate? Is she making a good impression from the floor? Is she flashing those beautiful blue eyes at him in the way that will make him think of her in that way? Becoming nervous, she knows she has to be careful not to cut herself. And then to the pastry, she sifts the flour with salt, deftly holding the sieve up high to air it, and then adds butter and lard and gently rubs it with her fingertips. She will serve the pie with new potatoes she thinks, and broccoli and carrots, and make some extra gravy the way he likes it.
While she can’t deny to herself that this feels good there is still a doubt in the mix as she wonders if God will forgive her. In her mischievous yet mature way, Keeley has given justification, absolution for the crime she believed she was going to commit. And so persuasive was her justification, her absolution, Carol has surrendered to the plan.
“I simply want to help you,” she said, “When I came home and my parents were tearing each other apart you gave me succour. You listened when I cried at the Chapel, you paid to have my violin restrung, you put an arm around my shoulder when I felt lonely, you did everything my mother didn’t, couldn’t. I’m simply repaying you for that and hoping you’ll get to feel good about what we’re doing.”
And so, by the time the pie is in the oven, the car is in the garage, they’ve sat on the settee and Keeley has given a blow by blow account, and actually laughed about it all, she is ready to rehearse her lines while listening out for the taxi.
love,” he says as she lets him into the hall and he shrugs out of his coat.
“Hello you,” she returns, a little flatter than in rehearsal, “How was the conference?”
“Good,” he says as they move through to the lounge, “I’m very tired though. Afraid I had a bit of a mishap.”
“You mean these,” she says, taking his keys from the sideboard that shelves their marriage photo on the surface of which she looks so happy. “The car has been returned. I put it in the garage.”
“Thank God!” he manages, visibly repressing his growing suspicion and clutching at some nebulous straw that this can pass in peace, “So did the police fetch it?”
“Dinner’s in the oven,” she says, ignoring the question and taking her coat from the settee.
“You going out?” he says.
“Chapel Job Club meeting,” she says. “It’s steak – I hope the hotel haven’t been feeding you too much steak?”
She heads for the door, but even with her back to him she can feel his creeping unease. And then she turns and says, “I’ve seen the things in your work drawer, the hotel receipts, the items of underwear that once belonged to certain girls. I’ve even seen the texts on your phone. You’ve been lying to me for a very long time. So we at the chapel wondered how you’d like it.”
“I don’t follow,” he says, and even from a distance she can see the sweat on his brow.
“Very beautiful girl, Keeley, isn’t she?” she says. “Also a very talented member of the Chapel Players. Wants to make a career of it, I think she stands a chance, don’t you? Would you say her performance was brilliant?”
“Carol please…” he says, but she won’t let him say any more, not now, she has crossed the line and crossed herself and been granted absolution from God to say what she wants and needs to say.
“We laughed so much on that settee. About you and your clothes and your farcical attempt at looking young. Jeans and trainers and a leather jacket a man of your age. Breathing in that pot-belly. The way you comb what little bit of hair you have left to make it look like you’ve got more, a comb-over I believe they call it, and yes even take to dyeing it for heaven’s sake! You’ve gone very pale, Simon, is everything alright? Perhaps you need a good sleep after your pie. I’ve made up the bed in the box room. Tomorrow, after your difficult meeting with your boss, we’ll talk about you leaving.”
And with those words definitive and unchallenged, she calmly blinks away the tears of a torn marriage that she can’t help, and closes the door behind her.
“And did it feel good?” Keeley asks, over their second drink at Bottle Tops.
“I can’t deny it did,” she says, “because you’re right, I am the woman he turned me into.”
“The woman who’s faced the truth,” she says.
“The woman who’s faced the truth, yes, but more besides.”
“The woman who’s prepared to bake a pie with additional filling.”
“You mean you improvised?” she says, coiling her hair behind a studded ear.
“I suppose I did.”
“Surely you didn’t fill his pie with poison?” “No,” she says with a laugh she could no longer control, “steak and kidney and a pair of knickers that once belonged to a certain girl.”