Today I bring you the third and title story from my collection ‘Lemon and Lace’. In common with the other two stories in the collection, it is concerned with love and choice, this time the love of a married couple and how that love helps them solve a problem many of us have faced, namely having different taste to your partner in matters of home decoration!
Lemon and Lace
“No Alice this morning?”
“Oh, Tom’s looking after her,” I replied.”She’s getting too difficult to bring to rehearsals now that she can crawl.”
Tom would be coping brilliantly, I thought. He can turn his hand to anything, my husband – DIY, housework, cooking, babysitting, you name it, he can do it. I should feel pleased and I do most of the time, but just occasionally I wish that he wasn’t quite so perfect.
I sat down at the piano and arranged the music on the stand, while Mrs. Doyle continued,
“You know, your husband is a real treasure, Elinor. I hope you appreciate him. Not many men would look after a seven month old baby for a whole Saturday morning, after working hard all week.”
“Well, Alice is his baby too,” I said mildly, “but yes, I am very lucky.”
I fiddled with my wedding ring then noticed a hole in my lacy tights – that would be where Alice pulled herself to her feet this morning, her sharp little nails clawing at me to get a closer look at the intricate pattern.
Looking up at Mrs. Doyle as she posed by the barre, I thought, not for the first time, what a bizarre figure she presented. Her hair was held back by a pink nylon hair band and her feet turned out sideways in large scuffed ballet shoes. Her face betrayed an over hasty application of makeup, with a lopsided scarlet mouth, generously powdered nose and one eyebrow pencilled in a little higher than the other. She dabbed at her nose with a tiny lace handkerchief and then boomed out,
“Now come along girls! We haven’t got all day! Take your positions at the barre quickly – you know it’s the show tomorrow afternoon.”
A troop of giggling, excited girls streamed across the room to their places, ballet shoes tapping softly on the wooden floor. The room was lit up with the sugar pinks and soft blues of their leotards and cross-over cardigans; each girl was going to do her very best this morning. As I started playing the music for the exercises, I looked around the rehearsal room’s faded magnificence. The ceiling boasted an elaborate heavy moulding around the edge and in the centre, a single light bulb hung nakedly from an ornate rose. The walls rejoiced in a glorious golden buttercup colour and full length mirrors magnified the various splendours of the room, including quite a lot of discoloured patches of damp. My fingers moved over the piano keys mechanically while my thoughts went back to this morning’s painful scene.
“You always want your own way!” Tom had shouted at me. We were having a quarrel about which wallpaper to choose for the dining room. He preferred dusky pink and grey stripes, but I favoured a delicate pattern with flowers and birds. Alice had let out a plaintive wail while I was trying to think of a suitable reply to Tom’s accusation. She crawled to the vegetable rack and tried to bite an old lemon she found on the bottom shelf. I picked her up and stroked her puckered face, giving her a piece of bread to chew on to take away the sharpness of the lemon.
“Well, I think the floral pattern suits the room better…” I had begun.
“Do you actually mind what wallpaper we have or what’s the most suitable?” Tom had yelled. “From the way you keep this house in such a mess, I can only conclude you don’t care at all what it looks like.”
My eyes filled with self-pitying tears as I remembered these angry exchanges of ours. We were so different, Tom and I, with such different tastes. He was so organised and confident, whereas I…
“Elinor! Elinor? Could we have the opening number please?”
“Oh yes, of course Mrs. Doyle,” I said with a guilty start. “Right away.”
I had to concentrate on this bit of music as it had a tricky rhythm. The dancers flew across the room, their eyes alight with excitement and energy.
“Turn those feet out – heads to the left – hold your chin up, Jemima. Nice straight backs. Oh Holly, it’s the left foot first!”
As the girls finished their dance, Mrs. Doyle’s husband, “The Major”, popped his head round the door and stared into the room with bloodshot eyes. He was wearing an old tweed jacket and smelt strongly of whisky and tobacco.
“Just thought I’d see how you’re getting on – my word, don’t you young gels look pretty!”
“Off you go upstairs, Horace,” said Mrs. Doyle crossly. “You shouldn’t be in here. Now girls, go to the back of the room and try your costumes on. They’re on named hangers, so there’s no excuse for taking the wrong one. And while they do that,” she continued to me, “we can have a quick chat. I hope you don’t mind me saying, Elinor dear, but you do seem rather distracted this morning.”
“Oh it’s nothing much,” I said miserably. “Just a bit of a disagreement at home.”
“Well if it will help, dear, I won’t need you for the last part of the rehearsal. I want to show the girls how to make their crowns for the show out of yellow pipe cleaners so you can leave early.”
“Oh, thank you Mrs Doyle. That’s great! I’ll just have time to dash to the shops.”
This was my chance to show Tom that I didn’t always want my own way.
. . .
A little later, my shopping successfully completed, I stopped for a quick cappuccino. It was a pity Alice wasn’t with me; she always found the frothy bubbles fascinating and liked to put her fingers in the cup and try to catch them. As I spooned the last of the froth into my mouth, I felt quite light hearted.
I’m going to make a real effort to be organised and tidy, I thought. Tom’s right – I’ve neglected the house since having Alice and I’m not much good as a mother either. Why, just the other day I heard that you shouldn’t let babies watch television and I’ve let Alice watch ever so many things already.
A glance at my watch revealed that I only had three minutes left on my parking ticket so I ran to the car, dragging my heavy shopping and drove home.
“Tom! Tom!” I called out as I let myself into the house. “Where are you? Look what I’ve bought for you, darling.”
There was no answer. I looked in the kitchen and was amazed to see the sink still stacked high with dirty dishes and a great pile of cushions on the floor.
Why, Tom’s made Alice a cushion mountain to play on, I thought. I bet she enjoyed that!
Alice was sitting on the floor contentedly munching an apple that she had helped herself to from the vegetable rack. I heard a banging noise from next door, then Tom came in, looking sheepish.
“Oh hello darling, back already? Come and see what I’ve got for you. I rushed out to the shops with Alice, that’s why the place looks like a tip. It’s not easy getting on with things when she’s around, is it? But she’s been a very good girl and I’m sorry about this morning, Elinor – it was completely my fault. Put it down to lack of sleep and a busy week in the office.”
As Tom was speaking, he led me into the dining room and I could hear Alice following us on all fours, still crunching her apple. I was amazed to see rolls of the delicate floral paper that I liked so much all over the table, with wallpaper paste already mixed and the step ladder in place to hang the first piece.
“But darling,” I protested, “I’ve bought the striped paper you like. It’s out here in the hall.”
Tom pulled me towards him and kissed me while Alice crowed with delight at our feet.
“Oh Elinor,” he said, “I love you darling – promise me you won’t ever change.”
“No chance,” I said smiling. “I’m afraid you’re stuck with me! But I have to tell you the wallpaper isn’t the only thing I bought you this morning. I’ve got you a ticket for the show tomorrow as well – I hope it won’t be too much of a penance for you to watch it!”
. . .
“It’s going to be wonderful,” whispered Mrs. Doyle to me from behind the stage curtain, just before the show started. “The girls are on tip top form.”
“The Major” was sitting in the front row, snoozing gently, his moustache vibrating softly as he breathed out, and next to him was Tom, with Alice bouncing on his knee. Tom encircled her in his arms and gently nuzzled the top of her head. It was too dark to be certain, but I thought I could see a tear on his cheek. I realised then that I didn’t want to change anything at all about my husband. Alice put one arm around Tom’s neck and stretched the other hand out to the stage as the girls trooped in wearing their sparkly costumes. Tom watched me proudly as my fingers flew over the piano keys and Alice gazed with wide eyes and open mouth at the spectacle in front of her. She had never seen anything as beautiful as this before. It was like a great sea of frothy lemon and lace.
. . .
From a recent review:
Three beautifully written heartwarming short stories all of them joyful , uplifting , easy reads. Perfect pick me up or coffee break reading.