You know how some of your friends are not really your friends but you are their friend. They love to visit. But they are just too .. well.. needy. Too whiney. Too willing to bare their own souls and cleavage at any opportunity. Something about the way they breathe bothers you. And they are just so pretty and neat.
Well this wee story is about one of those women. Years ago my children and I lived in a small house on top of a big beach city hill. From the garage windows you could see right along the waterfront for miles, straight up the beach and across the Bay. This was a million dollar view. The only draw-back being that the best viewing spot for this incredible view was from the garage window or the roof. The rest of it was blocked by other houses and walls and trees.
The front garden looked over a gully full of vegetation and other peoples back yards. But we were high enough to catch the breezes and were all incredibly fit from walking up and down the hill to the beach. Plus the house had a secret garden in the back.
A small walled courtyard garden, surrounded in high brick that effectively shut out the paranama and the garage wall but created an intimate space that I had filled with roses, lavenders and herbs. It had a big tree to keep it cool. Cobbled bricks for a floor. The door to this garden was through my bedroom but no-one seemed to mind traipsing past my bed to get to the secret garden. And being a single Mum the bedroom was just another gathering place anyway.
So on this day I was sitting in my little garden, entertaining my rather brittle friend and two of my boys were sitting on top of the garage roof, dangling their feet above the conversation and watching over the most magnificent of views. Children get to a certain age where they have perfected the ability to sit entirely still and after a very short time they become invisible to the visitor. This very soon happened that day. Because you know how kids gather when you have a friend over. Then blend, so they can listen.
I had set out a little wooden table painted bright worn out pink, that I had rescued from the backstage of a theatre, and pulled up a collection of ancient chairs. My daughter was perched on one of the chairs with her feet in the garden, picking lavenders with her toes. We had a pot of tea, with some cookies, though this was followed in quick succession by a cold glass of wine, because this friend is that friend who will drive you to drink and then drink most of it for you. It was late afternoon, on a hot, salty, stinging Hawkes Bay summer day.
As the small talk wandered I thought that she had come to cry once again about the latest dumping by the latest boyfriend. She often said nasty things about the men she had adored five minutes ago (which entertained the boys) , and how it was never her fault. She was too beautiful and the boyfriends were always jealous. But she was never short of a boyfriend and never short of a drama to tell me all about, as I sat in my single state surrounded by a multitude of children and wondered what to have for dinner. Of course her perfect outfit and manicured nails were unaffected by her miserable state of mind. Her face glowed, her teeth shone, her hair was thick and fell just so. And her conversation was as thick as her hair. That was a mean thought, I said to myself. It is not her fault she is so vacuous.
I pulled an empty chair towards me and stretched my bare feet out onto it adjusting the hem of my long summer dress so that my calves got a little sun. But I do not tan, so I knew it was a futile attempt to get exactly the right shade that my friend had, as she babbled from under her hat, stuffing the cookies she had brought with her into her mouth, little tiny crumbs ejecting back out over perfect lipstick with her words. Her voice was even irritating.
Leaning back carefully in the wobbly chair I looked back up at the boys, lowered my sunglasses and widened my eyes at them. It was so hot, the shade was useless today. The gulls cried out from the beach at the bottom of the hill. Two roof heads turned in unison towards the sound. The boys must be baking up on that tin roof I thought as she chattered on. But she wanted someone to talk to, not someone to talk with so I just nodded and let her talk.
As her words started to get through to me I realised that she had not come to tell us about her latest tragedy, she had a new man, a nice man and she was happy. I sat forward in my chair returning my knee to my chin. She really did glow.
“What is so different about this one?” I said.
“I have discovered that the more you love someone, the easier it is for them to love you back. You just have to..” (she paused touching a rose, looking for a word.) “love them.” She smiled widely. So guileless.
I blinked as she articulated what was the simplest and most poignant description of love I had ever heard. Had she thought this up all by herself? My big black dog rolled over, stretching shamelessly then flopping back loudly onto his other side. I poked him with my toe, he wobbled like a jelly and was soon still again.
I wanted to be pleased for her. Two sets of feet thumped down from the roof and onto the gate. They walked Indian file into the garden, past the pink table, hands, cookies, mouths, smiled to my friend, who smiled back, then in through the open bedroom door, disappearing into the cool darkness of the house. Mothers track their kids all the time I thought, listening to them go down the hall and into the kitchen. Hearing the push of a kitchen stool.
“I will grab the bottle” I got up. ‘We need a cold top up.”
In the kitchen two of the boys were bent over with their heads in the fridge, one passing food out to the other who was dumping it on the kitchen table.
The youngest looked up at me. His eyebrows rose. “She just realised that?” he said.
“What?” I asked him.
“Love grows Love.” he said, shrugging, slamming the fridge, (you had to slam it or it did not shut properly.) The jars and bottles pinged and tinkled and settled back against each other inside the fridge. He pulled open the cutlery drawer with a clang and rummaged loudly. It was a point of honor in our house not to put the silverware tidily in their separate little cubicles. Our knives and forks just lay wherever they fell in one big drawer.
“You are twelve,” I said to him. He just raised his eyebrows.
“Thirteen.” he said.
” Someone should make me a chart.” I said. “What do you mean love grows love.”
He thought and began to butter the bread. The butter was cold and was ripping holes in the bread so he began slapping marmite on top of the holes, leaving skid marks of butter in the marmite jar, then reached for the cheese. Apparently his sandwich was coming together exactly as he had expected.
“The more people you love the more people you love.”
I looked at him. Silent, thinking. My mind gasped for air. This was an enormous thought. I reached for the jar and a spoon then began to carve butter back out of the marmite.
My tall beautiful friend, erupted into the tiny kitchen pushing the sunshine into the corners. “Where is that top up?” she said. ” Are you crushing the grapes out here? Hey, do you have any cheese?”
She heaved at the fridge door, her bracelets joining the fridge in jangling. My daughter appeared next to her and reached in for the milk. Youngest son passed the block of cheese to my friend, then he passed her the knife, then he moved aside so she could get to the chopping block. My daughter began to pull the stool across the floor, lightly grazing against shins and pulling at bare toes as she went. Everyone breathed in and pulled towards each other to let her through.
I followed him out into the front garden.
“But she is so hard to even like.” I said.
“You could try to be nice.” he said and stuffed the entire sandwich into his mouth effectively ending the conversation.
“Where’s your glass?” called my friend from the kitchen window, mouth full of cheese, happy to be standing at our kitchen window right in the center of my family. ” Hey, how about I make you guys dinner!”
“We would love that.” I called back. She was not such a bad old stick. Youngest son grunted in pleasure. She really was a good cook.
This morning has just dawned breezy but warmer. They are forecasting rain. Then sleety rain. I need to collect some rainwater to make the lye out of the ash, beginning our soap making process.
You will have seen your postcard collection scattered throughout that story. The bee is also in the collection, but is not quite finished yet.