Forgive and Forget
‘God, I feel so hot! I’m baked alive. I must have a temperature,’ Connie Adams complained, wiping the perspiration off her upper lip. She delved into the depths of her handbag and pulled out a thermometer.
‘Sometimes it’s good to be a nurse,’ she grimaced as she stuck the cone into her ear, frowning as she heard a steady ping. ‘Normal. Tsk. I don’t understand it.’ She stared at the result. ‘I wonder have I glandular fever or something?’ She prodded the glands on either side of her neck.
‘You’re a hoot,’ snorted her sister-in-law, Karen. ‘What age are you?’
‘You know as well as I do, that’s a sore subject. It’s very insensitive of you to bring it up. Still late forties!’ Connie scowled.
‘Exactly!’ Karen retorted. ‘And you call yourself a nurse? You’re probably having a hot flush, you idiot.’
Connie’s jaw dropped in absolute horror. ‘Oh cripes! The friggin’ menopause! That’s all I need.’ She looked at the other woman in dismay. ‘That’s why my boobs feel as if they’re going to explode and my brain’s turned into mush lately. I never even thought of it. I put it down to the stress of the wedding. Oh, Karen,’ she wailed, ‘I feel I haven’t even hit my prime yet and now I’m going to turn into a dried-up old crone. It’s . . . it’s just not fair!’ She couldn’t hide her consternation.
‘It’s not so bad,’ her sister-in-law assured her. ‘Maybe you’re only peri-menopausal. At least yours had the decency to wait until you were forty-eight. I started mine at forty-five, remember, so I’ve a good two years of it over me and I’m still here to tell the tale. But now you’ll understand what I’ve been moaning about. It comes to us all, dearie.’ She grinned at Connie.
Connie laughed in spite of herself. Karen was irrepressible and she loved her dearly. Her sister-in-law was one of the good things to have come out of her marriage, she mused as she took a sip of her cappuccino and bit into a tuna bap. Technically, Connie supposed she was her ex-sister-in-law but she never thought of her as such. When she and Barry split up twenty years ago after five years of marriage, Karen had resolutely refused to take sides. She had supported both of them in their mutual decision to separate, despite the fierce opposition of both their families. It had been a horrendously difficult time, and Connie’s mother had accused both Barry and Connie of being completely selfish and ignoring the needs of their daughter, Debbie.
Connie sighed deeply. Maybe they had been selfish. Debbie had been devastated, despite her parents’ constant assurances that their break-up was nothing to do with her and that they both adored her.
‘That sigh came from the toes,’ Karen observed, arching an eyebrow at her.
Connie made a face. ‘I was just remembering how angry my mother was when Barry and I separated. She told us we were thoroughly selfish and ignoring Debbie’s needs. I still feel guilty sometimes, even after all this time,’ she confessed.
‘Well, don’t be, you both did what you had to do. You both did what you felt was right, and I think you made the right decision, for what it’s worth. Neither of you was happy, so what was the point in struggling for another ten or more years?’
‘I guess if either of us had been having an affair Ma would have felt there was some excuse . . . some valid reason. But just to split because we were unhappy and not in love with each other any more was not sufficient,’ said Connie wryly, licking some mayonnaise off her fingers.
‘Is it because of the wedding all this is bothering you again?’ Karen queried astutely.
‘I suppose.’ Connie sighed again. ‘When your only child is getting married to a bloke you’re not mad keen about, it does bring up stuff. I just wish she’d never met Bryan. I can’t take to him. I much preferred Cezar, he was a lovely fella. Pity he had to go back to Poland when his father got sick. Debbie should have given it a chance instead of rushing things with Bryan.’
‘It’s a tough one, all right. I don’t know what I’d do if Jenna brought home a chap I didn’t like and announced that she was engaged to him.’ Karen reached across the table and squeezed her friend’s hand. ‘Do you want me to say anything? Do the old godmother speech? It might not sound so bad coming from me. She wouldn’t feel as resentful hearing a few home truths from me as opposed to you?’
‘What are you going to say . . . that he’s a spoilt, lazy lump who needs a good hair cut and a kick up the ass to get out there and do a bit more than he does, instead of spending all his time looking at himself in the mirror?’ Connie asked morosely.
‘Something like that,’ laughed Karen.
‘I mean, Karen, he’s thirty; up until he and Debbie bought the house he shared an apartment with his sister and her friend and they spoilt him rotten. His mother did his washing for him. He drives one of those flashy soft-tops so that the wind can muss his hair, just so, on his way to the races. Did you ever see him? He’s always running his fingers through it. He really thinks he’s God’s gift. He thinks he knows everything. What does she see in him?’ she burst out.
‘Well, he’s very . . . very . . . personable and good-humoured, not to talk about good-looking, I suppose.’ Karen shrugged. ‘I’d give anything for his eyelashes.’
‘Good-looking! Huh! In a pretty-boy way maybe, with his perfectly styled hair and manicured nails. He wears moisturizer. I’ve seen it in their bathroom! He’s got those eyebrows that are too close, I never trust a man with eyebrows like his. I dated a guy who did the dirt on me. He had eyebrows like Bryan’s.’ Connie knew she was being irrational but she was on a roll.
‘Never trust a man with funny eyebrows,’ teased Karen, laughing.
‘You may laugh, but it’s true and give me a real man any day. Bryan’s a little consequence who does damn all while his women dance attendance on him.’ Connie drained her cappuccino and brushed the crumbs of her bap on to the ground for the little sparrows that twittered around on the footpath. A Dart rumbled into Dun Laoghaire station and she frowned.
‘I guess I’d better be making a move,’ she said reluctantly. ‘Barry’s coming over to talk about the wedding later. We’ve to do the table placings with Debbie. That will be jolly,’ she added dryly, wishing she could stay drinking cappuccinos with Karen and watch the gulls wheel and circle between the masts of the yachts in the marina. A balmy breeze blew in off the glittering, azure sea, cooling her down and blowing her coppery hair away from her face. ‘She really doesn’t want Aimee and Melissa there, but Barry wants his wife and child at the wedding and I can’t say no, especially when he’s paying so much towards it. She said she’s not having a top table as such because it’s a barbecue, so I might have to put them with you and John. Is that OK?’ She looked doubtfully at her sister-in-law.
‘Yeah, I can cope with Aimee for an hour or two,’ Karen said cheerfully.
‘Thanks, Karen, I appreciate it. She won’t really know anyone there, and I don’t want to put her at Mam’s table—’
‘Absolutely not,’ grinned Karen. ‘Arctic conditions would prevail and you’d never hear the end of it.’
‘Oh God!’ Connie buried her face in her hands. ‘I wish I could run away.’
‘I don’t envy you,’ Karen said with feeling. ‘But, look, it might not be as bad as you think. Try and look on the bright side.’
‘What bright side?’ Connie snorted. ‘Right now it seems I’m a peri-menopausal woman who can’t stand her future son-in-law and who has to do place settings with her ex-husband when their daughter is vehemently opposed to him, his second wife and their daughter coming to the wedding. What bright side exactly would you be talking about?’
‘Well, just think, in a few years’ time, with luck, you’ll be a grandmother. Granny Adams – now isn’t that something to look forward to?’ Karen’s brown eyes twinkled and she burst out laughing.
‘You’re a wagon but I love you.’ Connie guffawed. Laughing heartily, the pair gathered their belongings and crossed over to the Dart station to take the train to Greystones, where they both lived.
‘Tell you what, when the wedding and the whole palaver is all over, why don’t we head off to our apartment in Spain for a girls’ week and just flop completely?’ Karen suggested as they sat on a bench waiting for their train.
‘That sounds bliss. You’re on. A week away from everyone is just what I need.’
‘See! That’s called looking on the bright side. Here’s our train.’ Karen jumped up as the sun reflected silver and gold metallic glints on the green Dart in the distance.
Connie smiled as she followed her sister-in-law further along the platform. Whatever happened in the next few weeks, she knew Karen would be there to offer support, stalwart and reliable as always. She was a great friend, and a week away with her would be just the tonic she needed to get over the wedding. Her mobile rang and Debbie’s name came up on the screen.
‘Mam, hi, I can’t make it tonight. Bryan wants us to go to an art exhibition one of his friends is having—’
‘Look, Debbie, we made this arrangement ages ago. Your father is coming over to have a chat about the wedding. The least you can do is be there. He is paying for half of it, after all.’
‘Big deal,’ Debbie said sulkily. ‘Bryan wants me to come with him. He is my fiancé, after all, not the man who deserted me when I was a child and then went off and married someone else and had another child, who gets everything she wants, no matter what the cost.’
‘Debbie, that’s very unfair. You know as well as I do that’s not the way it was, and your father has always looked after you financially. Grow up!’ Connie said tetchily as someone getting off the train jostled into her.
‘Yeah, sure, Mam. I’m not going to argue with you about it. You deal with him and work out your seating stuff and I’ll sort it with you tomorrow. And don’t forget: one of the reasons we decided to have a barbecue was so there wouldn’t be hassle about where people sit. We don’t want a stuffy, formal wedding. It’s you and Dad that want to organize seating, so do it, I don’t have to be there. Bye.’
Connie’s lips tightened as the phone went dead. Her daughter was being totally unhelpful and seemed to have regressed to teenhood. She was acting more like a fifteen-year-old than a twenty-five-year-old. Barry would be hurt, and she’d have to listen to him moaning about Debbie’s insensitive, wounding behaviour. It wasn’t just the seating that they needed to organize – they had to arrange readings and lifts. Connie knew that Barry had been going to ask Debbie to reconsider her decision not to let him walk her up the aisle.
It was all just so fraught and she was fed up with it. It was a pain being stuck in the middle and trying to keep the peace between them.
Bryan knew about tonight’s arrangements. He hadn’t made things easier by asking Debbie to accompany him to the art exhibition. He just expected to get his own way, as usual, but of course Debbie couldn’t see that. It annoyed Connie that her daughter could be such a doormat sometimes, allowing Bryan to walk all over her. He really was such a spoilt brat, Connie thought resentfully as she trudged through the carriage and plonked herself down in a seat beside Karen.
‘Debbie’s just phoned to say she can’t make it tonight. She’s off to an art exhibition with Adonis.’
Karen gave a snort of laughter. ‘Stop it, someday you’re going to call him that – or I will – and Debbs would be really hurt.’
‘Don’t talk about hurt. Her father’s not going to be at all impressed at being stood up. It’s bad enough that she won’t let him give her away; she might at least make an effort to be civil to him about the wedding. He’s being very decent about it. He told her if she wanted a wedding planner, he’d pay for one, when friggin’ Adonis suggested it. I had to put my foot down there. It was far from bloody wedding planners we were reared. I’d say Aimee would have had a fit if she knew. I think she’s whingeing about the cost as it is. She was a bit miffed when Debbie refused her offer of a marquee – she can get one at cost price, because she’s in the catering business. I think Barry was just as glad though; if anything went wrong it wouldn’t be landed at his door.’ Connie frowned.
‘Just as well you’ve only got one child getting married,’ Karen declared. ‘I said that to Aimee one day and she gave me one of her frosty glares and said Barry would never shirk his responsibilities even if he had a dozen.’
‘She can do frosty very well, but so can I,’ Connie said firmly. ‘It will be interesting to see what sort of a wedding Melissa will have in years to come. I suppose Aimee will be wearing a designer outfit to our little bash.’
‘She wears clothes very well, doesn’t she? She’s reed-thin.’ Karen eyed her own generous curves regretfully.
‘And tall – that helps,’ Connie mused. ‘Anyway, the sooner it’s all over the better. Miss Debbie can ring her father herself and tell him she’s not coming. I’m not blinkin’ Kofi Annan,’ she informed her amused sister-in-law as she dialled her daughter’s number.
She got voicemail.
‘Ring your dad yourself and tell him you’re not coming tonight. Do your own dirty work, Debbie,’ she ordered crossly, and then sent it in a text for good measure, just so her daughter couldn’t say she hadn’t got the message.
It would be good enough for the lot of them if she just took off to Karen’s apartment in Spain and let them all get on with this bloody wedding without her, she thought as the train slowed into Killiney.