Monday, 16 June 2014

A guest at my table - Angie

A long time ago when I was but a little bird turning into an awkward fledgling, I had a friend called Angie who lived only a bike ride away on the edge of the next village. Angie and I had one of those love/hate relationships that young girls do, best of friends one minute, enemies the next. Such is the pain of life at that age. We were as normal a pair of friends as it is possible to be when one of you is the daughter of a fairly famous ageing rock star, often away.

The school we went to was an ordinary state secondary school set in a (perhaps less ordinary) small village in the fairly heavily-wooded area that nestles not far from the banks of the Thames in Oxfordshire. It was an area of small villages and larger properties hidden between the trees where those who wanted to escape the world for a bit of privacy were able to do so. That some chose to give their own children a bit of normality in going to the local state school was a good thing; and indeed there were several offspring and relatives with celebrity connections. But school is a good leveller and any sharp Alec bragging about his dad is likely to get a bloody nose in the playground of a school which caters to all ends of the spectrum.

So Angie and I rode our bikes and camped and talked about boys, and the other half of her life barely came into things at all. Perhaps it simply gave her a far greater confidence to deal with life, and a presumption of entitlement that such confidence often brings. And perhaps it was this that made her do what she did, crushing my fragile first love, betraying my trust.

It is hard enough to deal with your own fragility at that age, to place the trust in another and talk of your hopes and dreams of unrequited love. Perhaps I told the tale too well. Perhaps I made the poor boy of my dreams into such a shining gallant knight that she was mesmerised and caught up in the fairy dust, seeing anew a boy whom she would have passed by daily without a glance. Anyway, their relationship was short-lived - our friendship never quite the same. And the boy of my dreams said, years later to me, 'I wish I'd known'. But it was the wrong time, the wrong place for me by then. Life is full of one-way doors with no way back.

So I'm putting out the biscuits with trepidation. We talk. Now and again. We've followed each other's lives through the ups and the downs in intermittent Christmas cards and the sudden urge to phone. My confidence has grown in life, plummeted and grown again; but then so too has hers. It seems a gilt-edged crib is no protection against the cruelties that life has to offer. And confidence is only skin deep in all of us, however thickly we appear to wear our skins.

She has only a couple of hours to offer me, she says on the phone. She is on her way to take some of her paintings to a new Art gallery. She doesn't know whether they really want them all, or just a few to contrast against another's work. This isn't the Angie I knew back then. Perhaps we have both mellowed in the bottle and the unlabelled plonk is holding its own against the famous name. I give her instructions for her sat Nav and tell her to read it back to me as there's no mobile phone reception here and I may be up the field with the dog. There are no numbers to the houses in this village either, and all the cottages share the same postcode. She could ask at the Post Office, but it's very likely to be closed. I'm starting to sound nervous, despite the biscuits looking like a far better cook than me has made them. She rings off in the exuberant flourish I remember of old when she is keen to finish a conversation and impatient to move on to something else. I bite my lip.

Our letters have been full of the daily doings, the routine, the advent of babies and christenings, school plays and divorces. Her life has had as many twists and turns as mine. And each made light of in the yearly ramblings....'and the weather has been awful here these last few weeks...and by the way, Andrew and I are getting divorced...', she says in one. I let it slide under the carpet like that letter from the postman coming through the letterbox, across the polished parquet floor and found six months later when the rugs are taken up for cleaning. We talk in the crocheted loops of silence. The phone is even worse. She rabbits on about her artwork taking up all her time and I can hear the silence behind that says 'my youngest child has gone off to college and now it's only me and the dog'.

'Come down', I say.
'I can't. I'm busy.I can only offer you a couple of hours next Tuesday.'
'Tuesday's fine. I'll make some biscuits.'
'I'm on a diet.'
'Then I'll eat them for you. But I have to warn you, they're to die for. And you'll have to watch me eat them...'
I hear her smile at this and the chill has gone once more.

So here she is in her navy blue convertible, sunglasses pushed up on her head and her red hair more bottle red than I remember. But she hasn't changed. Still that dimple. Still that warm hug. I used to think, - afterwards, ' I don't want any daughter of mine to have red hair'...and then Hannah was born and she was...beautiful. Angie's changed, a little. We're both a bit - larger, I think. A few wrinkles, perhaps, a bit less energetic, possibly. Do we both look so exhausted all the time? We used to live life on maximum speed and sleep seemed like an optional activity. She says she doesn't sleep well these days. I nod in agreement. We sit outside and she carelessly pulls the petals off a daisy as we catch up on the news, skirting around the real issues, hinting at things and then skimming off in another direction.

'Thank you,' she says, hugging me as she gets up to leave. We've talked. I think. We've shared food.
'My turn next,'she says. We smile. It could be another ten years, or more, or perhaps only a couple of weeks. I wave all the way as she backs down the drive and around the corner and then roars off up the lane. A loose chicken squawks and jumps out of the way. I catch a backward wave of pale white hand with vibrant polish, and she's gone.
'Bye Angie.

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