As always, when in need of advice, encouragement, and a bit of vindictive support, I go to see Maggie.
I’ve tried to get advice and support from Oliver, but he’s a bloke. Nursery school dirty politics don’t interest him. He was concerned that someone else’s brat was picking on our son, however, so he took Jack aside for some man-to-man words of wisdom. The gist was that if Dominic caused any more grief, Jack was to beat him to a pulp, and Dominic wouldn’t do it again. Then I informed Oliver that Dominic was the son of Caroline, and Oliver turned a little pale and told Jack that Daddy was only joking, because violence is never the answer.
Caroline is the wife of Oliver’s boss, you see.
So, slightly disgusted with my turncoat husband, I decided to visit Maggie. No double standards from her.
When Jack and I arrive at her house, a strange car is parked outside, and I hesitate for a moment. Maggie doesn’t normally have guests, and I don’t want to interrupt, but while I’m standing on her porch deliberating whether to knock, the front door opens.
“Hi, Mag—” I start to say, before realising it isn’t Maggie who’s opened the door, but the exotic woman I’d met in the Maxwell Plum before Christmas.
“How wonderful to see you again!” Anna Gianni exclaims. “Come in and sit down – we just made coffee.”
So Jack and I sit on Maggie’s squashy blue velvet sofa and watch two squirrels playing tag around the trunk of the maple tree outside the window, while Anna and Maggie crash around in the kitchen. Call me possessive and silly, but I’m feeling that my role of Maggie’s adopted daughter has been usurped. Crashing around in the kitchen with Maggie is my job.
Anna carries a tray into the living room and sets it on the wicker trunk that Maggie uses as a coffee table.
“I’ve been meaning to call you ever since New Year’s,” she says, handing me a white china cup with violets hand-painted on it. “But the restaurant’s been really busy, and Frankie’s mother hasn’t been well. I always try to follow through with my promises, but sometimes life gets in the way. Know what I mean?”
I think about my own January, the news from the ultrasound, and the problems I’m having with Patsy Traynor.
“I know what you mean.”
Maggie emerges from the kitchen with a plate of brownies, and Jack looks up hopefully. She sits down in her rocking chair and beckons him over.
“No school today, Jack?” she asks, handing him a brownie.
Jack crams half the brownie into his face and shakes his head, chewing. Then he crams the other half in. Brownie juice runs out of the sides of his mouth.
“Gross, Jack.” I pat my pockets for clean tissues but find only a Snickers wrapper. Anna gets up from her armchair and heads for the kitchen. “We’ve got a little B-U-L-L-Y-I-N-G problem at the moment, I’m afraid,” I say to Maggie. “By another child, I mean.”
“This is at Patsy’s school?” Anna calls from the kitchen.
I nod. “Yup.”
“And what is dear Patsy doing about this little problem?” asks Maggie.
Anna returns with a pile of paper napkins, and I use one to scrub the chocolate from Jack’s face.
“That depends on who the child is, doesn’t it?” she says. “The fact that Jack is here suggests that Patsy hasn’t done a frickin’ thing. The troublemaker is still at school, so therefore the mother of the troublemaker is someone Patsy feels she must kiss a— I mean, suck up to.”
I stare at her. “How do you know?” I ask at last.
“Patsy might have got rid of the teenage zits, my dear, but she never changed her spots.” Maggie holds her arms out to Jack, and he climbs on her lap. “Anna knows her of old.”
“She used to be best friends with your landlady,” Anna says. “Patsy is still the same suck-up as when she was sixteen. Anyone rich, influential, slightly different, and she was all over them, hoping for a piece of reflected power or glory. At one time you might have qualified because you’ve got a British accent, but the town is overrun with Brits now. You need to either win the lottery or do something out of the ordinary.”
I say that since I am “ordinary” personified and we’d never even bought a lottery ticket, I should probably start looking for a new nursery school for Jack.
“Unless I can make it known that she takes bribes. Would Wikileaks be interested? Could I write an anonymous letter to the Woodhaven Observer?”
“You can write it by all means,” Maggie says, “but they won’t print it. The chief editor is Patsy’s uncle. And he co-owns the nursery school.”
I’m shocked. “Does this kind of thing go on a lot round here?”
“All the time,” Anna says. “Woodhaven is simply a microcosm of every government in the world, with bribes and power abuse running riot. You think this is bad? You should have been here twenty-five years ago.”
“What happened then?” I ask.
Anna hesitates, and Maggie looks down into her lap. Another Woodhaven mystery for me to mentally file away, I think.
“The only way to get by in this town,” says Anna, “is to beat them at their own game.”
I consider this. “I’m not sure how I would do that.”
“You have to make your presence at Patsy’s school more desirable than this other woman’s. What’s her name?”
“Caroline. And she’s Oliver’s boss’s wife,” I add.
Anna and Maggie both draw in a breath. “Tricky,” they agree.
“Patsy’s a germ-phobe.” Maggie nods at Anna. “Always was. I don’t know if we can do anything with that.” I wonder what she has in mind. A vial of anthrax? Smallpox? Typhoid? “Remember the boy with impetigo a few years ago? Banned him from the school for weeks, and when the mother finally brought him back, Patsy had given his place to someone else.”
I wonder how Patsy reconciles her germophobia with her dust-laden office, then decide that you don’t have to be rational to be phobic about anything.
“I heard about that. And the replacement mother was expecting twins. Patsy’s husband is an identical twin,” Anna tells me. “When they were first dating, he had to study for some midterm exams, so he sent his brother to take Patsy out for dinner. She never noticed the difference, she says. I often wonder about that date. Bet her husband does, too.”
“I feel that’s taking sibling devotion too far, don’t you?” Maggie murmurs.
“At least ours won’t have that problem,” I say. “Not with one of each.”
Anna stares. “You’re having twins?”
“Didn’t Maggie tell you?”
“It’s not my news to broadcast, Libby.”
“Because,” Anna says with enthusiasm, “you could use this to your advantage. Patsy loves having twins at her nursery school. She gets her uncle in from the newspaper, and they do a big feature on how many sets of twins there are in one year. Local nauseating news kind of thing. And then they call in Local Fox News, and they do a piece on it, and Patsy gets a shitloa— I mean, a bunch of publicity and gets booked up for the next three years and can charge what she likes.” She pauses to reach over for another brownie. “But you see, the thing is, there are more schools in Woodhaven now. The twins are diluted among the other schools, Patsy doesn’t get the exposure, so she can’t charge stupid money for being featured on News At 10.”
“So she just takes bribes instead,” Maggie chimes in. “But it doesn’t really help Libby. The other child, this Dominic, he has to go. Tell me, Libs, does he have impetigo? Recurring conjunctivitis? Feet covered in warts? She hates those in summer, when all the children run around in the wading pool.”
I shake my head sadly. “None of those, as far as I know. He’s quite lovely to look at, actually, a Little Lord Fauntleroy. He even has the blond curls. I guess his mother can’t bear to get his hair cut yet.”
I remember when I finally had to take Jack for his first haircut, and all his little baby curls fell to the floor. He looked like a shorn sheep, and I cried all the way home. So I can’t blame Caroline for wanting to keep those curls for a while longer.
“Shame.” Anna checks her watch, then jumps out of her chair. “Jesus H Christ, I told Frankie I’d be home a half hour ago.” She bends down and pecks Maggie on the cheek.
“I’ll give you a call, Libby. Really. I promise. Don’t let that bit– I mean, let Patsy Traynor get you down, OK?”
I start to say No, I won’t, but she’s already gone.
“You don’t often hear people curse like she does in this town, do you?” I say.
Maggie laughs. “You’d never guess her father was a Pastor in Woodhaven at one time.”
“No! What’s the story there?”
But Maggie just smiles and says nothing.
Yet another piece of Woodhaven history I will just have to figure out myself.
© 2012 Kate Allison