Oliver’s screwed-up idea of normality, therefore, makes it difficult for him to understand how bad things are Chez Maggie.
In vain, I try to explain to him that our friend — our lovely, compassionate, eccentric throwback to Mary Quant and Woodstock — has had a complete change of personality and needs our help in reclaiming her old one.
“Her handmade quilts have gone,” I tell him, “and all her rocking chairs. Her house looks like a Scandinavian furniture catalogue, it’s so streamlined and perfect. And as for her teapot cats, they’ve all been replaced by this awful stainless steel and glass thing that doesn’t dribble over the sandwiches. I swear that it’s all Derek’s doing, and he’s holding her hostage or something.”
I wait for Oliver to agree that there is something desperately wrong with this situation and that he will immediately come with me to Maggie’s house and sort it out, by force or SWAT team if necessary. Naturally, I am disappointed.
“It’s about time she got rid of that tatty furniture,” he says. “And those god-awful, useless teapots, too. She nearly ruined my favorite pair of trousers once, dribbling boiling tea all over my leg. No, those updates were well overdue.”
“That would be all very well,” I say, “if those updates were her decision, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t. They were his. Derek’s. Cream leather sofas just aren’t Maggie’s style.”
Oliver frowns. I can see him struggling to understand why I think new sofas aren’t an ok development.
“Our sofas are cream leather,” he says at last. “Do you think that’s a problem too?”
“No,” I say, trying to be patient, “because you and I chose them together. It was a joint decision.”
“And can you prove Maggie’s home improvements weren’t also joint decisions?”
Of course I can’t. This is where hunches and female intuition comes in. I wave the Beatles CD that Maggie gave me at Oliver.
“This!” I say. “It’s an album called Help! Maggie said I’d lent it to her, but I hadn’t. It was her cry for help!”
Oliver pats me on the hand.
“And I’ve told you before, she’s probably going a little bit gaga. Forgetful,” he amends. “It’s only to be expected at her age.”
He gets up from his chair and starts to walk of the room. I’m childishly tempted to stick out my foot and trip him up.
“For goodness sake, she’s not 70 yet. Why on earth is ‘going a little bit gaga’ only to be expected at her age?”
“Why shouldn’t it?” he calls from the hall where he’s putting on his shoes, clearly bored with this discussion and willing to walk to the mailbox in the rain to avoid any more of it. “My mother’s been like that for years, and she’s younger than Maggie. It’s perfectly normal, I’d say.”