Diana turned her head, like an owl swivelling its neck. She had
prepared herself for the inevitable change that she must find in
Augustus, but she had to adjust her facial expression. He wasn’t
the only one for whom the bell had taken its toll.
They hugged, embarrassed, not knowing how long to
maintain the embrace. Then Diana pulled away and walked
forward, into the pub proper. He followed her to the reserved
table in the window.
He couldn’t keep his eyes from her, but was trying not to stare.
Her figure was still firm after all those years of coaching lacrosse.
He could feel his own Falstaffian belly sagging against his thighs
like an oversized watermelon.
They ordered crab soup. He kept reminding himself of the
quotation beneath his photo in the school magazine: a god
amongst mere mortals. The trouble was that he had failed to
detect the irony, as it actually prefaced the quotation with: he
thinks he is.. It had also drivelled on about his formidable
reputation as a Classics scholar. Who did they think he was –
C.S.Blinkin’ Lewis? He more closely resembled Mr Tumnus, with
an emphasis on the Tum.
Still, he summoned the memory in times of feeling inadequate. It
usually made him feel worse.
Diana finished her soup first and leant under the table to retrieve
a large envelope from her designer handbag- actually bought in
Shepton Mallet at a seconds store in the Clark’s Village, but it
gave the intended impression, she thought. Small woman with
ridiculously over-sized bag. Wonder she doesn’t give herself
vertebrae injury, was what observers usually silently remarked
when they saw her struggling with it. I bet it costs her a bomb in
People can be so unkind. But Diana was there to atone for her
past omissions and commissions.
She passed the envelope across the table. It was full of photos of
Drusilla’s prizegivings, gymkhana competitions, a record of her
Confirmation and driving test results-all four of them. It had
copies of her swimming certificates (100 metres), a cloth badge
which she had won for diving from the side of the pool and which
Diana had never got round to attaching to her daughter’s Speedo
costume. There was a mounted page with her A-level results and
a Grade 5 Theory certificate.
Oh, she only got a merit, he observed to himself, fortunately.
Doesn’t take after me in that realm. He felt a little more confident.
There was one respect in which she clearly did take after her pa,
however. The Snodbury jowls were very much in evidence, so
there was no question of a DNA test being necessary.
Yes, he said, looking at a photo of Drusilla when she had been a
bridesmaid at the age of fourteen, I suppose she is my daughter.
She is, isn’t she?
Diana, slightly ruffled at the very suggestion of any doubt,
snapped: Is the Pope a Catholic?
Well, he seems to have had enough of it all and has resigned,
hasn’t he? So where does that place him? He seems to be copying
The Archbishop of Canterbury. They’re probably all C of E.
Diana’s expression was hardening. She was beginning to recall
how much she had disliked his facetiousness.
But don’t worry, I will accept my responsibilities, to the bitter end.
Bitter end? That’s good of you, she said caustically. No, I don’t
require a coffee. She waved the waiter away rudely.
Father! exclaimed Drusilla. She had been waiting outside for
some time in the car, until her mother gave her the signal from
the window. Augustus had wondered why she kept flicking her
hair all the time in the manner of a teenage Gloria Swanson– or
was it Swansong at this age?
Everyone looked at their table and overwhelmed by the enthusiastic
filial welcome characterised by the rumbustiousness of the daughter
of a once fearsome lax player, Augustus knocked the shagreen box
onto the floor and, to his chagrin, the ring fell out and
disappeared down a gap in the floorboards. It would take
someone with very long arms to retrieve it. Maybe it was a sign:
don’t do it, old boy!