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A cup of coffee

Would you like to come in for coffee?  Virginia asked Snod, just before

jumping out of the driver’s seat of his car and handing him his own


He really needed to get home to work on some feedback documents,

but, since he had not had such an invitation in over thirty years, he

said: What the heck! to himself.  Emm, well, yes, why not?  Just a quick


Virginia gave him an odd look, but led the way nevertheless.

Lay on, Macduff, he joked, to hide his slight unease.

Oh, I thought it was ‘Lead on..’  She rummaged around in the bottom of

her handbag for her keys.  Then she blushed.  She didn’t want him to

think that was a Freudian slip.  Coffee was such an embarrassing

invitation nowadays. When she invited someone in for coffee, she

meant just that.

It was all the fault of that series of Gold Blend adverts in the 80s.

Some men in the past had been rather surprised when she had

shown them the door after one drink.  Not even a biscuit.

Snod sank into Virginia’s comfortable sofa and looked round the room

while she filled the kettle.  Interesting old fireplace.  He had almost said

foreplace‘.  Why was that?

There were some photos of children- presumably her nieces and

nephews.  There was a faded wedding picture.  He would have liked to

go over and take a closer look, but Virginia came in and put two coasters

down on the coffee table.  She moved a large Gertrude Jekyll Gardens


She returned with two National Trust mugs.  They featured Wyvern Mote.

So, she must have visited on some occasion.  He’d ask her about that later.

Sorry, no Bourbon biscuits, she apologised.

He was strangely touched that she had remembered his predilection.

Eh, how long have you been here?  he asked, sipping his drink.  He’d

have preferred tea, but no matter.

We bought it in 1987, she said.  It’s too big for me on my own, but useful

when the family come over.  And, of course, I love the garden.  William

loved the outbuilding.  He kept his old Bentley in there. He was away a lot,

so, he decided that he didn’t need a house on his own. We bought this place

together as a joint investment.

William? Snod looked faintly puzzled.

My elder brother, she replied, going over to the mantle-piece and taking

down the wedding photo.  Sadly they got divorced. He died of pancreatic

cancer in the 90s.

The groom looked very like Virginia.  Good-looking bride too.

I’m sorry, said Snod most sincerely, but oddly glad that William hadn’t been

her husband.  After an awkward pause, he continued.  And do you have any

other siblings?

Well, my sister who lives in New Zealand.  She tries to come over every

few years so that I can see the children.  That’s when this house comes

into its own.  And, of course, I love the garden.

I see.  Snod noticed that she still hadn’t mentioned a man in her past.

He picked up a little book before placing his mug down on the coaster.

The Little Prince, he smiled.  It was one of his favourites.  Augusta had

given it to him one Christmas when he was nine.

Yes, Arnaud gave it to me.  He was a pilot.  He crashed his Piper

Cherokee when we had just been married a year or so.  Some Bedouin found

him, but even their rehydration techniques failed.

So, now the tragedy was out.


Yes, what St- Exupery says is true: one characteristic can recall your

love and pain.  The colour of wheat evokes his hair.  He was only twenty

nine when he died.  I suppose that I have been widowed almost as long

as he was alive.

I rate this house because of the garden.  I don’t care about its financial

value.  When I smell the roses that we planted together, my heart fills

with sweet pain, if that makes sense. There’s no point in allowing the

bitter experiences to destroy you.  You have to feel the pain and

embrace life.

Snod remembered that Exupery had said one must root out the seeds

of the baobab.  They must be destroyed immediately or they would take

hold.  He decided to remove one little seed of resentment against Diana

and her lack of amatory interest.  Here, on the other hand, was a woman

who would recognise a drawing of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant

and wouldn’t, in a matter-of-fact way, put it down to being a side elevation

of a hat. Here was a potential soul mate who did not talk about golf, bridge

or politics.  She understood primeval forests, stars and she might appreciate

a sunset.

But the mythology of her life was striking him very powerfully.  A husband who

had parallels to St-Exupery and even that artist chap whose work he didn’t

make much of- Joseph Beuys, wasn’t it?  That awful school trip to Tate Modern

with the disappearing Boothroyd-Smythe!

Hadn’t Beuys come down in a desert too?  Or had he made the whole thing up?

Maybe Boothroyd-Smythe had his particular facility for mendacity encouraged by

contact with the work of such modern cultural role models?

The only thing Snod could relate to had been Beuys’ felt suit and he wouldn’t

have minded getting a tailor to run up a similar one for himself.  Apparently it

had been a symbol of social isolation and imprisonment.  But maybe he, Augustus

Snodbury, no longer needed such a layer of protection from the world- not if



He looked at his Timex Gosh, is that the time?  I’d better be going.  Thanks

for the coffee.

He shook her hand and as she opened the door to let him exit, she leaned

forward and kissed him very gently on the cheek.

Sleep tight, Gus, dear, she whispered.

He turned back and, before he could stop himself, they were locked in a

passionate embrace, indulging in what Boothroyd-Smythe et al would have

termed a snogging session.

Snod had snogged after thirty odd snog-free years.  He had forgotten how

good it was.  Mehercule!  So this was what was meant by coming in for

coffee.  It beat filling in feedback forms no end.