‘For God’s sake, Hugh! Stop making that dreadful noise.’
Cynthia Baskerville-Clifford threw her arms above her head in frustration, before covering both ears with her hands.
‘It’s driving me mad!’ She spat out the words with a degree of exasperated venom, before inhaling deeply to calm herself while running her fingers lightly over her hair to make sure there were no wayward strands on her beautifully coiffured head.
Hugh Plunkett was slouched in his armchair reading The Times. He was well over six-foot-tall, and his long, skinny legs stretched out into the middle of the room. His size-twelve feet were resting in front of the open fire, toasting nicely inside his Italian leather loafers.
At the sound of Cynthia’s voice, he had sat bolt upright, averting his attention from the Hatches, Matches and Despatches, and lowered the paper to his knees. Turning to face Cynthia, he beamed at her. He had idolised her for over forty years and had placed her on a pedestal. He would do anything for her, and she knew it.
‘What noise, my love?’ he asked, blissfully unaware of the squelching noise that had been escaping from his mouth for the past five minutes.
‘That ghastly sucking noise you’re making with your teeth,’ Cynthia snapped. ‘You sound like a chimpanzee in oestrus.’
‘Mmm? In… eee…?’ His mind went blank. He couldn’t remember what oestrus was. Never blessed with bursting brains, he only had one ambition, to become a kept man. He was drawn to Cynthia by her beauty, as well as her money. But what had attracted them to each other was something that showed no signs of waning with age, was their voracious sexual appetites.
He learned very early on in their relationship to keep his opinions to himself. Arguing or disagreeing with Cynthia’s sometimes warped beliefs was like going on a kamikaze mission, so keeping schtum was always the best policy.
‘I’m so sorry, my love,’ he said and stopped sucking the bits of food out from the gaps in between his teeth, easing himself back behind his broadsheet.
Cynthia was not in a good mood. She had sent her daughter Katie a card and a sizeable cheque for her birthday. Katie was always hard up, but she hadn’t had the decency to call and thank her. It was almost time for one’s evening gin and tonic and Katie still hadn’t been in touch. The fact that Katie had been at work since 8.30 a.m., and never got home much before 7.00 p.m., never crossed Cynthia’s mind.
Why on earth Katie wanted a god-awful job in the first place was beyond her. If only she had married. Why work for a living, when you can marry someone with an enormous bank account to support your every whim.
She never understood why Katie always got so fiendishly angry every time she went to some considerable trouble to earmark a suitable husband for her. Cynthia despaired. Perhaps she should have sent Katie to anger management classes when she was a teenager, had there been such a thing in those days. Offering help on how Katie could improve her appearance was always met with an unprovoked temper tantrum, and her dress sense was appalling. So unfeminine, always clomping around in those beastly Doc Martens, he could look quite attractive if she made an effort.
The last time Cynthia met Katie for a coffee at the Daily Grind, it hadn’t gone well. Katie was as bitter as ever. Cynthia refused to buy her a slice of their homemade chocolate cake, offering to pay for her to go to Overeaters Anonymous instead. She had thought it a very generous offer as Katie had started bulging out of all her clothes.
Perhaps she shouldn’t have prodded her in the stomach, but it was only a very light prod, hardly reason for Katie to throw all her toys out of the pram storming out of the Daily Grind shouting something about having been switched at birth. How ridiculous! That awful Gladys Lotherington had been having coffee at the table opposite and obviously thought the whole scenario was quite hysterical. On her way out, Cynthia had gone over to Gladys’s table and whispered in her ear, ‘Katie’s re-treading the boards, Gladys dear. One of her old flatmates is an actress and is always roping Katie into play bit parts. She is very dedicated, you know. She takes every opportunity to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! I think she’s going to be quite good in this production.’ Katie was forty now; she should really learn to let things go.
If only she had gone to finishing school like Cynthia had wanted her to, wedding bells would have rung years ago, and she would have been a grandmother by now. Not that she looked remotely old enough to be a grandmother. She closed her eyes.
‘Forty-years-old and no husband. It’s unthinkable. How could it possibly happen to a daughter of mine?’
Having a forty-year-old daughter did not sit comfortably with Cynthia, especially a forty-year-old unmarried one. She squirmed inwardly, turning up her stinky fish nose and pursing her lips as the phrase spinster of the parish flashed into her mind.
She wasn’t really surprised. She always felt Katie’s choice of men over the years had been questionable. Probably satisfying in the bedroom department perhaps, but none of them ever had any money.
In Cynthia’s mind, money, lots of it, and preferably a title were the essential ingredients to sustain a successful marriage.
Although Cynthia hadn’t managed to snare a husband with a title herself, yet, there was still plenty of time. She had married the much older Reginald for the size of his bank balance alone, and he hadn’t been well for years, so it was just a matter of time before she found herself back on the marriage market again.
Sex was a bonus and something that could be had on the side. It was certainly something she had always had on the side. She glanced over to Hugh. Even now, forty-odd years on and sucking his bloody teeth, he was as rampant in the sack as he ever was, and sex was such an essential part of her keep young and beautiful regime.
In Cynthia’s mind, it was perfectly natural for Katie’s boyfriends to look at her first. From an early age, she had warned Katie that her prospective boyfriends would always look at the mother first. She honestly believed that if young men saw that the mother was looking youthful, it was a good indicator that the daughter’s looks would last well into middle age and beyond. Why on earth would Katie always respond to her words of wisdom by saying…
‘For God’s sake! Why do you always have to talk so much bloody rubbish, Mother?’ was just extraordinary.
Twenty-odd years ago Katie’s head had been filled with all that feminism rubbish and she’d rarely worn a bra, which would be why she had such saggy breasts now. Cynthia kept telling her to wear a bra, but the silly girl never listened. It was too late now; her boobs were twice the size and needed all the support they could get. She shook her head. Katie may have had her fair share of men while she was in London, but she was not so lucky in the bedroom department these days, which was undoubtedly due to her size.
She despaired of her daughter, but it wasn’t too late for her to find someone to marry, though she would seriously have to do something about her appearance now that she had got so fat. It would have been so easy for her to find Katie a wealthy husband years ago when she was still slim and quite pretty, but the silly girl was never interested. Trying to find her a husband at forty would be difficult, if not impossible, now she had allowed herself to succumb to that infernal middle-aged spread.
It was barely believable that Katie had turned down her only marriage proposal on her twenty-second birthday when she was old enough to know better. Tom Feral might not have been the catch of the year, but at least he asked.
Then she thought about Katie as a baby and sighed. Sadly, it was not an emotive sigh of a mother recalling those precious times during a child’s first few months of life. She was thinking how chubby Katie was then, with her flaming rosy cheeks. Forty years on and nothing much seemed to have changed. How unalike they both were on many levels.
She sat up straight, pulling out the muscles in her back, then stretched out her neck from side to side. She crossed her slim, bronzed, stocking-less legs, stretching them out like a cat in front of her, admiring them as she did so. Once again, she smoothed her, now dyed but not a hair out of place, blonde bob elegantly behind her ears. A blonde bob that framed her bronzed, unblemished skin; how sad it was that Katie had inherited her father’s looks.
‘Hugh!’ Cynthia broke the silence and made him jump to attention as his head popped up over the top of his paper, looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
‘Yes, my love,’ came the singsong response.
‘You can get me that gin and tonic now!’