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Authors: Mary Daheim

Auntie Mayhem

BOOK: Auntie Mayhem
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Flynn climbed into a taxi, collapsed onto…


shown his brother and his sister-in-law a…


lay before her was three symmetrical stories…


some trepidation that Judith and Renie ascended…


. The Marchmonts had dispensed with afternoon tea.


, and an occasional glimpse of sun. It…


. R
five minutes after the cousins entered Aunt…


out of her proposed nap. A brisk…


didn't want to hear the cousins try…


, Renie agreed that it was a good…


afternoon shadows, the household reassembled in the…


who revived Claire by pouring a glass…


known. In alluding to her own two…


plain concrete walk that led to the…


sun, Judith and Renie were standing at…


time to work on the jigsaw,” Judith…


raining, Judith had no compunction about leaving…


for a second scotch. It was, after…


high above the river as the cousins…

Flynn climbed into a taxi, collapsed onto the leather jumpseat, and told the driver to take her to Buckingham Palace. The vehicle zipped into London's madcap traffic and hurtled pell-mell down Pall Mall.

“Buck House, yes?” the driver said, accelerating around a double-decker bus.

Judith had expected to hear the Cockney accent of her previous trip to England some thirty years earlier. Instead, the driver's voice was layered in rich Middle Eastern tones. It seemed to Judith that nobody in London spoke the Queen's English anymore.

“You see changing guard?” the bearded driver asked cheerfully.

Judith didn't remember taximen talking at all in 1964. “I will?” she replied in surprise. Her intention was to meet Cousin Renie in front of Buckingham Palace at 11:30
. She hadn't realized that their rendezvous would coincide with the changing of the guard.

“Many visitors, much crowd,” the cheerful driver said as he whizzed past Marlborough House.

“Oh, dear.” Judith squirmed on the small seat. How would she find Renie in such a mob? On this Tuesday in April, her cousin had gone to breakfast with a former graphic design colleague. Judith had spent the morning with her husband at the National Gallery. They had
parted company in Trafalgar Square, with Joe Flynn heading for a tour of Scotland Yard.

“American?” The driver was looking at Judith in the rearview mirror. The taxi drifted perilously into the next lane of streaming traffic. “Canadian?”

“American,” Judith gulped as they screeched to a stop at St. James Street.

“Ah!” The driver turned to give Judith a big grin. “I have cousin in New York. Mustafa. You know him?”

“Uh—no. I don't know New York,” Judith admitted, having visited the city only once. “I'm from…somewhere else.” There was no point in trying to explain U.S. geography to foreigners. Outside of New York, they never seemed to know anything except Los Angeles, which Judith couldn't explain to herself. At present, she was still trying to comprehend London. There were new high rises, though they hadn't yet overwhelmed the skyline. But signs of change were everywhere, from the golden arches of McDonald's to the homeless pushing grocery carts. The world was not only growing smaller, it was becoming too similar.

Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial loomed before her. So did several hundred milling tourists, some of whom were forced to leap out of the taxi's way as the driver squealed to a stop by Green Park.

Nervously, Judith counted out the proper fare in English money, added what she hoped was an adequate tip, and thanked the driver. She also thanked God for arriving in one piece.

Feeling forlorn, Judith scanned the crowd. Cousin Renie was nowhere to be seen. Every nationality seemed to be represented, with Africans in flowing robes and Indian women in elegant saris. There were Americans, of course, but these days it was hard to identify them by sight. The visitors in jeans and T-shirts could just as well be Germans, Swedes, Aussies, or Argentinians.

Indeed, as Judith accidentally bumped into a middle-aged Chinese man in a dark suit, she apologized in careful English. “Please excuse me, sir. I'm so sorry.”

“No biggie,” he replied. “This place is worse than BART at rush hour.”

“Oh!” Judith grinned at the reference to the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. “You're from San Francisco!”

The man shook his head. “San Mateo, actually. But I work in The City. I'm here for a shrink convention. In fact, I'm playing hooky from the morning session. I figured this was something I had to do, just like the tourists in San Francisco can't go home without riding a cable car.”

Judith's dark eyes widened at the man's reference to the convention. “You're attending the International Mental and Neurological University Therapists Society convention, too? That's why I'm here. I mean, my cousin's husband is attending it.”

The man from the Bay Area nodded. “It's a big deal. IMNUTS brings together academic psychologists and psychiatrists from all over the world. It's an honor to be invited.”

Judith knew that Renie's Bill had been gratified by the invitation. Indeed, his attendance had prompted the trip to England. Back in January, when Renie and Bill Jones had decided to attend the conference, Judith and Joe Flynn had jumped at the chance to go along. One of Joe's brothers, Paul, was posted to the American embassy in London. Joe had three weeks' vacation coming on his job as a homicide detective for the metropolitan police force. Except for Easter weekend, which had already passed, April wasn't exceptionally busy at Judith's bed-and-breakfast. If ever the Flynns and the Joneses were to visit England during good weather, it was in the spring.

The guard-changing ceremony had begun. The man from San Mateo was swallowed up by the crowd. Trying not to get swept away, Judith dug in her heels in front of the Victoria Memorial. Again, she peered at the colorful crowd, which was constantly shifting for camera shots and better views.

If only
, Judith thought,
Renie wasn't so small
. At almost five-nine, Judith had always been grateful for her height. In middle age, she also had grown comfortable with her statuesque figure. An extra five pounds was never cause for
concern. But at present, she would have liked to add another foot in order to see over the tourists. She realized she could do just that by climbing the memorial's steps. The seated sculpture of Queen Victoria seemed to demand a curtsy. Judith let her eyes stray to the golden angel that stood atop the monument. The angel looked more amiable.

But the new vantage point didn't seem to help. Judith saw the red jackets and black beaver hats move in precision. A regimental band was playing, bold, brassy notes from a military march that Judith vaguely recognized. The scene was impressive. But the guards weren't assisting in the search for Renie. Judith moved cautiously around the memorial with its solemn plaques and heroic figures. Scanning the crowd beyond a group of tall blonds who were probably Scandinavians, but might have been from Minnesota, she heard a faint voice. It was behind her, possibly above her, floating out over The Mall.

Judith turned. She heard the plaintive voice again. It was familiar.

“Coz!” It was Renie. She was perched on the back of a fierce bronze lion, while a heroic bare-chested victor waved a torch toward the heavens. Compared to the imposing statuary, Renie looked smaller than ever. “Help! I can't get down!” Her round face was terrified.

Frowning, Judith considered the situation. If she climbed a few more steps, she could reach the platform that held the bronze statues—and Renie. It wasn't impossible. Several young people, mostly raucous teenagers, were also draped around the massive memorial at various levels. But Judith and Renie were old enough to be their mothers. The only saving grace was that they weren't. With a mighty lunge, Judith heaved herself up to the lion's paws.

The descent wasn't as dangerous as it looked. Once Renie had Judith's hand to steady her, she moved nimbly off the lion. Moments later, the cousins were safely back on the ground.

“What the hell were you doing up there?” Judith asked, more relieved than annoyed.

Renie dusted off her beige slacks. “A couple of kids from New Zealand helped me up. I wanted to make sure I
could see you. Who was driving your taxi—A. J. Foyt?”

“Mustafa's cousin,” Judith retorted. Seeing Renie's puzzled expression, she waved an impatient hand. “Skip it, we're both alive. Let's get out of here before everybody else does.”

Proceeding down Buckingham Palace Road, Judith and Renie spent the next hour soaking up London's West End. The city was abloom with daffodils and tulips and crocuses. They admired Belgravia's handsome Greco-Roman houses, goggled at Harrod's exotic wares, and dropped their jaws but held on to their bank cards as they gawked their way through the chic shops of Knightsbridge.

Turning back onto Brompton Road, they picked up the pace as they headed for St. Quentin, the restaurant where they were to meet their luncheon date.

“What's her name?” Renie asked for the fourth time.

“Claire,” Judith answered a bit sharply. “Claire Marchmont.” Her feet hurt, and so did her pride. Judith, who had made untold sacrifices during eighteen years of marriage to Dan McMonigle, suddenly found that taking the trip of a lifetime with the man of her dreams still wasn't enough: She had a terrible urge to buy out Saint-Laurent and Elle and Charles Jourdan. Maybe her feet would feel better in a four-hundred-dollar pair of shoes. Then reality sank in, and so did repentance. “Sorry, coz. I'm fighting an urge to indulge myself and wear nice clothes when I live in the poor house. What I really need are Band-Aids for my blisters.”

“I know walking is the real way to see London, but it wears me out,” Renie panted as they passed a BP station. “How did we do all this thirty years ago?”

“We didn't.” Judith gave Renie and the service station a wry look. At home, on Heraldsgate Hill, she traded at the local BP, which, she recalled, stood for British Petroleum. The commercial invasion cut both ways. “If you'll recall, I got halfway from Green Park to Grosvenor Square and threatened to go home if you didn't put me into a taxi.”

Renie smiled at the memory. In 1964, Judith had only recently met Joe Flynn, rookie policeman. Despite five years of dreams and plans to visit Europe, Judith had been
reluctant to part with Joe for three months. She had developed a form of migraine headache that had proved almost disastrous to their trip.

“So Claire is your pen-pal Margaret's sister-in-law,” Renie said, deciding to drop the subject of Judith's earlier romantic tribulations. “I remember Margaret's brother. He was about fourteen and had spots.”

“He's probably over them by now,” Judith replied. The morning clouds, which had threatened rain, were now drifting away and the sun was coming out. At the moment, it promised to be a warm afternoon. Unless it rained. Even the weather reminded Judith of home. “I'm so sorry that Margaret and her husband left last week for Prague. It would have been fun to see her again after all these years.”

Renie nodded in agreement. “Margaret's kids were just tiny then. In fact, didn't the youngest girl come along soon after we were here?”

“That's right. She's teaching ballet now.” Judith's expression was nostalgic. “Goodness, but a lot has happened since then. We weren't married; you hadn't met Bill. I'm glad Margaret and I kept writing. At least I think I am. I'm not sure what we're getting into with her sister-in-law Claire.”

The cousins again strolled past the expansive front of Harrod's. “It sounds like fun. A weekend in an English country cottage has always been my fantasy. What could be better as long as Bill and Joe are off fishing in Scotland?”

Judith arched a dark eyebrow. “Going with them? We fish. We might even catch something.”

Renie shrugged. “We'll meet them in Edinburgh next week. Then we'll have eight more days to sightsee as a foursome. Let them do the male-bonding thing. With Bill's teaching schedule and private patients, and Joe's crazy hours as a cop, the only time they see each other is at family gatherings where they're both pretending they like their in-laws. This gives them a chance to bitch about us and our mothers.”

“Fishermen don't talk,” Judith countered. “All they ever say is ‘Any luck?' and ‘Nice fish.'”

Renie laughed. “True. But that's still bonding.”

Judith sniffed. “You forget, it's a working weekend for me. I'm supposed to give advice.”

“So? You can write the trip off as a business expense. We will. Why else did you come, if not to outwit the IRS?”

They had reached St. Quentin, where Judith stood outside, shifting from one tired foot to the other. “I know,” she admitted. “Joe and I wanted to come along so much, and Margaret's relatives' plan to turn Claire's family home into a bed-and-breakfast was a real bonus. But three weeks is a long time to leave Hillside Manor. And Mother.”

Renie corrected, unwilling to stand around and listen to the cacophony of traffic and pedestrians. “My mother is sure we'll be bombed by IRA terrorists. Or, as she so quaintly puts it, sold into white slavery.”

Trudging into the restaurant's foyer, Judith let out a long sigh. She thought of Gertrude, her own mother, who had griped and groaned and grumbled as if her daughter were deserting her for a three-year trip to Mars instead of three weeks in the United Kingdom. She thought of Hillside Manor, which had been left in the capable hands of Arlene Rankers, friend, neighbor, and substitute hostess par excellence. She also thought of her son, Mike, who was working as a forest ranger in Idaho's Nez Perce National Historical Park. All should be well with mother, son, and B&B. But life had taught Judith to expect the worst.

The reservation was in Claire Marchmont's name. A thin-lipped maitre d' led the cousins to a table covered with a crisp white cloth. Claire had not yet arrived.

“We're four minutes early,” Judith announced, glancing at her watch. “Claire and her husband have a flat in town. I don't think they spend much time at Ravenscroft House.”

“So you said.” Renie's tone was indifferent. She had glommed onto a menu, and, as usual, was absorbed in the concept of food. Renie was still studying the selections and making little purring noises when Claire Marchmont arrived in a breathless state.

“Delightful!” she exclaimed in a well-bred voice. Her grey eyes darted from cousin to cousin. “Oh, my! Which of you is…?”

Judith put out her hand. “I'm Judith McMonigle Flynn. And this is my cousin, Serena Jones. We call her Renie.”

“Renie!” Claire's oval face seemed dazzled by the idiosyncrasy. “
My!” She sank into the chair between the cousins. “Delightful!” she repeated, but now her tone was subdued.

BOOK: Auntie Mayhem
10.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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