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Authors: Wendy Holden

Tags: #Fiction, #General

Farm Fatale (3 page)

BOOK: Farm Fatale
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    "Darling, are you all right?" Having arranged the lettuce, Bella was snipping parsley over a gleaming silver baking tray in which were arranged six prime halves of lobster. "If you're wondering about the lobster, they're free-range and reared in happy seas. I checked. So don't come over all animal welfare on me."
    "It's not that." Rosie blushed. The fact that she could not bear even to swat a mosquito was the source of endless teasing from both Bella and Mark. "After all, it's not as if they're very grateful," Mark would observe as, whenever the temperature rose, the mosquitoes responded by biting every exposed inch of Rosie's pale skin.
    "What is it, then? Tell Auntie Bella. Is it Mark?" Hope flickered in Bella's black eyes.
    "Sort of."
    Bella put down her scissors momentously. "Oh, darling, I told you he was hopeless from the start. Good-looking but deeply
not worthy
."
    "No, it's me," Rosie said sharply. "I want to move."
    "Well, I do think you could be a
bit
more central. I hear City Road's a good bet. And King's Cross is apparently the new Belgravia, though admittedly that's stretching it a bit."
    "Not in London. Out. To the country."
    "The
country
?"
    "Yes. I've been thinking about it for a while actually, but I mean it now. I'm dying to live there."
    "You sound," Bella said shrilly, "like Chekhov's
Three Sisters
. Except in reverse." She slammed the lobsters into an oven big enough to roast an entire sheep. "Darling, the country's ghastly. You never know what you're standing in, for a start."
    "How can you say that?" gasped Rosie, gesturing at the Arcimboldo bowl. "You buy organic vegetables, don't you? They're grown in the countryside." She decided to give the earth on the potatoes the benefit of the doubt.
    Bella shuddered. "Not mine, darling. Field of dreams dot com grows everything on an allotment in Tulse Hill."
    Rosie tried another tack. "Bel, as far as I'm aware, you've never been to the countryside. How do you know what it's like?"
    "I have so. Not
here
, admittedly—I'm always terrified that if I ever leave London they'll close the gates and not let me back in. But I've been to it in France.
Dreadful
. The ducks quacked all night."
    "Are you sure they weren't toads?"
    Bella reflected on this and went slightly red. Then she relaunched the attack. "But it would be awful. There wouldn't be anyone you know; it would be horribly quiet, pitch black at night…"
    "Yes," said Rosie, smiling. "
Exactly
. It would be perfect to work in. So peaceful."
    Bella's elegant shoulders slumped. "Can't you just go to Hampstead?"
    "So you think it's a terrible idea. I thought you might."
    "We-ell, yes." Bella tested a strand of spaghetti with her perfect white teeth. "And I'd miss you
horribly
," she added petulantly.
    "Oh, Bel. You could always come and stay. Bring Tolly if you want. He's probably never seen a real cow."
    "Darling, you haven't met his headmistress." From her bright black eyes, Bella flashed Rosie an assessing glance. "You really want to do it, don't you?"
    Rosie nodded. "If only Mark could land himself this column he's always talking about, we could go straightaway. It would be bliss."
    Bella vented her feelings by tossing the spaghetti furiously around in the pan.
    "Well, I suppose there is one thing to be said for the countryside," she said eventually, sighing.
    "There
is?"
    "Well, it is rather fashionable at the moment, darling. The new sex, the new black, the new gardening, and all that."
    "Oh, surely not," faltered Rosie, faintly alarmed. "People want a better life, that's all. Seventy-five percent—"
    "No, darling," cut in Bella, "they want better publicity. Surely you've noticed. You can hardly open
Vogue at the momen
t without reading about some Oscar-winning actress making nettle jam in a converted cow shed, free-range chickens clustered round her ankles."
    "Oh." Rosie was not a big
Vogue
reader, despite having once painted some chard for their cookery page.
    "Dog kennels, barns, sheep dips, you name it, some hipster's put sisal down and is living in it," added Bella. "I had to style some obscenely trendy producer's former flour mill turned living space for
Insider
only last week. Amazing place. All the chairs were shaped like teeth and the coffee table was an elephant's head made of chicken wire. All the work of this terrifically happening designer called Basia Briggs, who even you must have heard of, darling."
    Shaking her head, Rosie suppressed a shudder. She made a mental note to get a copy of the latest
Insider
and look in areas as far removed as possible from models who liked to sit on molars. On the other hand, Mark might be more interested in the whole movingout idea if he thought famous people did it too.
***
"To put it at its simplest," Florian was saying as Bella and Rosie, bearing steaming plates of lobster-topped pasta, reentered the dining room, "the idea my company's currently working on is, quite simply, a vintage television station. One channel, as I say, is aimed at middle-class mid-thirtysomethings and devoted entirely to seventies children's TV. Another will screen footage of the Second World War. Another, and this is the one we're really banking on, will be devoted to Princess Diana…"
    "My idea," Xa said proudly, the brilliant beam she directed round the room marred only by a smudge of lipstick on her teeth. She caught Rosie's eye. "Your very charming boyfriend's just been telling us that
you
want to move to the countryside," she announced. "And that he doesn't."
    Rosie flashed a furious look at Mark. How dare he discuss their disagreements in public? He gave her a glazed look in return; his bleariness, she suddenly realized, was actually inebriation. His late arrival was no doubt due less to excessive working hours than to excessive after-hours consumption of gassy lager with his colleagues.
    "But I think the country sounds rather fun," slurred Xa. "We once thought about buying a beach hut in Norfolk. Simply brilliant for bucket and spade holidays."
    She looked wistful. At least, Rosie thought, that was the charitable interpretation of her rolling eyes and slack mouth. "I'd love to live in a village," she drawled.
    Across the table from Rosie, Mark's face was expressionless. He was either drinking everything in or had drunk everything already.
    A muscle twitched in Florian's cheek. "We
live
in a village," he said through gritted teeth. "It's called Blackheath. And what about Orlando, anyway? Where the hell would he go to school?"
    "I'm thinking of taking Orlando out of St. Midas's, actually," Xa retaliated. "There are at least ten other Orlandos in his class and it gets very confusing. Bloody headmistress is always bloody ringing up complaining how ginger Orlando has beaten up curly Orlando or run off with small Orlando's Pokémon cards."
    "Oh, dear," said Rosie. "What an awful bully. How worrying for you. Which Orlando is yours?"
    "Ginger."
    "Oh."
    There was a silence.
    "Thought of the pub market?" Simon suddenly barked at Rosie, the long hairs on his eyebrows bristling. These, along with his stubby, snouty nose and pink face, always reminded her of a wild boar.
    "Rosie wants to paint peacefully in the country, darling," said Bella, rolling her eyes at Rosie. "Not pull pints and dole out pork scratchings while everyone stares at her arse."
    "Realized that. Actually meant the buildings. Hundreds closing every week now, and don't I know it. Quite nice old places, some of them."
    "Oh. Shame," said Bella.
    "Well, they're there to make money for pub companies first and foremost," Simon said thickly as he drained his red wine. "Don't run them as bloody charities."
    There was another silence.
    "Abattoirs," said Florian suddenly.
    "I beg your pardon?" said Xa.
    "Abattoirs," Florian repeated. "New rock 'n' roll, propertywise.
Thousands
gone into receivership since the mad cow thing. Did a program about it not long ago."
Rosie shuddered.
    "Creutzfeldt-Jakob's apparently the best thing that ever happened to the rural property market," Florian added. "Specially now that the bottoms fallen out of chapels."
    "Has it?" said Bella, watching Florian help himself to the Margaux.
    "Oh, ya. Used to be ten a penny, but you can't get a Primitive Methodist this side of a hundred thousand these days. There was one on the moors outside Halifax going for one hundred twenty-two thousand last time I looked. But it
has
got planning permission for a swimming pool."
    "Well," Bella said after a pause, "that doesn't sound very Methodist. Certainly sounds primitive though."
    Rosie looked at her plate, wishing they would change the subject. It had obviously never crossed either Simon's or Florian's mind that one might wish to move to the countryside for any motive other than profit. Assistance came in the unexpected and inebriated guise of Xa.
    "Let's play charades now, anyway," she yelled suddenly. "The one where we have to guess London restaurant dishes. What's this, everyone?" She immediately launched into a series of impressions of Donald Duck, someone wearing a crown and the frantic mixing of something in a bowl.
    "Two Fat Ladies," bawled Florian, so loudly Rosie saw Bella shoot an involuntary glance upward to where, three floors above, Ptolemy lay in state in his
Terminator
-themed nursery.
    Xa flung him a contemptuous stare. "It's got to be something off a
menu
, you moron. Who's this?" She mimed the crown again, then someone at the wheel of a car that then apparently twisted out of control. By the way of finale, Xa threw herself violently into Bella's mantelpiece-free chimney breast, whose fireplace was so minimal it was merely a square hole in the wall.
    "Princess Di!" shouted Bella in sudden triumph. "Princess Di, a cake, and a duck…
oooh
,
oooh
…it's got to be the foie gras on a sweet-corn pancake from Kensington Palace!"
***
"I take it all back," Mark slurred as, what seemed like years later, they waited for the night bus in Upper Street.
    "You do?" Rosie's heart almost stopped. She had spent the whole of the walk to the stop propounding the countryside-is-stuffed-withcelebrities argument. Had she got through at last?
    "Yes," Mark hiccuped as the N73 rounded the corner, packed to the gills. "Much better evening than I thought. Quite interesting." He heaved himself on as the bus doors sprang open. "You'd miss all that sort of thing in the countryside. Nothing to do there."
    Almost violent with disappointment, Rosie shoved him determinedly on board the reeking vehicle, then, thanks to his lack of coordination, she paid the inevitable price as it tried to move off.
    "When a woman is tired of London, Mark," she said sighing, once she had struggled free, "she is not necessarily tired of life. Just sick of getting trapped in the closing doors of the night bus."

Chapter Two

Rosie awoke the next morning with a fuddled head and the pressing memory of an illustration of a member of Parliament she needed to do by the afternoon.
    "William Hague!" she gasped. "I need William Hague."
    "Well, that's something you don't hear very often." Mark groaned from under the duvet. During the night, Rosie had been dimly aware of him rushing out of bed and making buffalo-in-agony noises in the bathroom.
    "I'd better go and get the papers. There's bound to be a picture of him I can copy in one of them."
    Craster Road, East Ham, looked its usually unlovely self as Rosie tramped down it. A collection of upturned wheelbarrows, odd socks, and plastic containers festooned the few front gardens not covered in concrete paving to provide a berth for a large mustard-colored car at least ten years of age. At the end of the road, Rosie turned toward the Tube station and its adjoining newsagent. Walking past the green wire fence dividing the pavement from the soggy park and children's zoo, she remembered how, six weeks ago, a gang of thugs had broken in and terrorized all of the little animals. Her urge to leave the city, Rosie knew, had crystallized from that moment.
    The tiny Asian newsagent looked up from his high stool in front of the register and smiled faintly as she approached. He was, she saw, reading the etiquette page of
Good Housekeeping.
    "How are you?" Rosie deposited a sheaf of newspapers on the counter.
    "Bearing down," replied Mr. Jayhind, adding up her bill on the keys with elegant fingers and a lugubrious air.
    "You mean bearing up."
    "No. Bearing down."
    Her head still throbbing slightly, Rosie smiled at him. "I know what you mean."
    Mark had left for work by the time she returned. Spreading the papers out so that they almost entirely covered the hairy orange floor tiles (an enormous improvement in the decor), Rosie eventually found a picture of William Hague with one of his constituents. "Barn Stormer" read the headline above the picture of an ancient structure standing in the middle of a moor not so much desolate as anguished. A man was standing next to it, receiving the congratulations of the Tory leader. Rosie peered closely at William Hague's face. Could she use it?
BOOK: Farm Fatale
9.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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