'Rufus and Saskia are really doing terribly well' by Sharon Telfer

It comes, as it usually does, not with the nibbles or starters but the main course as the property developer to her right takes a tiny portion of potatoes, though she shouldn’t as she’s on the Atkins but impossible to resist a Nigella, isn’t it, and doesn’t she look so wonderful after the divorce, and – heaving across the unwieldy Le Creuset just as the debate about the right kind of work experience and how many A*s a proper university expects lulls – drops the question, “Do you have children?”

Helen, spoon already raised over a small corner of the dauphinoise, pauses before moving her hand deeper in. She cuts the burnished crust, watches the cream ooze out, dollops a huge spoonful onto her plate.

“Yes,” she says. “One of each.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees her husband turn from the lawyer who bought his holiday cottage for a song, would you believe it, right before the bloody hipsters discovered the place.

Hard for Rufus, poor lamb, she continues. So committed to medicine, after his gap year in Vietnam, but a tenor like his, it would be a crime to ignore it. That’s what makes Cambridge so marvellous, of course, so many opportunities, both creative and intellectual.

The chicken has reached Helen now. Her fork hovers over a modest piece then diverts, spears the plumpest, juiciest strip.

And Saskia, well, if only she’d had that confidence at seventeen. So dedicated, so fit, and you wouldn’t think but that’s where she’s gets all the best ideas for her poems, out running, the rhythm, you see. Thrilled to win that competition, so many entries, well it was national, such a prize the summer school, and that was that, fell head over heels in love with Oxford, well that and His Dark Materials obviously. And once she’s set her heart on something. Can’t wait to go up, already Googling the Bodleian catalogue, in training for her running Blue.

She hands the chicken on, holds her husband’s eye across the table.

“We couldn’t be more proud,” he says, raising his Sancerre and his eyebrows.

The chatter around them has ebbed. When the conversation flows back, it has somehow moved on from university applications to Brexit.

They order the taxi early, with apologies. Saskia has a big race the next day.

“I can’t believe you actually did that,” he says, fastening his seatbelt.

“We’ll never see any of those people again. I’ve no idea why they even invited us.”

They bubble into giggles fermented by, let’s be honest, much better wine than they’re used to.
In their quiet, immaculate flat, she flips off her heels, feeds the cat scraps of chicken she’d slipped into her bag. Still too wired for bed, they channel-hop until they find an ancient Good Life, just the thing. They settle back, clink mugs of cocoa to Rufus and Saskia, their perfect imaginary children.

Comments

  1. Sharon this is wonderful. You feel the tension rising all the way through and the relief when she is flawed.

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  2. This had me hooked from the start and I just love the ending.

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  3. Wonderful, I just want to slap Rufus and Saskia around their perfect smug faces.

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  4. Totally relate to this, Sharon. Totally! So well told - well done.

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  5. I didn't see that coming!! Excellent!

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  6. This is hilarious - brilliant.

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