On Wednesday as planned we met at the local café. I arrived feeling a sense of trepidation and hoped Caroline would be on time, true to her word. I needn’t have worried. She was sitting with a large teacup and a newspaper in hand looking resplendently at ease. Her crisp white capris were perfectly pressed and she oozed with effortless confidence from across the room. As I entered the café she smiled warmly at me and stood up to kiss me on the cheek. I had never been kissed on the cheek by anyone. Not even on my wedding day.
“The children will be fine in the kids corner dear. The toys are a bit shabby, but you know boys. They’ll barely notice!” Of course I knew Luke would be more worried about his ability to crash the trains into each other than how shiny the paint was. He looked up at me and I nodded. In a flash he went off to join Aiden in the large corner dedicated to a large train table with dozens of trains and a good few metres worth of track. There was also a huge wooden doll house with intricate furniture and a few perfectly crafted dolls.
Layla sat in her capsule contentedly. I ordered a large hot chocolate and a brownie and Caroline frowned. “You sure you want to eat that?”
I stopped and stared at her. “What do you mean? I haven’t eaten yet today.”
“Darling Layla is past three months now. Last week you were in good shape for a woman with a newborn. Now you don’t have a newborn anymore. You have a baby. People will expect more. I’m only telling you because, well, Linda will certainly mention it.” I could see she was on edge.
The waitress was looking at me expectantly. “Skim hot chocolate then?”
“No marshmallow.” Caroline interjected. “It’s a start. Here they are.” She smoothed down her capris. I noticed her makeup was less natural today. Her vivacious energy was bordering on highly strung.
Something about Linda exudes control, as if everything that is happening right now is exactly as she planned it. I sensed she quite enjoyed the affect she had on Caroline. Brita and Elizabeth sauntered in behind her. Something about this casual get together reminded me distinctly of the lunch time politics of the school yard. It went over my head then and not much had changed.
I tuned out as the other women in our group exchanged veiled pleasantries barbs shrouded in back handed compliments. “I love those shoes. I used to have them, but I had to throw them out when I updated my look this season. My shoe closet was positively brimming!” Then more pleasantries. “I must give you the number of my beauty therapist. She’d do wonders with your skin darling.”
I scanned the café for some more clues about Snobsville, hoping for some inspiration for conversation starters that would project exactly the right mix of confidence and class. In my current circumstances I felt I possessed neither. No matter what part of Snobsville I visited I always seemed to get it just slightly wrong. I hadn’t quite cracked the code yet and I still felt like a blaring neon sign juxtaposed against a perfectly shaded beige wall.
I was captivated by a woman ordering a large cappuccino to go at the counter. She was heavily pregnant and dressed in corporate attire. She didn’t quite fit in either, but somehow it didn’t matter. She was calm and well presented. She looked perfectly put together. Perfectly beige. Her hair was swept into a slightly messy pony tail, her suit accentuated her neat little bump and she seemed at ease with herself and the environment.
“It’ll just be a minute. Take a seat.”
She walked over to a small bench for take away customers which was currently occupied by a well dressed man in a dark suit and an elderly couple in tennis attire. I secretly wondered if the older couple were swingers.
The corporate lady looked at the suited man. Next to him the older gentleman spoke up. “Aren’t you going to offer her your seat?”
The man looked genuinely shocked. “Mate, this is an Armani suit. I don’t want any of those kids running past getting their grubby hands on it!”
The older man shook his head. “Here you go dear. You look ready to burst! Not long now hey?”
The woman smiled appreciatively. “Actually my due date is next week. Today is my last day at work.” I wondered how she seemed so oblivious to the fact that she was so obviously different to the rest of the women here. Her ignorance fascinated me.
“Mu-um!” Luke was tugging at my jeans which were now smeared with this mornings vegemite care of his grubby little fingers. They were always grubby, even seconds after I washed them. I wondered if the Armani man had noticed him.
“I want something to eat.”
“Oh. Well, you’ve been pretty good. Do you want a donut?”
Muffled laughter. “What’s so funny?”
“You won’t find a donut here dear. Luke which flavour of macaroon is your favourite?” Elizabeth may as well have been speaking Japanese. Before he could answer Caroline got up. “I’ll get an assorted plate. All the boys can pick at it. Would you girls indulge in a mezze plate?”
It appeared Caroline had firmly picked me for her team. I wondered if that was a good thing or not. At the very least, I suppose I was on a team and not left alone in the school yard staring at my shoes.
Elizabeth turned her attention back to me. I was beginning to feel a bit like a science experiment. “He’s very…spirited isn’t he? Have you considered going organic? Charlton’s behaviour has really improved since we cut out sugar and preservatives. We’re full macro now.” Her tone was mildly annoying but I smiled at her politely if just in support of team Caroline.
“Oh. No, he likes his treats. And he’s as thin as a bean.”
“Yes. And so energetic. I would wonder where it comes from, but I suppose it’s the donuts!” I think it was the first sentence Linda had spoken directly to me. I noticed after she smiled (or was it a smirk) that she had a tendency to purse her lips as if she had just swallowed a sour lemon lolly. Except that she was probably ‘full macro’ too.
The conversation moved on to talking about nannies and cleaners and Caroline returned.
“We won’t need the nanny next year since both Maddy and Aiden will be at school. But I’ll be damned if I’m giving up my cleaner! I just couldn’t survive without them.”
Linda took her opportunity. “Oh the nanny is so important. We’ll keep her next year too. Kingston needs the extra work to challenge him. You know, since he’s gifted. I don’t use cleaners though. Keeping a tidy home is how I show my husband and children I love them. It’s my gift to them.”
Caroline shot her an imperious look and rolled her eyes. “Ashley prefers I show him that I love him in a different way.”
Brita changed the conversation quickly. “Girls, I must dash. I have a yogalates session with my trainer starting in 20 minutes.” I had wondered why she wore her LuLu Lemon pants to the café. She was decidedly dressed down compared to the rest of the gaggle.
“Let’s get together soon for a walk dear.” Elizabeth’s shrill voice belied the tension around the table.
“Sure honey. Sounds good. In the meantime, can anyone get a leave pass for Friday night?”
“I’ll see if the nanny can stay back. Brian is away on business. Shall we do drinks?”
“Yes, sounds lovely.”
“Is there a local nearby, I haven’t noticed it.” I was desperately looking for an in, though I couldn’t be sure Jason would be home.
Linda sneered. “A local?”
“Yes. A pub. For drinks.” It was more direct than I had planned. I felt like pushing back a little.
Her response was level and pointed. “This is Snobsville dear. Pubs are for twenty year olds and tradesmen. We have wine bars.”