“Oh God, Oh No! Oh it’s terrible, I know!”
Caroline was chatting into her mobile phone as she walked, murmuring excitedly as she bounced through the suburbs in her pink valeur tracksuit. Far from slowing her down, her pace increased with each juicy new tid bit.
“Oh, I heard she went to Thailand. Yes. Well, Jamie has always liked a bit of a tweak here and there.”
We exchanged furtive glances as she talked, each response from this side of the conversation offering clues as to what had Caroline so entranced. She clearly knew the effect her gossiping was having on our little walking group, and was heightening the drama. Each little snippet was carefully crafted not only to draw out as much information as she could from the person at the other end, but also to tease her audience.
From what I could gather she was referring to Jamie, a step-mother from the class below Luke at Prep. I didn’t know her personally, but knew her well by sight. In fact, everyone in Snobsville knew her by sight, ironically by the constant changing in her appearance. She was a small woman, diminutive in stature and in build. At least she was when I first met her. I am reliably informed that Jamie’s husband, (a divorce lawyer named Ainsley), had been working a few too many long nights with his younger personal assistant, and that the relationship was a little too…well, personal. Though it’s not clear if Jamie actually knew about her husband’s alleged extra-curricular activities, (I have no idea how she wouldn’t since most of Snobsville did), rumour has it she took a few quick trips to Thailand and came back several kilos thinner. I had grilled Caroline about it a few weeks back.
“What do you mean? Why was she in Thailand?”
“She was getting work done dear.”
Caroline smiled at me as if I was a country bumpkin, my first day in the big city – a mixture of pity, condescension, and ecstasy at the thought of re-educating me.
“You’re so sweet Marley. No dear, she’s never worked a day in her life. Well, not since she was Ainsley’s assistant. And I don’t think Ainsley’s first wife was too thrilled about that particular working relationship!” She smiled at me knowingly, and my curiosity was sufficiently peaked.
I tried to respond in a nonchalant way, searching for a response that said ‘I’m quite above this gossip you keep feeding me, but if it makes you feel better, go right ahead and tell me’. Of course, inwardly, (and probably outwardly truth be told), I was hooked long ago.
“Oh. She’s not his first wife?”
“Oh no. So it should come as no surprise to her that her husband found a new assistant to, ah, assist him. Personally assist him. If you know what I mean.”
I rolled my eyes at her for good measure. “Yes, dear I know what you mean!”
Caroline was taken aback. It was the first time I had called her dear – like she called me most times she addressed me. “Yes. Well, I suppose she wanted to, you know, spruce herself up. She’s never exactly been – how can I say this without sounding bitchy?”
“Don’t bother.” I smiled. After all, she was being bitchy. ”Just say it.”
“She was kind of – well, she wasn’t terribly aesthetically gifted.” Women in Snobsville have mastered the art of veiled criticism, and rarely come out and say something that is directly offensive. It’s not proper. And they like to maintain a façade of being proper. Of keeping up appearances. Also, every compliment, every insult, was given in relation to how ‘gifted’ or “challenged” one was in a particular area. For example, ‘Ainsley’s first wife was clearly matrimonially challenged due to her lack of physical and visual gifts.’ Jamie’s physical gifts, though more appealing than his first wife, apparently left a bit to be desired too. According to Caroline.
“She was unattractive?”
“Yes!” She beamed, glad I was the one to sink to the lowest common denominator first. “Yes, so when she figured out what the PA was assisting him with-“
“You mean that he was screwing his secretary?”
Caroline flashed a wicked smile. “Terribly clichéd isn’t it dear?” She almost whispered it under her breath. “Anyway, when she figured it out, I suppose she didn’t want to end up like the starter wife. He may have been screwing his secretary but he screwed her more in the settlement! Jamie is accustomed to life in Lower Snobsville and doesn’t want to be thrown out with nothing. No kids for alimony either. So she went to Thailand to have a few curves shaved off here and there – you know, nothing major, just a few tweaks – to try and win him back.”
“Why doesn’t she just get it done here? If they have so much money, I mean?”
“It’s not the money dear. She thinks no one will notice her dropping three dress sizes after three trips to Thailand. And also, the last time, so they say-“
“Oh please. Moral superiority doesn’t suit you dear. So THEY say, last time she went she did some assisting of her own!”
“Really?” I could barely contain myself – not that I actually knew Jamie, but still…
Caroline knew she had won me over. “Yes. A cabana boy at the Bang Tao Beach Resort was – well, he was banging-“
“Okay get it!”
“After three surgeries he is apparently completely in love with her. Wants to follow her back to Snobsville.”
“Yes, anyway, I don’t think Ainsley knows that. He’s a divorce lawyer and if they get divorced – well, just don’t mention it to anyone.”
“Who am I going to tell?”
Another knowing smile. Caroline was enjoying this.
“She’s terribly afraid of him leaving her with nothing, so she’s doing whatever she can to get him interested again.”
Though I had never spoken to Jamie, I could see what Caroline meant. She came to prep one morning to drop her step-daughter off with what I naively thought was a broken nose. A few months later I wondered if she had any allergies – her lips were swelling up so much I thought she may have been allergic to seafood and accidentally eaten the wrong Sushi. Then one day after a significant absence she came in and was undeniably changed; her tiny lifeless bosom had been boldly transformed into a work of art worthy of a great sculptor, and held together by a serious infrastructure of invisible scaffolding. She seemed to defy gravity, and judging by the looks she was getting her mission was accomplished. The women looked wistfully at her neckline which sported two giant perfectly rounded softball sized breasts.
“Yuck! Do men actually like that?” I had whispered to the girls.
Brita replied breathlessly. “Who cares what men think? They look unbelievable!”
It was a lesson in the order of things – Jamie may have started her journey into self-improvement in the field of physical aesthetics to impress her husband, but she continued it to impress – and visually defeat – the other mums.
As our little group hurried eagerly to catch up with Caroline I thought about the transformative power of gossip in improving fitness – this had been our best session yet, thanks to Caroline’s one sided story telling. I was starting to feel fitter and more confident, and suddenly felt a little sorry for Jamie, who seemed like such a nice lady underneath all the changes.
Caroline hung up the phone and smiled serenely. “Well, thanks girls! Good session! Who wants a coffee and a macaroon?”
Brita responded with gusto. “So is Jamie okay?”
“Oh, you heard that?” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes again.
“You mean the forty minute conversation you had while we were all walking next to each other? Yeah, we heard!”
“Oh. Well I suppose you’ll find out some time.” She turned to us, solemn faced.
“Jamie – well, she passed away.”
“Ohmigod! Oh, that’s terrible! Those poor little cherubs. What happened?”
“She’s their step mother Brita, not their real mum.”
“Yes, but still…what happened?”
“Oh. So sad. Another trip to Thailand.”
I wondered to myself what else on that body could possibly need to be tucked, tweaked, lifted or ‘shaved’ off.
“Was it a scooter accident? With her, ah, new friend?”
“No Brita dear. Nothing like that. Such a tragedy.” Caroline paused and sighed for effect. Routine butt lift gone wrong.”
“Oh, yes, terribly sad. Wait, can they do that?”
“Honey, if you’ve got the money and a good surgeon, they can do anything you want. Just maybe not in Thailand.”
Brita sighed sadly. “Yes. Let that be a lesson to us all. A good surgeon is as important as a good paediatrician these days. Or even a good hair technician. No need to take unnecessary risks.”
“No dear. None at all.” Caroline replied sombrely.