Carl proved himself to be an even more salacious source of gossip in the car than he was at the café. The fact that he liked to punctuate his stories with flamboyant hand gestures, leading to much slewing backwards and forwards across the road, added to the carnival atmosphere.
One moment Carl was intimating what he knew about the mysterious departure of a business executive from one of Queenstown’s top jobs. ( “All I know is that the woman got a payout”) to telling stories about which a supposedly happy family man was in fact a frequent visitor to the One Mile toilet block in search of trouser mamba action .(“His wife MUST know. There’s no way you could look at that man and think he’s straight. He’s a walking stereotype, right down to the moustache!”)
All of which lifted Karen’s spirits immensely.
Grace was waiting and ready to go when Karen arrived. The combined effect of a hangover and pain from her injuries had knocked a little of her normal exuberance out of her. She also looked slightly scared, something Karen put down to knowing the parental punishment axe was about to descend but not being sure exactly when it was timetabled for.
“Good,” Karen thought. “Let her wait. That will keep her in line for a bit.”
To tell the truth, Karen wasn’t exactly sure how she was going to discipline Grace over this. Send her to her room? Take away her iPod? Make her clean toilets at the café? Did any of that ever have an effect?
And what about the dope? Karen knew someone who sent their kid for drug testing on a regular basis. It hadn’t stopped the kid smoking dope but had made her hate her parents.
“If I was a good mother, I’d know what to do,” Karen thought, then she reconsidered.
“Actually, if I was a good mother, Grace wouldn’t behave like this.”
It made her wonder if maybe Grant had a point about not having the baby. After all, she didn’t seem to be displaying much of a knack for raising the child she had.
”How are you feeling, Gracie?” she asked gently.
“Fine,” said Grace in a small, wobbly voice.
“Yeah, that’s right,” thought Karen, “work the little girl angle.”
Oops, the Bad Mother strikes again. Did other mothers think so cynically about their kids?
“Is your arm sore?”
“What about the rest of you?”
“I’m OK, I just wanna go home.”
Karen helped Grace to the car, where she spent the ride home crumpled in the back seat like a dying swan, staring moodily at the roof and occasionally sighing in a piteous fashion. On arrival, she went straight into the house saying she wanted to sleep.
Carl and Karen watched her as she headed inside.
“I could have sworn that child was limping on the other leg when we left the hospital,” said Carl.
“She was,” said Karen. “It’s one of her tactics. She thinks we’ll go easier on her if we feel sorry for her. God, who’d be the mother of a teenager! ”
“You handle it well, Mrs Miller.”
“I’m not too sure about that but thank you anyway. Fancy a coffee and a piece of cake? I’ve got some of that caramel slice you like so much.”
“Oh, I thought you’d never ask. Lead me to the confectionary!”
For the next hour they nattered away companionably about all sorts of things. Karen talked about how the cafe and Grant had lured her away from teacher’s training college and into the world of food. Carl talked about his rackety career in journalism, which seemed to have involved copious amounts of alcohol and being fired from every paper in Fleet Street.
“That’s how I ended up here. I’d burnt my last bridge in London and things were quite grim. For a nasty moment I thought I was going to have to go and work in the provinces but I had a stroke of good luck which gave me the wherewithal to escape to New Zealand. And here I am, having a gay old time in Queenstown.”
“But don’t you miss it?” asked Karen. “I mean, you had a column in a major British newspaper.”
“The columnist is dead, darling. Opinions are like bums, everyone’s got one. In the age of the internet, where every halfwit with access to a keyboard is spewing every detail of their mundane lives and not very exciting opinions into cyberspace, everyone’s a columnist. I mean, you’d remember what my blog was like when it first started. I was ranting on about what I thought about the council and writing some very worthy stuff. I was a real firebrand and you know what? No one read it.”
Karen looked a bit sheepish. “Have to admit I read the first one or two then gave up.”
“Precisely! It’s exactly the same with the editorials in the Lakes Weekly Bulletin. They were super at the beginning but now I don’t bother because it’s the same man every week telling us what he thinks and it’s just dull. That’s why I turned to gossip. People aren’t interested in what I think, they’re interested in what I know and I know a lot of people and I also know what they get up to.”
He smiled impishly. “Plus it gives me enormous scope to stir the pot.”
Karen passed him the plate of caramel slice. ‘You sound like you’re plotting something. Should we be worried?”
“Worried, no,” he giggled, ‘Prepared for fun, yes. Can you keep a secret Mrs Miller? I’m going to run for mayor.”
All characters in Remarkables Lane are fictitious and any resemblance to any person alive or dead is purely coincidental…. No seriously, you’re really not that interesting