I took my career-girl friend Abigail to the Harvest Festival assembly at school, where I was delighted to see her dissolve into tears at the sight of Deminimus and Liability dressed as onions. (“Shallots, I hope,” she whispered. “It is a private school, isn’t it?”)
“Just look at the work on that!” she said afterwards, unpeeling them from their layers of brown paper and admiring their rafia top-knots. “Who on earth has the time to do this sort of thing nowadays?”
I clapped a hand over Deminimus’ mouth before he could shout “Mummy does!”, because for some insane reason, in the face of Abigail’s long, swinging dark hair, leather trousers, Docklands flat and full social calendar, I try to maintain the fiction that my own life is a soothing domestic paradise, a life of ease and grace. I have no idea why; Abigail might respect me more if she knew I’d spent the day of her arrival scrubbing crayon off the walls, or that I had successfully resisted the urge to rush Liability to A&E after discovering she had popped an entire pack of aspirin out of their little foil pockets. Even when I found and counted them all I was still panicking, and I hope Abigail didn’t notice that, during the first few hours of her visit, I was holding on tightly to large bits of furniture in a bid to stop myself seizing Liability and legging it to the hospital.
Abigail has come to stay for a few days to have a rest from the City, where she is a corporate lawyer. Subsequently, she doesn’t see the sun very much, even during the summer. Subjudice is utterly smitten, and has taken to wandering around with her father’s mobile clamped to her ear, for even on her break Abigail is in touch with the office, and has already received a few contracts by courier.
Liability is more sceptical than her big sister, and at quiet moments brings to me things she has fished out of Abigail’s case, including expensive skin-firming solutions, a pack of Organon (I grabbed it just before Liability could start popping them out), and intriguingly a half bottle of vodka.
“I wish my life was a bit more like yours,” sighed Abigail as we sat in a café one lunchtime, she with her contracts and her ever-ringing mobile in her bag, me with a squashed packet of Magic Stars and the lower half of a Barbie doll in mine.
I smiled graciously, letting her imagine the little apple pies I rustle up on a quiet afternoon, the sight of three little heads bent down over their homework before Daddy comes home, the laughter and the fun we manage to fit in even before school.
“Which bit?” I suddenly asked, suspicious. “The housewife bit? The mother bit? The legal widow bit? The staying at home and making sure everyone has ironed shirts bit?”