by Elaine P. Chiew
Our friends’ house was made of stone and had existed for 400 years. When they invited us to come down for the weekend, they said it had a quaint village one road long, two pubs across the road from each other which squabbled, and a 500 year-old tide-mill. These were selling points.
Our friends had land — acres of it — and wife and husband showed us with sweeping hands where little furry animals had dug burrows and bees had built hives in the roots of a giant oak. Ivy clung everywhere and the air was thick with the scent of horse manure. We walked around in an admiring pose, wondering what it was Jacobeans did with stone-walled cave-like spaces in the shape of a spade. Our friends chatted to us about herb gardens they would start and themed parties they would throw for the whole village once they’d renovated. They squatted, digging up brambles from the ground with gloved hands and a garden fork. Our friends wiped their brows and squinted at the contours of their Jacobean stone-house against the paleness of a cloud-swept sky.
“Isn’t this just the life?” they said. “You can come down as often as you like.”
Our friends also showed us a bothy they owned; they were tickled pink by the boffy, was how they pronounced it. We practiced saying ‘boffy’ and spelling it aloud — boffy, boffey, boffi, boffin. Until we learned that actually, we had it all wrong. Not boffy, but bothy. The romance leaked out a little, but our friends were bristling with words for us and for each other, and we suffered watching them.
Our friends’ neighbour invited us to a medieval party. The food was not medieval, but the table was decorated with bowls of fruit and wooden plates hewn from tree trunks. We did not have the correct costumes, and pressed the children present into drawing paper crowns and paper drumsticks which we pretended to wield like many Henry the VIIIs.
There was a swing attached to the branch of an elm over which the children squabbled. The arch of the swing reached over an incline and extended over a stream. A brook ran past, actually babbling. Our friend the wife said, isn’t this so storybook Enid Blyton? But we secretly thought Hot Fuzz. We snapped photos with our iphones through the darkness, drank beer, sat on bundled hay and brandished grilled sausages with our forks and said how medieval.
The medieval party was a huge success and then it was not. The host played The Script and Imagine Dragons on a boom-blaster near the beer kegs, which might’ve been the cause of the punch-up, or maybe it was just because the air blew bonfire smoke, the people were young, the kegs were full, and there was something about the way the moon hung so pendulous that set people’s teeth on edge.
Our friend the wife said how magnetic the host was. He was an aging hippie who kept his hair back with an Alice band and wore mismatched tights, although the tunic he wore looked appropriate enough. When he smiled, there was a tooth missing. He said, I have a rooster who barks at the moon in the morning, and we laughed. Our friend the husband wiped his eyes and said how beautiful life was. Or maybe he cried because it was not.
That evening, very late, we saw our friend the wife come out of the bothy with the magnetic host. She tottered on her spindly high heels, and then she gestured — her right hand coming down like a gate to partition the joint of her left wrist, sliding up to the crook of her elbow. As we watched, the magnetic host leaned down and kissed the area. Then he lit a cigarette for her.
You and I fought for the first time in years.
You said, “So what if he has acres? Was that what he wanted us to see?”
I said, “What are you really upset about?”
“I can’t believe she’s doing this to him.”
I saw it then — undisguised, a mere glimpse — your envy of our friend the husband, your desire for our friend the wife. The body is also real estate.
In the evening, our friends set up a powerful telescope to gaze at the moon. They wanted to catch Neptune but it was occluded by the tall trees on the land.
The magnetic host invited all four of us back to his house after the children left. Our friend the wife said we should go, we didn’t want to seem too uppity. Our friend the husband said nothing; he worked on getting the best clarifying view of the moon, his eye glued to the aperture of the telescope.
We saw the moon. We saw it and realised neither he, she, you nor I have ever truly looked at the moon before. The rim of the moon, up close, was cratered like the sides of a grey sponge. It was so clear it was like the breath of children. Our friends didn’t kiss and neither did we.
Elaine P. Chiew is the editor/compiler/contributor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015) and her short stories have won prizes, including the Elbow Prize (2015) and Bridport International Short Story Prize (2008). She’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and shortlisted/longlisted in several competitions, including most recently, Short Fiction (2016), BBC Opening Lines (2015), Mslexia (2014) and Fish Short Story Contest (2012). Her stories are published in numerous places, including most recently, Smokelong Quarterly, Unthology 7 (Unthank Books, 2015) and One World (New Internationalist, 2009). She blogs about food and fiction at www.redemptioninthekitchen.blogspot.com.