Having uncovered corruption in the most unlikely of places, Libby is seeking advice from those around her.
As always when in need of advice, encouragement, and a bit of vindictive support, I went to see Maggie.
I tried to get advice and support from Oliver, but he’s a bloke. Nursery school dirty politics don’t interest him. He was concerned that someone else’s brat was picking on our son, however, so he took Jack aside for some man-to-man words of wisdom. The gist was that if Dominic caused any more grief, Jack was to beat him to a pulp, and Dominic wouldn’t do it again. Then I informed Oliver that Dominic was the son of Caroline, and Oliver turned a little pale and told Jack that Daddy was only joking, because violence is never the answer.
Caroline is the wife of Oliver’s boss, you see.
So, slightly disgusted with my turncoat husband, off I went to visit Maggie. No double standards from her.
When Jack and I arrived at her house, a strange car was parked outside, and I hesitated for a moment. Maggie doesn’t normally have guests, and I didn’t want to interrupt, but while I stood on her porch deliberating whether or not to knock, the front door opened.
“Hi, Mag—” I started to say, before realising it wasn’t Maggie who had opened the door, but the exotic woman I’d met in the Maxwell Plum at the Christmas party.
“How wonderful to see you again!” Anna Gianni exclaimed. “Come in and sit down – we just made coffee.”
So Jack and I sat on Maggie’s squashy blue velvet sofa and watched two squirrels playing tag around the trunk of the maple tree outside the window, while Anna and Maggie crashed around in the kitchen. Call me possessive and silly, but I felt my role of Maggie’s adopted daughter had just been usurped. Crashing around in the kitchen with Maggie was my job.
Anna carried a tray into the living room and set it on the wicker trunk Maggie used as a coffee table.
“I’ve been meaning to call you ever since New Year’s,” she said, handing me a white china cup with violets hand-painted on it. “But the restaurant’s been really busy, and Frankie’s mother hasn’t been well. I always try to follow through with my promises, but sometimes life gets in the way. Know what I mean?”
I thought about my own January, the news from the ultrasound, and the problems I was having with Patsy Traynor.
“I know what you mean.”
Maggie emerged from the kitchen with a plate of brownies, and Jack looked up hopefully. She sat down in her rocking chair and beckoned him over.
“No school today, Jack?” she asked, handing him a brownie.
Jack crammed half the brownie into his face and shook his head, chewing. Then he crammed the other half in. Brownie juice ran out of the sides of his mouth.
“Gross, Jack.” I patted my pockets for clean tissues but found only a Snickers wrapper. Anna got up from her armchair and headed for the kitchen. “We’ve got a little B-U-L-L-Y-I-N-G problem at the moment, I’m afraid,” I said. “By another child, I mean.”
“This is at Patsy’s school?” Anna called from the kitchen.
“And what is dear Patsy doing about this little problem?” asked Maggie.
Anna returned with a pile of paper napkins, and used one to scrub the chocolate from Jack’s face.
“That depends on who the child is, doesn’t it?” she said. “The fact that Jack is at home suggests to me that Patsy has done nothing. The troublemaker is still at school, and therefore the mother of the troublemaker is someone Patsy feels she must suck up to.”
I stared at her. “How do you know all that?” I asked at last.
“Patsy might have got rid of the teenage zits, my dear, but she never changed her spots.” Maggie held her arms out to Jack, and he climbed on her lap. “Anna knows her of old.”
“She used to be best friends with your landlady,” Anna said. “Patsy is still the same suck-up as when she was sixteen. Anyone rich, influential, slightly different, and she was all over them, hoping for a piece of reflected power or glory. At one time you might have qualified because you’ve got a British accent, but the town is overrun with Brits now. You need to either win the lottery or do something out of the ordinary.”
I said that since I was “ordinary” personified and we’d never bought a lottery ticket, that probably meant I should start looking around for a new nursery school for Jack.
“Unless I can make it known that she takes bribes. Would Wikileaks be interested? Could I write an anonymous letter to the Woodhaven Observer?”
“You can write it by all means,” Maggie said, “but they won’t print it. The chief editor is Patsy’s uncle. And he co-owns the nursery school.”
I was shocked. “Does this kind of thing go on a lot round here?”
“All the time,” Anna said. “Woodhaven is simply a microcosm of every government in the world, with bribes and abuse of power running riot. You think this is bad? You should have been here twenty-five years ago.”
“What happened then?” I asked.
Anna hesitated. “I think that’s Maggie’s story to tell.”
Maggie looked down into her lap, and I knew this was another piece of Woodhaven’s history that I wouldn’t hear just yet.
“The only way to get by in this town,” said Anna, “is to beat them at their own game.”
I thought. “I’m not sure how I would do that.”
“You have to make your presence at Patsy’s school more desirable than this other woman’s. What’s her name?”
“Caroline. And she’s Oliver’s boss’s wife,” I added.
Anna and Maggie both sucked in their breath. “Tricky,” they agreed.
“Patsy’s a germ-phobe.” Maggie nodded at Anna. “Always was. I don’t know if we can do anything with that.” I wondered what she had in mind. A vial of anthrax? Smallpox? Typhoid? “Remember the boy with impetigo a few years ago? Banned him from the school for weeks, and when the mother finally brought him back, Patsy had given his place to someone else.”
I wondered how Patsy reconciled her germophobia with her dust-laden office, then decided that you didn’t have to be rational to be phobic about anything.
“I heard about that. And the replacement mother was expecting twins. Patsy’s husband is an identical twin,” Anna told me. “When they were first dating, he had to study for some midterm exams, so he sent his brother to take Patsy out for dinner. She never noticed the difference, she says. I often wonder about that date. Bet her husband does, too.”
“I feel that’s taking sibling devotion too far, don’t you?” Maggie murmured.
“At least ours won’t have that problem,” I said. “Not with one of each.”
Anna stared. “You’re having twins?”
“Didn’t Maggie tell you?”
“It’s not my news to broadcast, Libby.”
“Because,” Anna said with enthusiasm, “you could use this to your advantage. Patsy loves having twins at her nursery school. She gets her uncle in from the newspaper, and they do a big feature on how many sets of twins there are in one year. Local nauseating news kind of thing. And then they call in Local Fox News, and they do a piece on it, and Patsy gets a shitload of publicity and gets booked up for the next three years and can charge what she likes.” She paused to reach over for another brownie. “But you see, the thing is, there are more schools in Woodhaven now. The twins are diluted, and Patsy can’t charge what she likes any more.”
“So she just takes bribes instead,” Maggie chimed in. “But it doesn’t really help Libby. The other child, this Dominic, he has to go. Tell me, Libs, does he have impetigo? Recurring conjunctivitis? Feet covered in verrucae? She hates those in summer, when all the children run around in the wading pool.”
I shook my head sadly. “None of those, as far as I know. He’s quite lovely to look at, actually, a Little Lord Fauntleroy. He even has the blond curls. I guess she can’t bear to get his hair cut yet.”
I remembered when I finally had to take Jack for his first haircut, and all his little baby curls fell to the floor. He looked like a shorn sheep, and I cried all the way home. So I couldn’t blame Caroline for wanting to keep those curls for a while longer.
“Shame.” Anna checked her watch, then jumped out of her chair. “Jesus H Christ, I told Frankie I’d be home a half hour ago.” She bent down and pecked Maggie on the cheek.
“I’ll give you a call, Libby. Really. I promise. Don’t let Patsy Traynor get you down, OK?”
I started to say No, I wouldn’t, but she had already gone.
“You don’t often hear people curse like she does in this town, do you?” I said.
Maggie laughed. “You’d never guess her father was a Pastor in Woodhaven at one time.”
“No! What’s the story there?”
But Maggie just smiled and said nothing.
Another piece of Woodhaven history I would have to figure out myself.
To be continued next week
Next: LIBBY’S LIFE #38 – The battle of the tigers
Previous: LIBBY’S LIFE #36 – Filthy cash, dirty deeds
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