Christmas at the Vicarage(3)By: Rebecca Boxall
‘My bedroom’s looking very pretty,’ she remarked, taking a large mouthful of piping hot shepherd’s pie. They were sitting at the scrubbed kitchen table in the corner of the kitchen, tucked snugly beside the old red Aga.
‘Ah yes, as soon as we knew you were coming home we decided to freshen things up a little for you. I’m glad you like it.’
‘We?’ Rosamunde asked. She held her breath.
‘Yes, me and Mrs Garfield, of course. She still helps me in the house. She was here this afternoon, in fact. Left just before you arrived but sends you her love. Such a treasure. Who did you think I meant?’
‘Oh, no one,’ Rosamunde replied. She felt unaccountably disappointed. Since their mother had died Rosamunde and her sister had often wondered if their father would remarry. Initially the thought had horrified them and they’d made sure to be as unpleasant as possible whenever anyone remotely pretty was invited for tea. But as time went by they had begun to hope he might one day find someone to keep him company once they left home.
Rosamunde had forgotten that, of course, Mrs Garfield was the only womanly touch in the Vicarage. Dear Mrs Garfield, the domestic help for as long as Rosamunde could remember. Indeed, more than just a help. A comfort. A shoulder to cry on. As round and squashy as a doughnut, sweet as the jam in the middle, but fiercely efficient and hard-working.
Rosamunde opened the bathroom door the next morning and was surprised to stumble upon a Mrs Garfield who’d undergone an even more dramatic transformation than her childhood bedroom. Where her plain but cheerful face had previously been framed with a mass of grey, frizzy curls, a glossy chestnut bob was now tucked behind her ears, making her subtly made-up eyes gleam with life. Also long gone were the comforting curves Rosamunde remembered: Mrs Garfield’s svelte new figure was wrapped in indigo boot-cut jeans and a crimson jumper.
‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost!’ shrieked Mrs Garfield, dropping the can of polish in her hands and gathering Rosamunde into a hug that was no less all-encompassing for her newly slender frame.
‘But Mrs G,’ gasped Rosamunde, stepping back to assess her old friend again. ‘You’re like a new woman!’
‘Get away with you! I’m still the same underneath,’ Mrs Garfield smiled, clearly pleased with the compliment. ‘GHDs, you know,’ she added in her wonderfully confidential manner. Rosamunde looked lost.
‘You know! Hair straighteners! That frizzy mop of mine is a thing of the past. Mr Garfield passed away a couple of years ago now and your sister took me to one side after the funeral and told me it was “now or never”, and that if I took a train to London she’d give me a free makeover.’
Rosamunde rolled her eyes and smiled at Rachel’s famous tactlessness and sense of timing. A flamboyant whirlwind of vitality, Rachel was a force to be reckoned with.
‘Rachel gave me all this information about what colours and styles suit me, how I should do my hair – she even gave me some old GHDs of hers. Then we went shopping for make-up. Next thing I did when I got back to Potter’s Cove was sign up for Weight Watchers at the church hall, and here I am, just turned sixty and never felt so good!’
‘I’m impressed,’ said Rosamunde. ‘But listen, why don’t we go downstairs and have a cup of tea and you can tell me what else has been going on in the last fifteen years?’
A wonderfully gossip-fuelled breakfast followed with Bernie – who was multi-tasking by half-heartedly preparing a sermon with one eye, while fixing the other on the crossword – contributing to Mrs G’s debrief. Once satisfied she’d been brought fully up to date, Rosamunde decided to take a walk straight down to Outer Cove below.
As she strolled along, she marvelled at the changes she’d already encountered, changes she somehow hadn’t expected. To her, Potter’s Cove and everyone in it had remained as they’d been fifteen years ago when she’d left at the age of twenty-eight, visiting only briefly and infrequently since.
Rosamunde tucked her dark red hair into her velvet coat, so that it acted as a scarf in the absence of a woollen one, and braced herself for her first close-up of the cove. Here, standing at the edge of the slipway and peering down at the waves crashing angrily onto the shore below, she finally gave herself over to her memories. It was like releasing a dam: the floodgates had opened.
The summer of 1978 was the gloomiest summer Rosamunde and Rachel had ever known. The sun beat down oppressively but their hearts were cold and heavy. They wondered if life would ever be normal again. At the funeral they were as quiet as mice. They were so in awe of the enormous crowds that neither of them shed a tear. Rosamunde was naturally shy and could hardly bear to look at anyone, but if she glanced up for a moment she noticed the pitying, inquisitive looks on every single face. All she could hear were murmured whispers.