Tiger In A Cage - Excerpt

I stand still, against the cold wall, looking at my former neighbours with an odd sense of detachment, as though they are strangers, and I am gripped by the idea that I should slip away, discreetly. Nobody will miss me. Julia and Gerald have been absorbed into an influx of late-arrivals, landing en-masse; weathered women in ghastly ruched frocks and ineptly rouged faces and their grizzle-bearded, rugged husbands.

But I cannot deny myself the opportunity of being near him. He is very handsome in his dress suit. He, too, has had his hair cut and a close shave. His jaw is smooth. I know he will smell delicious, of a particular brand – I can even name it – of soap.

At last the flurry of arrivals is over and the buffet is announced. There is a movement towards tables, a yoo-hooing and clannish beckoning of friends and relations. Chairs and heads are counted, people hover, jackets and handbags are placed proprietarily. The Combe Close set filch a spare chair and place setting from another table and squash nine around their table for eight.

At last, people are seated. I slip into a chair on a half empty table in a shadowy corner of the room, next to an elderly lady with two sticks who turns out to be Gerald’s distant cousin, and opposite a spectacled man who introduces himself as the driver of the coach which has ferried a cohort of hill-farmers into town, Julia and Gerald’s new neighbours – the ruched and rugged contingent. The other two occupants of the table are a husband and wife who have clearly had a row. No sooner are people settled than tables are called to the buffet. I offer to collect food for the elderly cousin. She gives me a long list of foods which do not agree with her.