Photograph by Iacopo Pasqui, Story by Anna Mansell
My mother in law takes one look at the lilies I’ve put in our engagement day vase, cut glass not crystal. She sniffs, adjusting her composure then says, ‘Oh. Lilies.’
‘What?’ I ask, like I always do when she says something that she thinks is innocuous but is actually layered with the unsaid. Complicated, like word jenga. You push one, assuming it’s the free one, only to be clattered beneath a whole host of other words that you didn’t even attempt. At least I know it’s coming these days.
‘Oh, no. Nothing. They’re very… striking.’
‘I mean, I think they’re supposed to mean death, aren’t they?’
Aaah, what she really means is she doesn’t think they’re appropriate foliage for a spring, family get together.
‘The Calla ones are Easter, actually,’ I say, rearranging them passive aggressively. ‘New beginnings. Your Antony bought them for me.’
If only he knew.
‘Oh. What a lovely thought,’ she says, about-turning her opinion. ‘Isn’t that a lovely thought, George.’ She points to the flowers as George staggers in the door having just wiped down their car because she hates the muddy sides they get from driving country lanes from their house to ours. ‘Antony bought her them,’ she says, puffed up and proud. ‘So thoughtful.’
She’s always reminded me of Maureen Lipman from the 1980’s BT adverts. A bit on the judgy side but a model contributor to her local community. The woman who baked for the cake sale in aid of the local school even though she sent their Antony to a private one because she couldn’t abide the head teacher, or more likely the fact that he lived with a man. ‘I always knew Antony would make a good husband’ she says, now smiling appreciatively at them.
I encourage George to sit down as I take one of those breaths that you take when you’re resisting giving your real opinion about the good husband her beloved Antony is. The one who only bought me flowers because he’d been sexing his secretary again. That good husband. The man who’s a red Porsche short of walking mid-life cliché.
‘What time will the others get here?’ she asks, peering at the dining table set for eight. She brushes the lace table cloth she gifted us, clearing it of imaginary crumbs. I know they’re imaginary because I took my henry hoover to it before she came. Full suction end from floor to table back to floor again. ‘We said three.’
‘Three? Oh, I thought Antony said two. I’m sorry we’re so early,’ she sing-songs. ‘Still, I can help you with the cooking now, can’t I?’ She clip-clops in her court shoes through to the kitchen. ‘Have you made the pudding batter?’ she innocently asks. And there we have the nub of it. My Mother-in-law arrived early to make sure I didn’t dish up Aunt Bessie’s again. So horrified was she when I did that the last time I cooked for us all, she’s come to check up on me. I bet you she’s got eggs in the car.
‘I’ve not got any eggs, unfortunately. I was just going to use frozen Yorkshire’s.’
‘Frozen!? Oh, no, no. Don’t worry, love. Funnily enough, I picked up some eggs on the way. You’re welcome to use a few of those. George,’ she shouts to my long-suffering father-in-law who is nothing like his son, ‘could you just pop out and get the bantam eggs I picked up from Fenella’s please. She sticks her coiffured head round the door to me. ‘It is nice to know they can roam around her garden.’
Garden my arse. Fenella’s “garden” is a twelve-acre orchard complete with chickens, ducks and a collection of thirteen different apple trees. Fenella’s garden is attached to the family estate home that her husband inherited along with seven generations of status paintings. Fenella became my Mother-in-laws best friend at my Mother-in-laws behest. Poor Fenella? Probably not.
Three hours, and a roast dinner later, Antony lip smacks as he eyes up the port in preparation of his expected cheese board desert. ‘Well that, was bloody lovely,’ he says, stroking the back of my neck. I resist the urge to recoil as he smiles approvingly, unaware that last Sunday, right after we’d had sex and he’d gone in the shower, I had a phone call from his secretary who told me exactly where he’d been the previous day, when he was supposedly “playing golf”. It gave me pause for thought as I lay there in our marital bed, not remotely surprised. It turned out to be just the motivation needed to accept an offer made to me months ago. An offer I wasn’t even sure still stood until I texted the person in question and was met with a resounding and immediate yes.
I stand, holding my hands out to collect the plates when the doorbell goes, exactly at the time I’d suggested.
‘Would you get that, love?’ I ask of Antony, who’s reclining in his chair, picking at his teeth.
I haphazardly stack the dishwasher, straining to hear voices at the front door. ‘Steve? What are you doing here?’ Antony asks. Of his secretary’s long-suffering and very lovely husband.
‘Is Steph in?’
‘Steph? Well, yes, but—’
‘Are you ready?’ he asks.
I open the under-stairs cupboard, pulling out a weekend bag that I packed after Antony had gone, before my Mother-in-law arrived. I sling it over my shoulder, grabbing my coat. ‘I’m ready,’ I say, standing before him. ‘Did you get it?’
He nods, handing me a car key before kissing me like you kiss someone at the start of a brand-new relationship, all desperate and wanting, though usually without a newly collected audience. Wet lipped and full of no fucks, we do the about-turn this time, arm in arm, striding down the driveway to a red, polished Porsche. ‘Hope you don’t mind Antony, but I wiped out our savings. Thanks for those lilies. Here’s to new beginnings.’
Anna Mansell has written four novels, published by Bookouture, achieving Top 10 status on the iBooks chart, plus Amazon Top 100 in the UK, Australia and Canada. Anna lives on a dairy farm in Cornwall with her two children, her husband, and her ex-racing greyhound, Olive Dog. Follow her at @AnnaMansell
Iacopo Pasqui explores the relationship between man-nature-landscape and social behaviour. He has won numerous prizes and competitions including “Giovane Fotografia Italiana #07” at Fotografia Europea Festival in Reggio Emilia (2019), in 2019 he was appointed among “Futures Photograpy Talent 2019”. He won the Leica Talent 24x36, 2011/2012, Contemporary Landscapes and Places in Transformation – Artist residency in Italy promoted by MiBACT and GAI, 2017.
Follow him on instagram @iacopopasqui