47. The Theory
In deciding to play well at croquet a girl must turn off the brain of Haribo. When I don’t make the hoop the natural instinct is to wallow coquettishly. But I’m keen to improve, to become the Navratilova of croquet. But it’s hard to concentrate when I see Signe and Anna having a long, friendly, close conversation.
Signe was always bound to fit in. She has icy poise and an odd first name. While I’m thrashing bits of turf and causing Wym to flap around me, I note that Signe, Anna and the Marchese are taking a ‘turn around the lawn.’ What that means is a kind of slow, mobile bitch huddle. Signe’s frosty armour has intrigued Anna. Whatever slim alliance I had with my sister is rolling out of the playing area like tumbleweed. I watch them circle when I should be playing. The other competitors are becoming impatient and as my abilities are hoopless, this situation does not improve.
‘Dessie-Darling’ has the opportunity to tap her ball the single foot to the finishing pin or turn back and thwack my ass to the next post-code. It would be meaningless and cruel to do that, so she does it. My ball is made of some outdated solid plastic; the bastard child of resin and bakelite. ‘Dessie-Darling’ gives a golf- pro swing and launches it across the lawn, off the edge of a path, past the perambulating ladies and into the longer grass. It is a metaphor for what the upper class like to do with interlopers. With as much ill-grace as I can restrain, I give the match up. There is leaden clapping from the side.
Out at prole-meadow, I hack about in the grass looking for my ball, blubbing slightly. Wym trots over. I wish he wasn’t wearing idiot chinos – why can’t he be louche like his brother?
We now swish with our mallets, looking like the special-needs reapers who were given the plastic scythes to play with.
After a while, Wym says ‘You’re crying.’
I shake my head and rub the cocktail of tear’n’dribble up my wrist. Wym makes his arm raise, moves as if he built it with Meccano and places it on my shoulder. I turn and hide my damp, red, blotchy face on his chest. He is exactly the right height for me. Not too tall (the agony of back pain means I will never accommodate a tall man again) or too small (the flat shoes, the apologies, the male insecurity.)
‘You’ll get better at croquet. Or if you don’t, we’ll not play it again!’
(A stupidly gallant statement, to pretend he would ban croquet from Toft Hall on my account)
‘It’s not that!’ I inaudible into his chest ‘I just don’t belong anywhere.’
‘You do! I think you do.’
‘No! I never have. I’ve never found a place where I feel at home. I’m homeless, I may even be on the wrong planet!’
‘No-one belongs anywhere. If it makes you feel better, I don’t belong either and my family have been here since 1818.’
There’s yelling from the sidelines. We break and search more. It’s useless, the ball has dematerialised. The croquet majority shout that they have a spare (inferior) wooden ball and can get on with that, while we continue tramping the grass down, re-searching the same spots.
Then we give up.
The lawn extends to a large, disused fountain. After this point, the mowers halt and the grass grows gradually wilder. Far-flung flowerbeds are tangles of ancient, knotty lavender and scabby, spotted geriatric roses. For every ten meters further distance from the house, there is a halving in the amount of attention the grounds receive. The cracked fountain has a scum of waterlilies on the evaporated waterline. White doilies of lichen cover the parapet. We turn and watch as players hit, appear to freeze and then the ‘tink’ reaches us half a second later. I’m outside this scene – it’s like watching a film. Why do I always feel so alone?
‘I think.’ says Wym ‘You should try staying. Settle here and see if it grows on you.’ He points at a doily. ‘Like the lichen. Takes a while but it does grow. In the end.’
I stare at the water. He stares at me staring. Then he says ‘Oh!’ There is my croquet ball, floating in the water.
‘She didn’t hit it that hard!’ He says. ‘Neither she did.’ says I.
I note that both Anna and Signe are still huddled.
It goes without saying that Team Wym/Miriam take an early shower (as it were). He goes to the house and I go to the drinks table. Prop snores in his deck chair. It’s chilly now but no one has thought to cover him. Eventually I go in search of insulating material. Rug-hunting takes me on an interesting tour of the square footage that some people think they can get away with financial free rein. I find the actual dining-room and, yes, it is very, very large. The table is longer in feet than I can estimate. There are sideboards and silver and the smell of soap and soup and smoke and (the non-alliterative) Antiquax. Toft Hall is redolent with it. (And I thought it was a spray to deter ducks.)
Finally I stumble into a small room that I can make out nothing of except a bright computer screen and Wym’s silhouette. He jumps up before I can retreat.
‘Sorry.’ ‘No, I’m sorry.’ ‘Sorry!’ ‘No, really!’ This could go on for a while. ‘I’m looking for a blanket. For Prop. I think he’s cold.’ Wym leads me to the dark kitchen. Of course, there is the tartan mountain on a sofa. He shakes and folds one and hands it over and then leans in and kisses me. The random-generator that uses my entire body as a control bot leaps into a reaction. I fall back, flap my arms as if trying to stun a wasp and make blurbing noises.
Wym’s bottom lip drops slightly.
‘I just…when earlier you were crying, I thought that you, that it…’
‘No, really, I was just crying.’
This is entrapment entropy, neither of us can escape our apologies. My cheeks seem not only to radiate but cause a disembodied feeling of being my own audience as if I’m rising on stilts. Just then, the kitchen door opens and Signe and Anna walk in on us, carrying trays of quivering glasses. Four people hover in tension, before Wym leaps back, strides past the looming ladies and out into the shadowy corridor.
47. The Theory