40th Post Surprise…. Chapter One of “Lie”: “Meet and Greet”
“Are you ready?” A woman asks this of the one on the other side of her rotary phone. She looks something like a Carrie-Anne Moss who’s lived life, and life was good. “’Almost’ isn’t quite the answer I was looking for, Idette,” the airy-accented voice says. “How much longer do you need?” Veronique Karoly walks around the living room of her vintage-tinged townhouse as Idette mentions something about an hour or so. She runs her fingers through her salt-&-pepper pixie hair, heavy on the pepper.
“That gives me enough time to pick up my niece, then.” She rubs the ivory locket dangling from a silver necklace. She bought it shortly after her niece was born and hasn’t taken it off since. “Yes, she’s coming, too.” She slides on black flats and smooths her black kapris. “Oh, don’t be like that. She’s of age. A little sheltered, but you’re used to those types. Speaking of, have you heard from her? It’s her cottage we’re going to.” She takes a drag of her rolled cigarette. The black rotary phone has scorched memories of her occasionally clumsy grip of those slender things. “It would be a little difficult getting in without… What’s her name?” The disembodied, slightly treble voice mumbles a name. Veronique walks to her CD rack— “Shit.” —almost tripping over the phone’s cord.
The voice muffles something caring and that she has to go for some last-minute tricks. “You’ll be at your flat in an hour, then?” She scans her collection… “Splendid.” …and picks up Gipsy Kings’ “Allegria”. “I will give a honk. See you soon.” Hanging up the phone and putting it on a nearby table, Veronique looks for her favorite coat. No such luck, not in this vintage-tinged mess. She looks around the room and accidentally ashes on her zebra-striped halter top. “Shit.”
Wiping herself off with the CD case, she puts the cigarette out in the almost-finished cup of coffee near the phone. She checks the Nixie clock on the wall, runs to the closet, and grabs the first thing that falls down. A long, gray knit cardigan is Newton’s slave. She sniffs it before putting it on, checks herself out in a wall-length mirror, then grabs a small suitcase as she goes to the front door. Giving the place a quick once-over, she leaves into an overcast, Autumn morning in the sleepy English village of Edithshire.
Veronique walks to her well-kept black 1963 Austin Mini Cooper S. Someone down the street greets her as she dumps the suitcase in the back. She’s not sure who they are, but better to be confused than rude, and waves as she gets into her car then takes off to St. Colére’s.
Waiting in the lobby of the relatively modern hospital, amid medical smells and everyone’s favorite muzak cover of “Smooth Operator”, Fantine Karoly sits with a book. “What’re you reading there?” The skittish reader jumps and her copy of R.L. Stine’s “Switched” hits the linoleum. “OH! Oh… Aunt… Aunt Vernie. I was reading—” The older female picks up the paperback and checks its title. “I see, I see.” They kiss each other’s cheek. “How is it?”
Fantine’s eyes are the Karoly blue, the rest of her resembles a Jodelle Ferland. With a short and shaggy bob. And a generally sexless, coal wardrobe. Her aunt has been making a mental list of things to talk about with her and has again underlined “DRESS GIRLY”. “It’s good. One of the characters is… is at a… wall. Yeah.” The youthful Karoly eyes rarely look anywhere except down. Throughout this tale, she will cry twelve times.
Smiling, Veronique gently lifts her niece’s chin and says, “Let me see those eyes as you say that again and we’ll get ice cream.” Fantine manages to look up and say with her soft accent, “It’s good. One of the characters is at a wall.” Veronique kisses her niece’s butterfly-clipped hair, then grabs her duffel bag. “How’s my sister, Marietta?” “Mum’s ok. They’re taking her appendix out in a few hours.” The two Karolys make their way to the car. “Can… can we have vanilla?”
A Mini Cooper S, with flamenco strums the entire street can here, pulls up to a corner store, Rumpled Bags. A head sticks out of the window of the apartment above after a car horn eventually stops blaring. A few minutes later, a 20-something woman walks out of the store with a well-loved knapsack over her shoulder. The wind picks up slightly and Idette Rudelle pushes her red, Grecian mess away from her face. She takes a quick photo of the car with a disposable camera. In a black sweater vest over a white button-up with black slacks and boots, with looks shades of a brown-eyed Christina Ricci, she clicks to the trunk and tosses her sack inside.
As she moves to the passenger door, she sees a girl of age finishing her two-scoop. “Cheers, you must be famished,” Idette says as she offers her hand, “I mean, Fantine.” “And she called ‘shotgun’, didn’t you?” Fantine worriedly looks up. “Wh… what?” “Your niece is gonna be fun. Move the seat up, madam.” The younger Karoly fumbles with the chair until it jerks forward. The elder Karoly stops Idette just as sole touches rug. “Could you throw away her cup?” “She’s almost—” Idette takes the cup away and Veronique laughs to herself.
“Which way is Quinevere’s?” The backseat driver’s eyes grow wide. “Oh, she’s not back yet.” “Shit.” “Don’t worry, don’t worry. Roll a fag or something. She’s coming back from Melissa’s and—” She almost hits the ceiling as she rushes for her phone and calls Quinevere. “You’re not driving. We’re picking you up.” A confused voice asks, “We?” “Don’t worry, it’s that Veronique lady I told you about. The one I met at one of me dance classes. She’s surprising us with her niece but she seems mellow. You two will have a lot to stare about.”
Fantine fidgets as the voice over the phone says something. “She’s legal, relax. You said that we were going to Dragonspire to get away, right? Getaways are more fun with a party.” The voice is about to say something but the ginger cuts her off. “Juuust tell me when you’re getting home, love. A half hour? We’re ten minutes away so we’ll stew in the park or something. Cheers, Quinnie.”
The three amigas sit in Waitford Park and waste time, Fantine with her book and the others with conversation. “Who’s Melissa?” What little light comes from the overcast sky is further strained through the thick trees. “One of Quinevere’s exclusive friends. She’s not a bad person, just a bit too ‘free love’ for me, y’know?” Veronique shakes her head as she licks the rice-paper cigarette she’s rolling. “Not really.” “Ah, toss off.” As she takes out a strike-anywhere match from an ivory case, Veronique asks, “What’s ‘free love’?” Fantine turns a page. “Oh, c’mon, you seem old enough to remember hippies.” “Oh. That,” she takes a drag and continues, “I didn’t know they existed still.” “You need to get to London more, love.” Fantine coughs from the smoke and her aunt waves what she can away then pats her niece’s back. “I’ve done my time there, so no thanks.”
The two gals continue talking about nothing in particular, Veronique unconsciously using her cigarette as a timer. Idette asks Fantine about her book, then gives up as the girl of age has a hard time explaining. It’s not a difficult story. Rather, she doesn’t like ruining stories for folk by telling them things. Even if the other person is obviously just making conversation. Veronique finishes her clock and asks for directions to Quinevere’s house.
At the Ainsworth Estate, a black speck arrives amongst brick and stone towers. “Shit.” Idette waits for Quinevere to pick up. “We’re here and some of us are in awe.” She hangs up and Veronique turns her body to the backseat. “I didn’t know—” She accidentally hits her horn with her butt. “—didn’t know that places like this existed around Edithshire.” Fantine stares at every brick. “Neither did Harold,” Idette quips. Veronique asks the obvious question with her eyes. “Harold’s her father.” Another optic question is asked.
“Janice is her mum? Oh. The Ainsworths don’t come from money. Harold accidentally came upon some in the form of malproduced jelly babies from Baker-Adams Confectioners. It’s amusing, the kind of money industries will pay to keep a mouth shut.” Idette raises one hand heftily. “With a chunk of it, he bought this place and named it for his family.” And heftily raises the other. “With another chunk, he bought and renovated Dragonspire in Lily Valley.”
The wrought iron gates buzz and creak open as a lone figure approaches on a gravel road. A wheeled suitcase crackles behind her. “She’s a little older than me, but we’ve grown up together and I’m more of a big sister to Quinnie.” Wrapped in a pink frock coat with nylon’d and heel’d legs poking from the bottom, Quinevere crunches her way to the speck. If her long hair wasn’t peroxide-white, she could pass for Shirley Henderson. Fantine watches her as she stops abruptly a few feet away. Quinevere looks at the back seat’s lack of space. Then her suitcase. Then back to the black speck. And so on. Veronique wonders what the problem is and remembered that she forgot to account for people and their luggage. “Shit.”
A quick favor from the Ainsworth tool shed and the four riders have their baggage tied to the roof of the Mini Coop. A pre-listening ritual Veronique has developed over the years is making everyone who’s about to enjoy a CD with her kiss its case before she plays it. After “Allegria” is properly saluted, they drive back to Edithshire Proper, past the town square and the trees of Waitford Park. Fantine was assigned to map duties, then Quinevere pointed out that she knew the way. Fantine was then disappointed because she still had to refold the map. Luckily, she only unfolded half of it so it should only take a week to fold it back.
Onward through Edithshire to the row of early-20th century stores in front of one of the largest concrete bridges in the region, Bunkerton Bridge. It hovers over one of the many rivers leading to Weste Lake, The Gloria, where Dragonspire and our tale reside.