3. Playing Your Cards Right

Yvonne Jowell

Laurine was going through a bad patch. She had foolishly got involved with a married man from the French consulate, one of her colleagues. The wife had found out. Laurine was never discrete in what she did. Laurine had found the wife crying on her doorstep one evening. She had reported the incident to the French consulate—her employer—as a serious security issue.

Laurine was down and I wasn’t in great shape myself, unsure of what I wanted to do with my life now that my love life was in tatters and my current job was clearly leading nowhere. So, I invited Laurine to Sunday lunch at my place. I was living in digs but I would roast a small chicken and make pommes de terre sautées. I had bought a bottle of wine. It would be like the good old days when we were language assistantes in a North London high school. We would chat away, laugh our troubles away, just like in the good old days. At the end of the meal, we would be tipsy—but happy again.

Laurine was supposed to arrive around midday. At 2PM she still hadn’t arrived. She hadn’t phoned and she wouldn’t pick up either. I went through all sorts of emotions, ranging from impatience to worry to annoyance and finally despair. I was all alone in London and the only person who could pass for a friend had let me down. Back home we would have said comme une merde…

By 2 PM, I was so down that I called the only other person who could pass for a friend, Paul. He came round to help me eat the chicken, so that I wouldn’t be eating chicken for a whole week, and drink the wine. As that clearly wasn’t enough to cheer me up, we ended up in bed together. I guess it made me feel sadder, because ultimately we still loved each other but we couldn’t stay together because he didn’t want to play mummy and daddy.

I didn’t hear from Laurine for many years. Probably just as well as she wouldn’t have been supportive. After all, she was totally wrapped up in herself. She’d always been wrapped up in herself, acting like a young Marilyn Monroe in the making. She did a great impersonation of “I want to be loved by you,” especially the “poop poo pee doo” bit. She was as blonde as I was auburn in days when a French blonde was irresistible and a French auburn not terribly interesting.

I had to go through the shock and loneliness of finding out I was pregnant. When I told Paul I was pregnant, he said, “ by whom?”. When I told him I had not seen anybody else after we had split up, he was incredulous. “And why was I no longer on the pill?” Well, precisely because I was not dating anyone. I guess he got suspicious. Maybe he was being set up. With French women, you never can tell. Even the auburn ones. Anyway, his position had not changed. He didn’t want to reproduce himself.

I was all alone in London but I had the support of a few friends in France. They helped me organise a termination in Paris.

Many years later, out of the blue, I received a phone call from Laurine at the office. She was so happy that she’d found me after all those years. Google was such a wonderful invention. Yes, so much had happened in the last 20 years. She’d met her husband, given up her job at the consulate. She’d given up her name too and she had two children. They lived in London, in a “small house” in South Kensington. Well, in fact, they were moving to Paris because of her husband’s job. He was working for an investment bank. They’d just bought a nice apartment in Paris, on the avenue Montaigne.

During that first conversation, I’d managed to slip in that I was married too. I then had to explain why I had not changed my name. I had three much younger children. She didn’t seem to be terribly interest in my private life. On the other hand, there was a lot more interest in my professional life.

Laurine’s son was nearly 18. He wanted to study at Science Po. He was set to get his baccalauréat cum laude, he was just so bright. Just like his dad. Laurine’s daughter was less academically gifted. She was younger but already quite good at golf.

I asked Laurine if she still liked dancing. She didn’t seem to remember that she liked dancing as a young woman. She didn’t really have time to read any more, with two teen age children, two homes and a busy husband. Did she still like Under the Volcano by Malcom Lowry? The author’s name, Lowry, was so close to hers, Laurine. She seemed genuinely puzzled that I could remember what she was like 20 years earlier. I guess she didn’t remember anything from me.

We spoke a few more times over the telephone, we exchanged e-mails and photographs. I realised that she had as little interest in me now as she did back then, 20 years earlier. She was still wrapped in herself and her social triumphs. It had taken her twenty years to make it to the top but she was there, where she clearly deserved to be. She had played her cards right. It quickly became obvious that she was trying to secure an internship for her brilliant son in the International Organisation I was working for. I felt a little disgusted, I admit. I felt stupid too. Of course, she wanted something. Why would she have gotten in touch otherwise?

One day, I couldn’t help it. I popped the question. Why did you get in touch with me after all those years? The last time we had been in touch, you were supposed to come to Sunday lunch. You never did. You never called either. She couldn’t remember. Sunday lunch!? Nope, no recollection of that. She added that I must have been really disappointed that she hadn’t turned up. She said it in a tone that suggested that she found it odd I would remember such a trivial event. I couldn’t be bothered to explain how this trivial event had totally derailed my life and how, as a result, I turned out to be a more caring person than she’d ever been, and how ultimately, I had been more successful than she ever would be. Although I can’t remember her married name now, it was something trivial like Martin, and as I’ve lost all of her contact details in my subsequent moves for work, I can only guess that her brilliant son found an internship somewhere, maybe through his brilliant father. Maybe all that glitters is not gold, after all… Maybe she was dumped by her brilliant husband. Maybe her kids turned out to be awful.

Anyway, I really don’t care about Laurine Martin or her family for that matter, her past or her future. Years later, my three children would turn out to be upright citizens, well-balanced beings, brilliant at what they do, and so much fun to be with as young adults.

As for me, I’ve grown much stronger. I profoundly believe that women should have the right to choose their future, as well as that of their children—whether imaginary or real.

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