Henry told him about the brass fender and the auction sale. Alison tried to decide whether the kangaroo tail soup tasted like kangaroo tails, but it didn't. It just tasted like soup.
'You've made the room like a Victorian set piece. So clever of you.’
'It wasn't really clever,’ said Henry. 'It just happened.’
The decor of the dining room took them through the first course. Over the Chili con Carne, they talked about Texas, and America, and holidays, and children. 'We always used to take the children to Cornwall,’ said Mrs Fairhurst, delicately winding her Tagliatelli onto her fork.
'I'd love to take ours to Britanny,’ said Henry. ‘I went there once when I was fourteen, and it always seemed to me the perfect place for children.’
Mr Fairhurst said that when he was a boy, he'd been taken every summer to the Isle of Wight. He'd had his own little dinghy. Sailing then became the topic of conversation, and Alison became so interested in this that she forgot about clearing the empty plates until Henry, coming to refill her wineglass, gave her a gentle kick under the table.
She gathered up the dishes and took them out to Evie. Evie said, 'How's it going?'
'All right. I think.’
Evie surveyed the empty plates. 'Well, they ate it, anyway. Come on now, get the rest in before the sauce goes solid, and I'll get on with the coffee.’
Alison said, 'I don't know what I'd have done without you, Evie. I simply don't know what I'd have done.'
'You take my advice,’ said Evie, picking up the tray with the ice cream and the pudding bowls, and placing it heavily in Alison's hands. 'Buy yourself a little diary. Write everything down. Times like this are too important to leave to chance. That's what you should do. Buy yourself a little diary.’
'What I don't understand,’ said Henry, 'is why you never wrote the date down.’
It was now midnight. The Fairhursts had departed at half-past eleven, full of grateful thanks, and hopes that Alison and Henry would, very soon, come and have dinner with them. They were charmed by the house, they said again, and had so enjoyed the delicious meal. It had indeed, Mrs Fairhurst reiterated, been a memorable evening.
They drove off, into the darkness. Henry closed the front door and Alison burst into tears.
It took quite a long time, and a glass of whisky, before she could be persuaded to stop. “I’m hopeless,’ she told Henry. ‘I know I'm hopeless.’
'You did very well.’
'But it was such an extraordinary meal. Evie never thought they'd eat it! And the dining room wasn't warm at all, it just smelt . . . '
'It didn't smell bad.’
'And there weren't any flowers, just oranges, and I know you like having time to open your wine, and I was wearing a dressing gown.’
‘It looked lovely.’
She refused to be comforted. 'But it was so important. It was so important for you. And I had it all planned. The fillet of beef and everything, and the flowers I was going to do. And I had a shopping list, and I'd written everything down.’
It was then that he said, 'What I don't understand is why you never wrote the date down.'
She tried to remember. She had stopped crying by now, and they were sitting together on the sofa in front of the dying fire. 'I don't think there was anything to write it down on. I can never find a bit of paper at the right moment. And she said the seventh. I'm sure she said the seventh. But she couldn't have,’ she finished hopelessly.
'I gave you a diary for Christmas,’ Henry reminded her.
'I know, but Larry borrowed it for drawing in and I haven't seen it since. Oh, Henry, you won't get that job, it'll be all my fault. I know that.’
'If I don't get the job, it's because I wasn't meant to. Now, don't let's talk about it any more. It's over and finished with. Let's go to bed.’
The next morning it rained. Henry went to work, and Larry was picked up by a neighbour and driven to nursery school. Janey was teething, unhappy and demanding endless attention. With the baby either in her arms or whining at her feet, Alison endeavoured to make beds, wash dishes, tidy the kitchen. Later, when she was feeling stronger, she would ring her mother and tell her that there was now no need for her to come and fetch the children and keep them for the night. If she did it now, she knew that she would dissolve into tears and weep down the telephone, and she didn't want to upset her mother.
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