“‘Lately, I feel this echo in my hands.’ That was the first line of our Book Club book last month,” said Susan.
“Peter said it’s his favourite opening sentence. I think it’s beautiful. Peter says it speaks to the reader.”
John, sitting beside her on the sofa, watching Newsnight, didn’t seem to hear. He carried on eating crisps.
Susan noticed his hands moving towards his mouth. He’d always had beautifully manicured hands. And good teeth. His legs were crossed away from her. The same long, lean, tennis players legs he’d had when they’d met at college, all those years ago.
Susan hoped no crisp crumbs had fallen onto her new sofa. It was a lovely shade of green that calmed the room. It hadn’t been cheap but then quality always shines through.
“Peter and I always agree on the best lines in the books. He says we’re like literary twins.” She smiled, inside and out.
“Peter believes you should come to Book Club. We’ve got a space since Derek Pritchard ran off with that floosy Dorian Blythe — two spaces, in fact.”
“Getting a bit racy, your Book Club,” said John, turning towards Susan, wiping a crisp from the corner of his mouth. “Maybe I should come along. Might be exciting”.
Susan flushed slightly.
“Yes, come next week. We’re reading Brideshead Revisited. Anyway, I’m off to bed now.”
“Right you are,” called John, absorbed back in the TV.
A few years ago, Susan would have asked John how his mother was just before they went to bed, just in case he was feeling a bit frisky, but that never seemed necessary these days.
Susan thought how good Peter was, always arriving first and putting out the chairs. Ten chairs, in a circle, in the centre of the room. Grey, metal fold-up things — no cushions.
A bit of a chill in the air tonight.
At the end of the hall was the stage. Big and cavernous, the floor empty other than a remnant of last month’s am-dram play, a soulless clown outfit hanging in the corner.
It seemed to her that the meeting had been going for ages before John spoke.
“I think,” he said, shuffling in his seat, “Sebastian Flyte is fundamentally misunderstood. He has many good points.”
“Oh yes, lovely point,” Peter said immediately, leaning into the circle towards John, “I knew you’d see that.”
He smiled broadly, crossing his legs in John’s direction.
“And thank you for sharing that with the group.”
Susan, relieved that John had finally participated, smiled appreciatively.
Peter’s such a great Book Club leader. She moved her legs to one side, inching up her skirt just above her knees, trying to catch Peter’s eye again.
Praise seemed to have plumped John up. He ran his hands down his blue, cashmere tank top, pulling at it to straighten it, and then gently brushed his hand through his hair. He didn’t look back at Susan but stared intently at Peter.
Cynthia sat next to Peter, as she always did — so annoying. She perched forward in her seat, seeming to bend towards John.
“Fabulous to have a new member, and one with opinions. Where have you been hiding him, Susan? Tell us more of your wonderful thoughts, John. Share with the group.”
She tipped herself further forward, giving a clear view down her cleavage.
If only Derek Pritchard had run off with her.
“Come on, Cynthia,” said Peter, wiping a bead of sweat from his brow, “we don’t want to pressurize John at his first meeting, do we? We’ll frighten him off, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?”
Peter sweating? He didn’t usually get flustered.
He smiled coyly at her, although, she noticed it was John who was blushing.
“Yes, goodnight, and thank you,” Peter waved off Grace Littlethorn, the last to leave. ‘Thank you for nothing’ formed in his head but fortuitously stayed there. Never a more pointless book club member had there been, but at least she filled a seat.
If Wotton Edge Book Club ever got wind that he’d lost two members, they’d have a field day. Not that they could talk — rumour had it that a Danielle Steele had once found its way onto their reading list.
Thank goodness Susan had brought John along.
Mmm… John. An impish smile tinkered across Peter’s lips and behind his eyes.
Picking up the last chair, he carried it to the stage — lifeless and cold without the laughter and voices of actors and singers. The clown outfit reminded him of last month’s production — a directing Tour de Force, even if he did say so himself.
Empty, though, once the final curtain came down.
He took a moment, steadying himself against the edge of the stage.
But then he remembered what his acting coach had told him years ago. All the world’s a stage, Peter, she’d said. We never stop acting. He pulled himself up to his full height, turned on his heels and strode back to the centre of the room.
So, next month’s book? What is it to be? Something to please John, perhaps. A Patrick Gale or a Stephen Fry might work — no point being subtle at this stage in the game.
Alison Burgin, living in the UK, has been writing for a year — her initial motivation to write began when she started writing letters to a friend with cancer, in order to cheer him up. ‘Making people smile’ is her writing mantra.
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