MEETING THE FAMILY.Ronald had finally invited Aoife to meet his family.The Snapes’ drawing room opened onto a tonsured lawn, circled by frangipani trees, beyond which was a cobalt pool. It was crammed with people for this Christmas morning drinks’ party. The temperature outside was climbing into the high thirties. Inside, noise levels were rising too. Schoolboy waiters sloshed the Veuve Clicquot into Cristofle glasses. Despite the heat, Aoife shivered slightly. Would anything more than champagne be uncorked, she wondered?Margaret Snape’s glance was chilled and formal as she shook Aoife’s hand.“How do you do. So you’re Ronald’s Irish colleen; the girl who has captured my well-set-up son.”She examined her guest; her radar eyes scrutinising Aoife’s neck, her hairline for signs of maverick, grey hairs, and, finally, her waist. Aoife felt her statistics, tone and condition, not to mention the value of her white slip-on shoes and shoe-lace strapped yellow dress, were all being tabulated and filed for later calculation and commentary.Ronald guided her towards a waiter for a fortifying drink. Her hostess whispered in the ear of a tall, grey-haired man. Aoife guessed Phillip Snape had been told of her arrival.“So you’re the woman who has lassoed our well-set-up son!”“Now, now Dad. Less of that,” said Ronald.Aoife sipped her champagne and looked around. The Snapes were rushing to the hall door. A young Japanese couple and their pink-ribboned daughter stood on the porch. They bowed to the Snapes – the man clicking his heels together with military precision. A cosmopolitan guest list.“Herro. How are roo? We are Kurosawas. We live cross road.” Thebespectacled man introduced himself and his wife.“And this Daisy.”The little girl smiled up impishly.
“Oh,” commented the Snapes in unison and straddled the doorway. The Kurosawas kept smiling and nodding and waiting.“We came say Happy Christmas. Hee hee.”“Oh.”The Snapes barricaded the available space.“Australian custom. Hee hee.” Mr. Kurosawa’s oval face was wreathed in smiles.“Oh.”Phillip Snape seemed unaware of customs, Australian or otherwise. He stared down his driveway into the distance. The eighteenth hole of the local golf course could have been distracting him.“I suppose it is.”The threesome shuffled and hovered.“Thank you for your greetings. We have to go now. We’ve got guests.”Margaret closed the door with a sharp bang.“I knew you’d want me to get rid of the Nips as quickly as possible, dear.”
Before the eavesdropper could dwell on this, Ronald introduced her to a tiny, grey-haired woman.“Aoife, this is my beloved Nan.”Aoife looked down at the shrunken woman’s hand as it clasped hers. It was an estuary of blue-grey veins relieved by tiny islands of liver spots. The woman’s lower eyelids had parted company with their eyeballs; a divorce to which her curling, red-raw lids bore vivid testimony.“How do you do. May I call you Nan?”Grey eyes twinkled from behind their rimless glasses. Aiofe felt an immediate surge of fondness for this little woman who seemed so much warmer than her frosty daughter.“Why don’t you sit beside me?” Nan requested. She clutched the guest’s hand and hobbled towards a nearby sofa.“And where do you come from, dear?”“From Dublin.”“Dublin?”Nan sought to position the Hibernian capital on an imaginary map of the world, as one would pin the tail on the donkey.“Ireland.”“My parents came from … Kerry. I think. Yes, Kerry. Now, mydear, you must come for afternoon tea to my house soon and I’ll show youthe family photos … Ronald’s baby photos. My address is … is …Oh, Ican’t … “
Meanwhile, Ronald had been fulfilling his social obligations, embracing some of the older women, flirting boyishly, while clapping their partners on the back with manly bonhomie. He was a junior partner with a top, Sydney stock broking firm. Aoife had observed him circumnavigate many similar gatherings – quietly charming everyone. He was extremely socially adept, never forgetting a face or a name, probing gently, supplying the occasional comment. Confirming his recollection of that person’s family history, personal details, things dear to their heart – the perfect professional. Innocuously expectant. She gazed fondly at her lover. A tall, elderly man limped across the room and introduced himself.“George Magillicuddy, m’dear. Any room on that sofa for an old man to lose his heart to a beautiful girl like you?”“Of course. I’m Aoife Blake, Ronald’s girl friend.”“Ronald?”“Yes, Ronald. He’s standing near the mantelpiece.”
Old George polished his glasses with his wine, silk, handkerchief and, putting them on, studied the younger man carefully. A fish Ronald hasn’t angled yet, she mused.“Let me get you two something to eat.”She rose from the sofa and headed towards a forgotten tray of mouth-watering sushi on a nearby table. When she returned, George had insinuated himself into the space beside Nan. He was kissing her wrinkled hand with old world courtesy.“So sorry,” stammered Aoife, hastily introducing Molly Blaxland to him. Molly gazed up coquettishly at her tall suitor.“How do you do, George.” Her smile was one of eager anticipation. Aoife felt like a role-reversed but youthful chaperone to these delightful old dears who had obviously taken an immediate liking to each other. She sat there and listened to them talking about their deceased spouses, discovering that they lived just a suburb apart on the north shore. They swapped stories about their children and grandchildren.“I’d love to meet you again, old girl,” enthused George to his new-found friend. Molly, eager as a young girl, invited him to tea, and gave him an address in Wahroonga. Their chaperone was somewhat mystified. Had not Ronald mentioned that Nan – too old to live alone – was being shuttled between her two daughters?It was almost 2 p.m. The room was emptying. Guests said good-byes and reiterated Christmas greetings before rushing home to check on the progress of their basting turkeys, setting up their platters of crustaceans and reuniting with their families.Ronald came through the French doors, his arm linked through that of a young woman. She had the same penetrating, but charming, smile.“Aoife, meet cousin, Polly.”“Sorry, I haven’t got to meet you before this, Aoife. I only managed to drive up from Canberra last night so that I could spend Christmas with grand-dad. Isn’t that so, Popsie?” cousin Polly said as she bent down and gave the old man a big cuddle.“Happy Christmas, Auntie Molly.” She kissed the diminutive Nan and wagged her finger playfully.“I hope you young Magillicuddy twins are behaving yourselves and not getting up to your usual tricks. We can’t let you out of our sight for a
The old dears looked surprised. They stared questioningly at each other. Then nodded in unison. Aoife looked at the erect, old man and the petite woman by his side. This time, she noted their matching, mischievous expressions; their almost identical droopy eyelids; the similarity of their quirky, wry smiles. She hadn’t recognised the fraternal relationship before.Sadly, neither had the siblings!**************************
Word count – 1,187