"You, Diana, are a wanton woman! A lascivious lady! A... a..." The booming voice paused for a moment before coming to a triumphant conclusion. "A TART!"
Diana was delighted. She hadn't had a decent row in days. Not that she had any intention of showing that in her voice, of course. That would ruin it for both of them. "A tart, am I? Better than being a bloody dinosaur. You're not just hidebound, Tom; you're fossilized!"
"Oh, my goodness!" A treacly but alarmed voice broke into Tom's retort, thus killing the only bit of excitement Diana had found all day. She turned to glare, hatefully, at the intruder.
Tom, of course, was far nicer. "Ah, what ho, Jane! How wonderful to see you! And how are you doing on this fine day?"
"Pretty well," Jane admitted, "but I must say that I'm a little alarmed to hear you calling Diana names. What could you two be fighting about?"
"Her apartment," Tom lied smoothly. "Diana wants to paint the old homestead. I'm not opposed to the idea in principle, of course—well, I mean to say, it is her apartment after all--but the shameless hussy wants to paint it red. Red! The color of secret and shameful passion."
"Oh." Jane looked down at her red sweater and her lower lip quivered. "There could be other reasons for liking red. I'm sure--"
"I'm sure that he's a disgraceful liar!"
"Oh, surely not," Jane protested.
Diana snorted rudely. "We were discussing the possibility of spicing up our sex life, if you must know, and THAT is the idea that Tom supported in principle." Jane blanched and put a hand over her mouth, but Diana ruthlessly continued. "The second I mentioned a threesome, however, he started invoking that fictional netherworld of his and insisting that we would both go there if we actually moved away from the theoretical and into practice. Hypocritical old goat!"
"Oh..." Jane was literally swaying in her distress. "You mean to say… Oh! Goodness gracious me!”
“Perhaps you have some thoughts on the matter?” Diana asked sweetly.
“Yes! I mean, no! I mean… Can't stay! Must check on Mumph Hissers! I, uh, mean Mrs. Sumphreys! No, Mrs. Humphreys! I must check on Mrs. Humphreys! Right now!"
"Are you certain?" Diana asked maliciously. "Mrs. Humphreys seemed right enough this morning, scarfing down her corn flakes. I’m sure she’ll be fine for another hour or so, and we could really use an unbiased opinion about our sex life. I can pour a nice cuppa for you, if you like."
"Oooohhhh...." Moaning incoherently, Jane fled across the lawn, in the opposite direction of the aforementioned Mrs. Humphreys. Diana laughed heartily.
Tom didn't join in. "You shouldn't bait her like that," he told her severely.
"Why ever not?"
"You've traumatized her. The poor girl probably doesn't even know what a threesome is."
"I doubt it," Diana lied stoutly. "Why would she have run off like that if she was truly as innocent as she seems? And besides, you know what they say about still waters. I bet she attends an orgy every other weekend."
"Now, that's an idea," Tom declared. "If you're so keen on adding another person to our sex life, why don't we ask Jane? At the very least, we could ask her to take us to one of her all-weekend sexcapades!"
Diana had known Tom too long to be surprised at his sudden turnabout. Likewise, he had known her too long to object when she switched sides as well. “Oh, no! Certainly not! We’re not taking that trollop into our bed! You’ll throw your back out at best, snuff it at worst, and what would Jane and I do then? It would be bloody awful! And just think how embarrassed you’ll be, up in that heaven of yours, knowing the inconvenience your demise had caused everyone!”
Tom waved away her concern about his health, too focused on his new idea to think of trivialities like death. “How do you know that Jane’s a trollop?”
Diana was absolutely certain that the words “Jane” and “trollop” didn’t belong in the same week, much less the same sentence, but she was too amused by their conversation to say so. So she deflected Tom’s question with one of her own. “Have you ever noticed how often she wears red? There’s sure to be a psychological significance to that.”
Tom looked thoughtful. Before he could decide upon his next comeback, however, they both heard another uninvited guest stumbling about in Tom’s apartment. “Dad? Diana? Is anybody home?”
Tom brought both fists to his stomach and jerked upwards, clearing miming hara-kiri, but his voice was pleasant enough as he called out to his son. “We’re out here, Geoffrey.”
There was more crashing about as Tom’s unfortunate offspring stumbled on the threshold and out onto the veranda. “Ah, there you are,” he observed inanely.
“Yes,” Diana gritted out. “Here we are. And there you are. Do you have any purpose in being there, or have you just come to blot out our sun?”
Geoffrey looked confused. “The sun’s over there,” he observed, pointing toward the trees. He then swung his arm toward the apartments, pointer finger still extended. “The shadow I cast goes this way, see, so—“
“Never mind!” Diana snapped. “What do you want?”
The brief animation Geoffrey had shown while explaining a dull, obvious fact disappeared and he suddenly looked like a kicked puppy. Diana was suspicious immediately, but Tom was faster in voicing his fears. “This isn’t a social call, is it, Geoffrey?” he asked shrewdly. “Diana’s right. You want something.” Geoffrey shifted his weight guiltily but still said nothing. “Now, no secrets, son. Out with it.”
“Yes, well, the thing is…” He started to trail off until Diana raised her cane threateningly. That convinced him to continue. “The thing is, I need somebody to watch Marion for a few days. I’ve found people to watch the kids, but nobody wants to watch my wife, so I thought, perhaps….”
Both Tom and Diana gaped at Geoffrey in appalled horror. Up until now, the worst disaster to befall them had occurred when Patsy Perkins had died and left them her collection of Precious Moments, those unspeakably twee little horrors that some company in America had inflicted upon the rest of the world. Jimmy, Patsy’s rotten husband, had forced them to take the hideous things, bellowing in the dining hall about respecting the wishes of the deceased. They’d both had nightmares for weeks. But this…. This was perhaps worse. “Absolutely not!” they yelled in unison.
“Please,” Geoffrey begged. “I’m off to a shelving convention this afternoon and I really need someone to watch her while I’m gone. Just for a couple of days.”
“Excuse me if I’m wrong,” Tom said with an exaggerated politeness. “But the last time I sent Marion a birthday card, I was under the impression that she had passed her majority. I believe that she is, by law, permitted to look after herself in your absence. Of course, it’s been a while since I left someone in the care of a babysitter, so I may be misremembering the legalities, but I’m relatively certain on this point.”
“You’re correct, of course,” Geoffrey sighed. “Normally Marion is entirely capable—” He turned inquisitively towards a snorting Diana. She quickly wiped the smirk off her face and waved for him to continue. “Capable of staying by herself while I’m gone, but unfortunately, her doctors recently changed her medication and she’s gone a bit… funny.”
This time it was Tom who let out an involuntary chuckle. He covered it with a loud and unconvincing cough. While Tom was busily trying to dislodge a lung in order to save his son’s feelings, Diana took up the battle. “Now, when you say ‘funny,’ you mean what, exactly?”
“Well,” Geoffrey admitted, “not so much ‘funny,’ per se, as, well, a bit… friendly.”
“And when you say ‘friendly’…”
Geoffrey sighed in defeat. “I mean amorous.”
Diana smiled cruelly. “You mean slatternly!” Geoffrey hung his head but didn’t deny the word. “So. You want Tom and me to watch your floozy of a wife and protect her non-existent virtue from her own base instincts. Have I got that right?”
“That seems clear enough,” Tom put in, “but what I don’t understand is why Marion can’t stay with you. Surely you can afford your own hotel room, and bring your wife with you.”
Geoffrey sighed. “Like I said, I’m off to a shelving convention until Sunday evening. All the shelving salesmen in southern England will be there. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about the goings on that are likely to occur!”
“Hmm…” Tom hummed. “Yes. I suppose it is common knowledge that shelving salesmen are renowned for their unabashed debauchery. I can understand your reluctance to bring your wife into that den of sin.”
Completely missing the sarcasm in Tom’s voice, Geoffrey nodded fervently. “Exactly! So, you’ll do it then?”
“I never said tha—“
“Excellent!” Geoffrey interrupted quickly. “I knew I could count on you, Dad. Let’s go get Marion. I left her in the car.”
“Good going, you dingaling,” Diana snarled. “We’re stuck with that dreadful woman for two days now, thanks to you.”
“But I never agreed to any—“
Diana smacked him with her cane, effectively shutting him up. “Well, come along, then. We’re playing Mary Poppins this weekend, thanks to you, and I suppose we had better go collect our charge.”
As soon as they caught up with Geoffrey, Diana once more went on the attack. “So, do you expect us to keep your wife chaste and pure for the duration of your absence? If so, I should warn you that we might not be equal to that particular task. I’m not sure that anyone—god or mortal—is. In fact, if given the choice between pushing his rock and keeping Marion’s chastity belt closed, I’m certain that Sisyphus would have opted for his bloody rock.”
Geoffrey shook his head. “I’m not asking for miracles. I just want you two to watch her. Keep her away from vicars. And for God’s sake, don’t let her run off to any more Welsh communes!” This last statement was accompanied by a baleful glare at his father.
Tom was unconcerned. “How about Belize?”
“What if Marion wants to run off to Belize? Should we allow that? I mean, do you have a specifically anti-Wales policy with regards to your wife, or are you opposed to her going anywhere?”
“I want her in Bournemouth, Dad,” Geoffrey snapped. “I want her here --in Bournemouth--when I return. Is that clear enough?”
“Right ho,” Tom said cheerfully. “Oh, look. There she is!”
And there she was, face pressed grotesquely against the glass and fingers scraping uselessly against the window as she attempted to claw her way out of the battered station wagon.
“Good God,” Diana breathed. “What on earth is she doing?”
“I expect she’s trying to get out,” Geoffrey muttered. “I locked her in the car, you see. I didn’t like the way she was looking at the gardener. He seemed to like it even less.”
“Antonio?” Diana chuckled evilly. “I hope she scared the hell out of him! I need a new threat for the next time that Portuguese pillock tries to uproot the peonies.”
“Never mind that,” Tom said. “Why don’t you let her out so that you can get on your way? The sooner you get to your convention, the sooner you can buy up your shelving and return.”
“Yes, Geoffrey,” Diana said sweetly. “Do unlock the door.”
As soon as Geoffrey complied, Diana quickly opened the car door, clearly hoping to catch Marion while she was still leaning against it. Her plan succeeded, but instead of falling flat on her face, as Diana had hoped, Marion fell squarely on top of the older woman.
“Well, look who’s here,” Marion slurred. “Diana Trent! Tom’s delightful neighbor.” Tom and Geoffrey gaped at each other in surprise; Diana scowled. “Good old Diana! I do so love her!” She accompanied this last statement with a big, sloppy kiss. The kiss fell partly on Diana’s cheek and partly on her lips, and it was anybody’s guess as to which had been the medicated woman’s target.
Although she knew her back would pay for it later, Diana lay flat on the ground. She was slain. “Oh, God…” she moaned.
The day had gone downhill from there.
“Alone at last!”
Forgetting to lock the door, Tom turned to Diana with an exaggerated sigh. “I suppose this is the moment wherein I am forced to earn my keep for the night. The demands are never ending for a sex god such as myself.”
“Don’t be so daft,” Diana snapped. “I don’t give a fig about being alone with you for the good old rumpty-tumpty. I—“
“So not only must I perform, but I must perform in front of an audience.” Tom sighed again. “You’re a hard woman, Diana.”
“Shut up, Tom,” Diana commanded. “You know perfectly well what I mean. We are alone and away from Marion. I was about to bloody kill that woman.”
Tom untied the sash of his bathrobe and pulled down his undershirt to reveal an ugly bruise on his collarbone. “About to? Somehow, I was under the impression that you actually attempted said murder. Must have been my imagination playing up again.”
Diana harrumphed uncomfortably. “Well, yes, I said I was sorry about that. But it’s your own damn fault, you know. You shouldn’t have come between Marion and my cane. A good thumping would have done her good!”
“That’s debatable. I suspect a thumping such as the one you wanted to administer wouldn’t have done her any good at all. It might have benefited the local undertakers who would be plying their trade at this very moment had you been permitted to thump her, but the benefit to Marion would have been minimal. Besides, Geoffrey asked us to keep her IN Bournemouth, not UNDER it.”
“Serves her right! Why couldn’t she have left me alone? Following me all over the damn place—“
“Yes, odd that,” Tom mused. “Normally new medications make her either psychotic or sleepy. Today, however, she was affectionate rather than homicidal, and quite full of energy.”
“Not fair of her at all,” Diana grumbled. “With this knee, I’m not much of a moving target for someone with all the pep and vigor she showed today. No matter where I tried to go, she always caught me before I could find a good hiding spot. And whatever for? Why has she suddenly decided that I’m her best friend? She’s hated me from the day we met and I’ve always hated her right back. It works for us. Why change our relationship now?”
“I’m sure you’ll be back to your usual hostilities as soon as she’s had a chance to see her doctor,” Tom assured her. “I doubt he’ll want to leave her like this.”
Diana sniffed. “I never thought I would say this, but I’ll be glad to get the old Marion back. Who would have ever guessed that there were new, unplumbed depths of awfulness to the woman?”
Tom smiled, but then got a slightly hangdog look. “I say, old thing, it’s awfully nice of you to let me stay here tonight.”
“I could hardly let you stay in the same room as Marion!”
“No, I guess not. But see here, where should I sleep?” Diana looked quizzically at Tom, causing him to look even more uncomfortable. “I mean to say, I don’t want to presume, and you haven’t mentioned any Saint’s Days, so where should I sleep? Do you want me to sleep in the chair, or do you think we might…”
“Tom, are you asking me if we can have sex tonight?” Tom hung his head. “Are you honestly telling me that you’ve forgotten what today is? It’s the birthday of Ziggy, Patron Saint of Martian spiders, you ninny. It would be a sin not to celebrate that!”
Tom chuckled happily and reached for his friend. He gave her a long, passionate kiss and the two of them clung together as they stumbled toward Diana’s bed. This was dangerous, of course, as the evening would come to a disastrous end should either of them trip and fall, but neither wanted to give up this reminder of a time when lovemaking was spontaneous and carefree. They compromised by moving very, very slowly… which was a reward in its own right.
By the time they reached the bed, they were so wrapped up in each other that neither noticed the lump beneath them. The giggle, however, was harder to ignore.
“Christ! Someone’s in here!” Diana smacked Tom on the chest. “Find out who it is!”
“Don’t you think that’s a bit sexist, Diana? Sending the male out to protect the weak and faint-hearted damsel?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Diana snapped. “I’m not sending you to deal with this intruder because you have a Y-chromosome. I’m sending you because I value my skin more than yours.”
“Right ho. Glad to know where I stand. Try not to beat up my family at my funeral.” Tom took a deep breath then quickly pulled back the blankets to reveal Marion, wearing nothing but a smile. “Good lord! It’s Lady Godiva! But you’ve cut your hair. And where’s your horse?”
“I don’t have one,” Marion purred. “But that’s all right. That bulge in your shorts suggests that you might be hung like—“
“That’s enough,” yelled Diana. “Enough and more than enough! Tom, tie up that robe! And you, get the hell out of my bed!” Marion rose slowly, flexing her body as much as possible. “No, stay there! Don’t move! And for God’s sake, cover yourself with a sheet, you horrid little strumpet.”
Marion laid back down, smile still firmly in place. “Well, make up your mind.”
“I have made up my mind,” Diana snarled. “I want that sheet covering every bit of pasty flesh on you, up to and including the peroxide-treated hairs that cover what you laughingly call a mind. Tom and I will go spend the night in his apartment, and we’ll make sure to lock the door this time!”
Marion looked surprised and perhaps a little hurt. “Are you honestly telling me that you don’t want a beautiful young thing like myself in your bed?”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Diana sighed. “I don’t want you anywhere near me. I thought I made that abundantly clear this afternoon when you tried to follow me into the toilet!”
“Oh, that,” Marion laughed merrily. “I thought you were joshing. We’re friends!”
“No, we bloody well are not friends! We’ve never been friends! Your medication may have temporarily deceived you on this point, but I assure you, that you’d loathe me if you were sober, almost as much as I loathe you now.”
Marion began to cry, so Tom went over and sat beside her on the bed. He reached out a comforting hand several times but clearly couldn’t decide where he could safely pat the naked woman. He eventually settled for a hearty “There, there!”
“Oh my God! Tom, what are you doing? Get away from that bit of fluff!”
Tom did as he was told, coming close to Diana. Once there, he bent down to whisper in her ear. “Aren’t you being a bit hasty, old thing? I mean, you were the one who said you wanted to spice up our sex life with a threesome. There’s our third, nicely wrapped up for us. Or unwrapped, as the case may be.”
“Tom! You unspeakable cad! I’ll—” The flames in Diana’s eyes suddenly died out and she chuckled softly. “I’ll feel pretty silly if you’re merely pulling my leg.”
“Would I ever take such a liberty?” Tom asked in astonishment. He smiled then and said, “It’s just as well, I suppose. My fellow members of MeWNSWiM wouldn’t like it.”
“Moon-what? Have you by any chance taken up nocturnal male synchronized swimming?”
“MeWNSWiM. A rather exclusive club. It stands for: Men Who’ve Never Slept with Marion. I’m the president of the Bournemouth chapter!”
“You’re a loony!”
“Ah, but a loony with an idea.” Tom padded over to the telephone and quickly dialed. “Bas? I say, Basil—” He nodded his head impatiently. “Yes, Bas, I do know that it’s after 8:30, but I need a favor. I need you to take a naked woman off my hands.” Diana grinned as Tom listened to the response. “No, it isn’t Diana.” Diana’s grin turned into a scowl at that. “Yes, you’re probably right. She probably would bite you. That’s why I’m keeping her for myself!” Diana squinted evilly at Tom; he gave her a jaunty salute in return. “Of course you already have a naked woman with you—I wouldn’t have expected anything less--but surely a stud such as yourself can handle more than one—” Tom’s eyes boggled and he turned to Diana in shock. “You’ve got Jane with you?!?”
“Jane? Ho-ho! Red Cardigans never lie.”
“Jane?” Marion suddenly sat up in bed. “You mean there’s somebody around here who isn’t a million years old?” She turned to Diana with a happy smile. “You’re still my best friend, of course—“
“Of course,” Diana muttered grumpily.
“But I’d far rather have sex with someone who isn’t trying to win a wrinkle competition with a bulldog. Can you point me in the right direction?”
Tom looked alarmed. “I don’t think—“
Diana smiled nastily. “Sixth door down on the left, second floor.”
Marion sprang up and sprinted out the door before Tom could register a complaint. When Diana went to close her door, she stayed for a moment to watch Marion’s pale naked flesh shine in the moonlight. She thought that sight was as was as close to beautiful as Marion would ever get.
“Basil’s apartment is the seventh door on the left. Hugh Roberts lives in the sixth apartment down.”
“Does he?” Diana looked vaguely worried. “He has a dicky ticker, doesn’t he? What do you suppose will happen when a naked woman bursts in on him?”
“I suppose we’ll be going to another funeral tomorrow.” Diana nodded with resignation. “Even if she does find the right room though, what then? What about our promise to Geoffrey?”
“What about it?” Diana demanded. “We promised Geoffrey that Marion would still be here when he returned and she will be. Unless you think she’s going to run off with Basil.”
“Basil’s not going anywhere. His lumbago has been acting up lately.”
“But what about Jane? If she’s riding the hobbyhorse with Basil, she must have given up on Harvey. What’s keeping her here? If she runs off with Marion, not only will Geoffrey stop talking to me—“
“We’ll never be so lucky.”
Tom scowled at the introduction. “Not only will my son decide that he’ll never speak to me ever again, but the Idiot Baines will replace Jane with some incompetent foreigner who will quickly kill us all off. Thanks to you, we’re all stuffed!”
“Don’t you believe it,” Diana assured him. “Jane hasn’t given up on Harvey. Not by a long shot.”
“Meaningless. I told you; women are relentless when they set their cap on someone. She may be turning to Basil to satisfy her womanly urges, but she’d give him the shove without a moment’s hesitation if Harvey ever looked her way.”
“And what about Marion?”
“As soon as the doctors fix her medication, Marion will forget all about this weekend, and I guarantee that Jane will never bring it up.” She grinned. “Basil is likely to nag Marion about it, but she’ll think that he’s just being a dirty old man. All in all, I think things turned out rather well.”
“I’m not so certain about that,” Tom observed. “After all, we never did spice up our sex life.”
“Does it need it?”
The serious look on Tom’s face clashed with the mischievous light in his eyes. “I don’t know. I can hardly remember any longer.”
“Thank you, Tom.”
He ignored the murmured interruption. “Perhaps we should have sex right now and see what’s missing.”
“Perhaps we should,” Diana agreed solemnly. “After all, it is still St. Ziggy’s birthday.”
Tom laughed richly. He quickly went into Diana’s bedroom and stripped the bed of all the covers. “Just checking for more stowaways,” he said before reaching for Diana.
“They wouldn’t dare,” she assured him.
cue the Nash Ensemble playing the Trout Symphony