“Did you teach Richard to swim?” Paula looked across at Georgie, whose eyes were focused on the young children splashing about in her small swimming pool. She reluctantly averted her gaze to focus on her friend.
“Not entirely. His prowess in the pool is largely thanks to months of taking him to swimming lessons. It was a schlep at the time, but they’ve paid off in the end.” Georgie returned her gaze to the pool.
“He shows such skill though.” Paula sipped her tea thoughtfully. “I’ve always meant to take Mike and Sue.” She sighed. “All those jobs that get stockpiled during the week … I don’t know, we always seem to be so busy over the weekends. One should look forward to them, but when I think of the regimen I would have to submit to if I had to fit in swimming lessons as well …” She broke a piece off a scone and pinched it between her fingers. “I’d never get to the gym for a start!”
Georgie took in her friend’s slender figure and glanced briefly at her own, which had rounded and softened during the eight years since Richard was born. She’d always thought that she would continue running, like Diane had, and going to the gym at least once a week the way Paula did. Instead, her lapsed gym membership card still glared accusingly at her whenever she opened the writing bureau she’d inherited from her grandmother. Any truly ‘spare’ time she had she either spent with Richard or working in her small garden …
“Goodness, it is noon already! We really must fly. Come on children, get out of the pool now or you’ll get left behind!”
“I want to be left behind, Mommy.” Sue pulled a face. “Richard’s going to be making mini pizzas for lunch with his Mom.”
“Susan! Get out now!” Paula turned to Georgie. “Isn’t it funny the way other people’s meals sound so much better than our own. Come on Susie B.” She strode towards the edge of the pool and, with a rapid movement, yanked her daughter out of the pool and tightly wrapped a towel around her wriggling body.
“I want to stay and have pizza with Richard!” Sue stamped her wet feet on the grass as she tried to get away from the dress Paula was pulling over her head. “I want pizza!” she sobbed.
“We’ll buy pizza on our way home. Come to the party Sue and let’s put your panties on.”
“I don’t like olives!”
“I’ll ask them to leave out the olives.” Paula rolled her eyes as she towel-dried Mike’s hair and gathered the wet costumes and towels into a large tote bag.
“Thanks for the tea, Georgie. I suppose you can stay calm because you’ve only the one to worry about.” She held her children tightly by the hands. “Say ‘bye now because Mommy’s still got to get to the gym.”
That afternoon Georgie sat on the wooden bench in the shady part of the garden while listening to Richard playing his recorder. Guy had been teaching him to play since the age of five and they both basked in the praise that washed their way via Richard’s music teacher. Georgie remembered how inadequate she had felt when Richard’s Grade 1 teacher had informed them that all the children ‘must learn to play a musical instrument’. Guy had covered for her perceived inadequacy by choosing the recorder. He and Richard played together most evenings after supper – often with Guy playing the piano.
Isn’t it strange how even a musical instrument can create a foe, she thought. Nearly everyone she knew had congratulated her when Richard performed a solo during a school assembly. Except for Berenice. She, who had often sat next to Georgie by choice during the periodic school music concerts, now pretended Georgie didn’t exist. That hurt even more than the parting comment that just wouldn’t leave her: “Of course it’s easy for Richard to do well – you’ve only the one to worry about!”
Berenice had three children and seemed to have a different colour hair every month. Whenever the mothers were asked to help out at school picnics, Berenice would make light of the fact that she was used to serving measured portions of food. Now Georgie felt she was being shunned by some of the mothers who had been friendly – until Richard started doing so well in various aspects of school life.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t have another child,” she told Guy that evening.
“What?” He nearly choked on his beer. “Georgie, after all our trying, aren’t we so fortunate to have Richard?”
“We are, it’s just that I seem to be turned on by people with more children who seem to resent his achievements.”
“Put it down to guilt.” Guy put his arm around her. “Not everyone is like that. The one’s you worry about don’t really want to give up what’s important to them like hair, smart clothes or the gym in order to focus on the development of their children. You know that I love you all the more for the – “.
“Dad, look at this large pile of extra-terrestrials.” Richard joined them on the patio. “If we had luminous paint we could put them out to glow in the dark like glow-worms.”
“It is by such means that our son expands his knowledge, grows in self-confidence and accumulates such a rich store of words to choose from.” Guy handed Georgie a glass of wine. It had been her turn to read the bedtime story.
“He wanted to talk about different countries tonight.”
“We’ve been looking at the globe.”
“Mm, so he was sort of ‘testing’ me.” Georgie laughed softly. “I’ve news for you my friend. I suggested you would be able to point out where his collection of extra-terrestrials live when they’re not here.”
The next evening the three of them watched the full moon rising behind a large tree in their front garden. Richard kept checking his wristwatch. “We’ve rotated one degree now, Dad.” His father smiled at him.
“Watch it carefully now,” Georgie warned him. “It’s about to clear the tree.”
“Ben is an uptight imbecile”. Richard said suddenly.
“What?” Both of his parents called out in unison.
“Richard, where did you learn to use an expression like that?” Georgie could feel her lips quivering with indignation.
“Son, Mom asked you a question.” Guy spoke quietly into the pool of silence that followed.
Richard sighed. “He said I was one and that’s why I never have fun and have school all day and all night. He says imbeciles always have to keep learning otherwise they forget things.”
“And are you an imbecile?”
Richard laughed loudly. “Of course not, Dad. I’m normal. It’s Ben who is of low intelligence.”
“How do you know that?” Georgie looked across at her husband, now lit up by the ghostly light of the moon.
“His father keeps calling him an imbecile because he gets things wrong in class. We looked the word up in the dictionary. It means an extremely stupid person.”
Crickets chirped, a nightjar trilled and they could hear frogs croaking in the dam over the road in the long silence that followed. At last Georgie bent down towards her son. “Do you really think Ben’s stupid?”
“Of course not! He’s my friend. Besides, we’re in the same soccer team for tomorrow.”
“Accumulates a rich store of words to choose from?” Georgie whispered into Guy’s ear as she placed his bowl of soup on the table.
“I never said he knows how to use them appropriately yet,” he shrugged in return.
“Poor Ben.” Suddenly the envy directed towards her because of Richard’s achievements didn’t matter anymore.