How to be a Good Veronica


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How to be a Good Veronica

The First 3 Chapters


Michael K Freundt

This is a work of fiction.

Any resemblance to persons living or deceased is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © Michael K Freundt 2016

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Not today, not now, but a few days hence Veronica Souter would realise that what she wanted, needed, in her life was a man. Veronica had had many men, although not lately, but believed, if she was asked, that such a decision would never be necessary. In fact it wouldn't be a decision at all until she met the man that would fulfil it, but then she wouldn’t need such a decision anyway.

Veronica had always thought of herself as independent, resourceful (hell, look at the work she did), responsible and an active member of her community; that last bit wasn't entirely true but Veronica held a few little self-delusions that attach themselves to all of us, like pin numbers.

She had seen the world when she was young, tasted frogs, dragonflies, witchetty grubs, elan, snake, and dog. She was happy to live in Sydney in the twenty first century, believing it was a choice she had made, and she understood how the city worked. Well, she understood how her little stratum of the city worked; at the same time vaguely aware of other strata below her and other strata above her. The former, she believed, were far more numerous than the latter. She knew that there were people in harbour-side mansions who secretly put ice cubes in their pinot noir and cared little for her (she cared even less for them) and she knew there were neck-tattooed renters in the city's west who made illegal livelihoods thinking they were entitled. She had been in the company of both and been equally bored and a little scared: scared by the have-nots and the threat of trouble and scared by the haves and the threat of commitment. She was contented; happy in the knowledge that the city was big enough to allow her world to be as small as she needed it to be.

She came from somewhere else (everybody in Australia comes from somewhere else), from good, peasant, European stock who got on a boat thinking they were going to America, and, even when they had landed in Perth thought that America was where they were. She liked the fact that on any Friday night she could choose to eat from seventeen different cuisines; she loved that there was regularly on her television, a feisty politician called Wong, a famous swimmer called Scrinsky, a newsreader called Fernandez, a comedian called Noh, a cleaner called Mrs. Danuta, and a baby-sitter called Ng. They were all Sydneysiders first, Australians second. Her past she dragged around like a shadow and her future was just around the next corner, where a man was waiting. What she didn’t foresee was that once one appeared several others would pop up, like hounds following a scent.

For some time now, Veronica had avoided eye contact with herself in her morning mirror. This simple fact and its possible significance didn't impinge on her now: it was a school morning, Tuesday. But at rare times of self reflexion she thought about it, but only for a moment. She wasn't alarmed by it, she thought it curious but understandable since she was a woman of a certain age and a graduate of psychology from the University of Sydney. Behaviour was her field and her own was subject to the same scrutiny as others; and like everybody else self-delusion was part of the territory.

She was tall, a little too tall she used to think, with shoulder-length light brown hair that she delighted in doing things with. But today she wore it down, with a pair of Calvin Klein jeans, a white shirt and no jewellery; she felt smart, and tidy.

As she subtlely applied mascara, she called out to her son, "Jack!" This was all that was required; he understood it to mean, "Are you ready? Packed your lunch? Combed your hair? Cleaned your teeth?" As she finished her morning ritual she stepped back and surveyed the total picture, still avoiding her own stare: professional, modern but conservative. She was proud of her figure; she was no slim-hipped girl; her figure was ample and soft; her bones were well protected: womanly.

Jack was waiting by the front door and they traversed the small front garden to the squeaky gate and the street beyond where the car was parked. All the original houses in Newtown were built before the invention of the motorcar; no garages, no driveways. The curb was a little extension of the family plot.

I must do something about the front garden, she thought to herself yet again. It looked like a military barber had had a go at it. Every two weeks a young boy named Neville came around and cut everything back: bushes, lawn, weeds, flowers, everything. Neville had a slight intellectual disability: he thought the CTV cameras in the streets were how TV programs are made so in his free time he insinuated himself around the cameras in the local mall in the vain hope of becoming a TV star. There are far more harmful pastimes for a teenager.

The house was a semidetached, one of two, with a brow-like verandah where the recycling bins, a chair, walking shoes and other odd bits and pieces lived. She often wondered what would happen if Neville stopped coming, and if the shrubbery were left to grow, and grow. Would it finally take over? If the army of city gardeners were no more would the manicured grass and neat corner-street beds of plants take over the city? What flora would evolve to reclaim their patch? How long would it take for Sydney to resemble Ankor, or the pyramids of Mexico? If human kind was obliterated by mutated mobile-phone waves, plants and ants would reign. How quiet the world would be. She often wondered if other people thought weird thoughts like this.

Some minutes later in the car she explained to Jack her schedule for the day: she'll be home when he arrived back from school but the baby-sitter, Rosemary Ng, would be around for a few hours as she had an early evening appointment but she would be home before his bedtime.

"You promised to come up with another name for the baby-sitter; I'm almost ten, you know," said Jack in his usual grown-up voice.

"Sorry. What would you like to call her?"

"Her name's Rosemary."

"Since when have you been calling her Rosemary?"

"Since the fifteenth of last month. I made a note of it in my diary."

"Did you ask her if it was OK to call her Rosemary?"

"She said it was better. No-one calls her Mr. Ng, except me. But I had to promise not to shorten it to Rose or Mary. Her name is Rosemary and that's that." Almost ten going on thirty-five, thought Veronica.

"Well, it's alright then."

"Good. We also talked about her joining the ranks of the unemployed when I turned ten in three months time."

"I wish you had talked to me about this first."

"I did and you promised."

"Did I?"

"Yes. I can make a photocopy of my diary entry and show it to you if you like." Such a Jack thing to say.

"That won't be necessary," she said as she pulled over to the curb outside the school.

"Good," said Jack as he opened the door to find his best friend, Joe Jones, waiting to greet him.

"Hi, Jack Souter!" said Joe Jones.

"Hi, Joe Jones!" said Jack Souter, and then he leant over and gave Veronica a peck on the cheek. "Bye!" and he was out of the car, but left the door open.

"Do you always kiss your mum in the mornings?" Veronica heard Joe Jones say as they waited for a gap in the hordes of little boys with backpacks as big as little boys.

"Don't you?"


"Ya should ya know."


"It's part of the deal." They were gone, swallowed by the crowd. Veronica smiled at her son’s comments as she reached over and closed the door properly. In the rear-view mirror she watched her son walk and chat with his friend amongst an array of children and parents. The boys stopped and Joe Jones started talking to another boy who stood next to a large man in a baseball cap. The boys chatted with the man but Jack did not join in. He stood a little apart and when the man addressed something to him he just shrugged and the man quickly lost interest. For the next few moments Jack was ignored and his stance and sloping little-boy shoulders made him look lonely, out of place, and vulnerable. Veronica stared ahead and wished she hadn't seen what she just saw. Jack was quiet, shy, introverted and uncomfortable around men. This did not please her and like most mothers she filed the little scene away in a mental folder now thick with little scenes such as that. She pulled out from the curb and drove to her office passing, within two blocks of her home, a new child-care centre, “” which made her smile and sneer at the same time. Child care was as essential as loo paper but it was the underlying cynicism she couldn’t abide: isn’t the best for your kids to keep them out of places like this? She wondered at the commercialism of business creating a need in people they didn’t know they had but then wondered if she was doing the same thing: buying things she didn’t really need.

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Veronica Souter drove unhurriedly with the traffic to Surry Hills on the other side of, but close to, the city. She parked her car in the basement car park, beamed it locked, and made her way to the elevator. Inside the elevator she watched the numbers change above her, avoiding the mirrored walls, but really she was just watching the numbers change, as people did. Such animated electronic stimulation was a large part of the attraction of television, regardless of what the images meant. She smiled to herself but thought of Jack and her smile faded. He didn’t care much for television. Was that a bad thing when all his peers did? Or was it a good thing, showing some individuality?

Her office was on the seventh floor, No 15. She opened the door of 715 with a swipe-card and put her bag on a small hall-stand and walked into the single room, a bed-sit with en suite. She opened a laptop on the bedside table and as it booted up she took off her shirt and jeans and threw them on the bed. She chose a white camisole from the top drawer of a small chest and threw it on the bed and went into the bathroom in her underwear. She took out her makeup bag from the bathroom cabinet and re-did her makeup: more eyeliner, eye shadow this time, and darkened her lip-stick. She returned to the bedroom and clicked a few buttons on her keyboard. She checked her diary, confirmed her appointment, then checked her inbox before putting on the camisole, took a dark blue suit, skirt and jacket, from the wardrobe and put it on. From a high shelf in the wardrobe she chose a short dark wig from a collection of seven on old collectable wooden heads and once she had tied back and raised her shoulder-length light brown hair she covered it with the wig, adjusted it slightly, tugging at the forelock and tweaking the look. After buttoning the lightweight jacket she unbuttoned it again and tucked in her camisole a little further into her skirt, re-buttoned the jacket and checked the effect in the wardrobe mirror. She lightly tugged the front of the camisole so that it showed a little above the 'V' of the jacket but also revealed just a little of her cleavage. From out of the second draw of the bedside table she took a little black book-like object, turned a few pages and chose a small removable transfer, one from a page of identical transfers: a single red rose bud. She peeled off the cellophane, thought for a moment and then pulled the edge of her camisole down and to the left a little with her left index finger and applied the tattoo, with her right hand, to the inside mound of her left breast, down and under a bit. She held it there for two minutes, checking her watch on her left wrist, then slowly peeled off the transfer leaving the perfect rose bud on her pale skin. She returned the top of the camisole to its original place hiding the rosebud and ... no no no, the camisole didn’t work: it got in the way. She took the jacket off, removed the camisole, threw it on the bed, and put the jacket back on. Her cleavage was a little too obvious but it was better than having to deal with the camisole as well as the jacket. And it might actually help. She completed her preparation, including a fine gold chain, chosen from the third drawer. She clasped it around her neck and checked its effect. She turned off the computer and closed the lid, grabbed her bag, checked herself one last time in the mirror, paused, decided against and removed the single gold chain, avoiding her eyes of course, and left it, along with the discarded camisole, with her home clothes lying on the bed. She walked out and left the door to close itself behind her.

Living in a city could be like living in a desert. She had thought this many times as she drove through it. Hordes of little lives focused on the next step, and then the next, the next; carrying little backpacks of miseries and joys; eyes looking straight, never left or right, oblivious to the identical lives flowing all around them; like wells of sustenance that she has no access to, like river-water avoiding rocks and debris by just finding a way around them. A person could perish in a desert. But when you bump into someone and eyes meet eyes a city can be exhilarating. Veronica's problem, she will soon realize, is that she hadn't bumped into anyone lately. And it was a male someone she particularly wanted to bump into, her body sometimes told her. And then sometimes she told herself that it was really for Jack’s sake that she needed a man in her life. Yeah, right!

She remembered, as a girl, while waiting for nature to drop the next bombshell, using the backs of two fingers to practice kissing and wondering what to do with her tongue.

She remembered a same-age cousin lying on top of her in the back seat of the Vanguard as his parents, her uncle and aunt, sat up front seemingly oblivious to what their charges were up to. They didn't worry so why should she. His wide mouth clasped to her wide mouth as the car bumped over rocky roads and she spent all her attention trying not to bump teeth. It was a singularly dry and uninteresting experience she remembered and she wondered, then, what the fuss was all about. Awareness of what needed to happen, and would happen one day, stopped at the neck.

A horn from an impatient commuter woke her from her reminiscence and the insistent green light urged her to catch up to the cars in front before a vehicle from another lane snuck in raising ire and a sense of betrayal. There were laws regarding the people behind you so why bother with them? Rear view mirrors were for checking makeup and squeezing pimples. But there she sat, moving forward at the same pace as everybody else: a lot of cars, a lot of people and a hell of a lot more empty seats. Traffic!

Later she sat, one knee on the other, in a waiting room in a medical suite in a glass and concrete high-rise on Macquarie Street. She casually flicked through a Vogue Living magazine that was surprisingly recent. An advertisement for a pair of shoes caught her attention and she smiled at the ironic thought that the less there was of a shoe the more attractive it seemed. Why was that? Maybe a single spike glued to one's naked heal was the ultimate in feminine footwear.

She was the only one left in the waiting room, apart from the receptionist, of course. The other patient, who hadn't checked her outfit before leaving home, Always a good thing to do, I think, had gone into the doctor's room some fifteen minutes ago. As Veronica checked the other magazines on the little table the other patient came out of the doctor's room, That was quick, and stood at the receptionist's counter with her back to Veronica. It was the slope of her shoulders or perhaps the double look the receptionist gave the woman, or maybe it was the cacophony of bracelets on the woman’s left arm that gave the little scene its pathos and convinced Veronica that the woman was crying. The receptionist smiled coolly and returned the Medicare card to the woman and she stuffed it hurriedly into her bag and jingled her way out the door. The receptionist went back to staring at her screen. Moments later she looked up and said, "Mr. Abbott, the doctor will see you now." Veronica smiled, put the magazine back on the small pile, stood, straightened her skirt, and walked to the door of the doctor's room. She paused ever so slightly with her hand on the doorknob and, with an expression that showed she had collected herself and knew exactly what she was doing, she turned it, entered and gingerly closed the door noiselessly behind her. The little corridor lead past a small toilet to another door which she opened and entered the Doctor’s room. It was as you would expect: small, with a high bed and a curtain to pull around it if necessary, another door, a desk, computer, bookshelves, few books, a plastic gerbera in a plastic pot, and medical degrees on the walls. No doctor, but this she expected. She walked confidently, she had been here before, to the other door opened it and entered another room. Here the doctor sat in an almost identical room to the first, except that it was a little smaller. The doctor looked up as she closed the door.

“Ah, Mr. Abbott! How are you today?”

As Veronica turns slowly to face the doctor she adopts a demure and sad expression and looks as if she is about to cry. “Fine, thanks,” she says in a little breathless voice and sits down in the chair by the side of the desk. She crosses her legs, tugging a little on her skirt.

“Good,” says the doctor. “Now let’s see what we have here.” He turns to his screen and surveys its contents. He is a middle aged man with thinning grey hair, a face that still shows traces of his once very good looks, a little paunchy now and looks like someone who is about to lose interest in looking after himself. “We’ve reviewed your application very closely, I can assure you of that, but it seems that there are a few little problems.”

“Problems?” she says with a look of apprehension. “What do you mean problems?”

“Well, Mr. Abbott, the trustees of your father’s estate are all very clear about your father’s wishes: he spelt it out to the letter.”

“But, the money’s mine, I should be able to do what I like with it.”

“Of course, I agree with you, but we are all tired by the conditions of your father’s will; especially you.”

“I knew there’d be something like this,” she says grimly as she fishes around in her bag for a tissue. “He was always the kind of man who needed everything to be done his way especially when it inconvenienced others.”

“Then you won’t be so very surprised by the trustees laying down certain conditions.”

“My husband will be so cross about this. He’s been counting on this money. I don’t know what I’m going to tell him. You did say you would see what you could do.” She blows her nose and searches for another tissue in her over-stuffed bag. The doctor reaches for his box of tissues and hands them to her. She immediately grabs his arm which propels her half out of her seat. “Oh, please,” she urges, “you must help me. My husband will go crazy if I come back empty handed.” She is almost sitting on his desk now in her attempt to urge him to help her.

He stands up and her knees press into his crotch, “Well, I’m not sure exactly what more I can do.”

She pulls him towards her forcing her left knee between his legs. She keeps hold of his arm and with her other hand swiftly unbuttons her jacket. As she talks her hands work their way under his shirt pulling it out from his trousers. “You have to talk to them. Make them see that I need, really need, this money. You don’t know what my husband is capable of. His high public profile has had a devastating effect on his personality especially towards me and the girls. You’ve seen him on television; does he look to you like a man who’s in control? That fixed smile, a little open-mouthed - I don’t know who told him to do that. Anyway, it must be obvious to everybody that he’s in way over his head; and how to do think he relieves himself of such tension? Mm? Do you want me to show you the bruises? Here, look!” She pulls up her skirt to show him her inner thigh. “They’re almost gone now, but he knows where to leave his mark, you can still see the outline of something blue and nasty. Here! No, look closer!” She puts her hand on the back of his head and pushes it down to her exposed thigh. “They’re faint, but you can still see where they were. Oh, please you must make them see,” she pleads.

“Oh, Mr. Abbott, your husband has lost sight of your charms, I think.”

“Do you really think so, Doctor?” she says as she runs her hand down the warm skin of his back and under his belt to the elastic band of his briefs. “You must let me convince you,” she continues as she shuffles her buttocks further onto his desk, pulling him closer to her. “Are you sure there isn’t anything I could say to make you exert, really exert, your influence over the trustees?” She rearranges herself and grabs his belt buckle. With her right hand she swiftly slips the buckle and loosens his trousers as her left hand slips around from his arse freeing his now loose trousers as they slip to the floor and she reaches her hand under the elastic to the warm and prickly place. Her mouth finds his and the kiss is deep and wet. She grabs his erection, small with a kink to the left; it is hot in her hand.

“Oh, Mr. Abbott, I’m sure there’s something we can work out,” he says breathlessly as he supports himself with one hand and slips the other inside her jacket. He leans into her and the desk to release his other hand as he frees her left breast from its bra-cup. He keeps talking as he roughly fondles her breast, his eyes darting, concentrating on every inch of her bare skin and his hips begin a little thrusting dance as she slowly masturbates him inside his briefs. “It maybe, that I, could have a private word, to the men, on the board, who I know are very keen, to relieve you, of any, unnecessary grief, and of course, there’s Mr. ...Ah!” he gasps as Veronica squeezes his balls. This has two effects: it signals his ‘letting go’ and it re-affirms that she is in control- funny that. He stands there with his eyes closed with his hand slowly feeling its way to her nipple. She is particularly sensitive there today and tries hard, and successfully, to concentrate on what she is doing and not on what he is doing: this is business. She begins to squeeze and rub her hand up and down the crooked shaft of his penis. On each downward stroke her little finger inches its way under his balls and finally reaches the rough scar-like line of his perineum. She hears an intake of breath and she knows not to go too far. The head of his penis is getting sticky so she knows it’s time. She uses her other hand to lower his head to her cleavage. He kisses her skin. Her timing today is a little off and she wonders if she has hidden the rosebud too well. The position they are in is awkward and she moves her body slightly to give him better access; but finally he sees the little rosebud on her pale flesh. He gasps. His face freezes and his body tenses as he stares at the little flower and the memories come flooding back, and overwhelm him. “Oh Rosy! Rosy!” A pitiful moan escapes his lips. “Where have you been? Why all this time?” and he bursts into childlike tears as he buries his face in her breasts, his arousal forgotten, his penis already shrinking, all feeling is replaced by regret, guilt and sadness. His body slumps into an almost post-orgasmic helplessness. Veronica pulls her hands free and now cradles him in her arms as his whole weight pins her to the desk. She rubs his shirted back, conscious that she is also wiping her hands clean of his stickiness.

“There, there,” she sighs as she caresses his head. “I’m here. I won’t let anything take me away again.” She half lies, half sits and her stomach muscles ache as they support both bodies, but she makes herself breath normally to counteract any tension, aware of what her body has to do to maintain the position. She can’t lean back any further, the ledge above the desk is in the way. He sobs bitterly and she gently rocks him back and forward. “Sssh,” she sighs, “Sssh.” And she can feel his hot tears trickling down her cleavage.

They hold this position for some minutes and just before Veronica begins to think that she is going to have to break it herself: her stomach muscles are screaming at her, the doctor abruptly stands up. He takes a few deep breaths, and avoids Veronica’s eyes as he rubs his hands roughly over his face, turns and pulls the curtain around the high bed and disappears

behind it.

Veronica also stands, re-arranges her clothes, takes a small packet of moist tissues from her bag and wipes her hands and breasts thoroughly. She takes out a little compact from her bag and studies her makeup. She makes herself comfortable in her chair and crosses her legs again and waits, conscience of the ache of her stomach muscles slowly subsiding.

As Veronica waits for the doctor to compose himself behind the curtain she glances over his desk. In the far corner is a framed family photo, the doctor, his wife, she assumes, and two children, a boy and a girl. The two children look a little too good to be true. The girl is smiling too hard, as if she has been smiling for too long and now doesn't quite understand why she has to go on smiling as the photographer keeps fussing around; why doesn't he just click the camera? She is dressed conservatively, churchly, aSundaybest that looks too much like something out of a Jane Austen novel; something perfect for a photograph but for nothing else. She leans into her parents happy, perhaps, to be included in something that includes grown-ups as well. The little boy is a little taller, seems a little more content with just smiling and waiting and looking as if he thinks the photographer is a dingbat. There is mischief in his smile, a glimmer of rebellion in his eye. The family looks like ... a family; an image of something Veronica knows about and usually scoffs at a little as ifherfamily is more modern, more progressive, freer and more relevant. However, she has to admit her impression now has a forlorn taint to it: this is something someone else has and she doesn't. It speaks to her of stability, niggly warmth, and normality. The little boy reminds her of Jack, but Jack with a father; and does the wife remind her of herself; of Veronica with a husband? She suddenly has an image of life as a semi-transparent dome, smeared in some places, clear in others, that surrounds, limits our boundaries but keeps us safe, but she, now, is outside looking in, not looking out like the rest of humanity wishing about that ‘one day’ but looking in and seeing what she doesn’t have. She feels suddenly very alone. She looks away immediately and stares at the doctor's shoes peeking from under the curtain. He is taking an awfully long time to compose himself.But then he speaks!

“Susan. Susan.” His voice is low, worried and almost breathless. Veronica thinks something is wrong so she moves towards the curtain, and the chair squeaks as she gets up. “No no! Stay there! Please!” She can hear his breathing. “I feel so ... free after your visits; you can’t imagine how comforting it is for me to know that I can actually get an erection again; that everything still works. But I have this wave of nausea, of disgust even, at what I am putting you through; at what I’m doing. ”

“Please you don’t ha...”

“Don’t talk! Don’t talk!

Veronica waits.

“I just want you to know I appreciate your attention to detail, your commitment. Commitment to ... me.” She can hear noises from his throat, through his breathy words and knows he is crying. “I feel so lost sometimes, less of a ... man - oh, if you only knew how hard it is for me to say that word. Man. I am a ... man. You make me feel like a man again. Oha ... Oha.” And then only the breathing remains. “I just wanted to say,” with hardly any breath at all, just breathing, breathing, and then nothing. Silence. The toes of his shoes are all she sees under the hem of the curtain.

Finally the doctor emerges. He clothes are fully restored. He walks to his seat, sits and attends to his keyboard never once looking at her. The on-line transactions are confirmed and he remains silent as he tends to these little formalities. She continues to glance at the photo and she becomes aware of a little pain in her temples. She recognises it as envy and worry: envious of what he has and worry at what he may be fucking up. She takes a deep breath and straightens her back as if to shed herself of something annoying. Whatever she is reading into the photo the fact remains that they are a family, something Jack doesn’t completely have. His softness, reticence and shyness worry her and especially at times like this when she sees evidence of an alternative, and more conventional, relationship but one that she would not fuck up. Her intelligence, education and common sense tell her that. Jack is not only the reason but also the excuse, she knows this: she also needs a man in her life.

“Thank you Susan,” says the doctor calmly, “very satisfactory.”

“Thank you, doctor,” says Veronica, her Mr. Abbott voice is no longer needed.

“OK. Transfer completed, with a little bonus. Very satisfactory indeed.”

“I’m glad you’re pleased,” says Veronica with a smile.

“Now, present this slip to my receptionist and I will email you as usual with details of our next appointment.”

“Fine,” says Veronica as she takes the proffered piece of paper. “Have a nice day.” She stands.

“And you too,” says the doctor and still without looking directly at her. He has never once looked into her eyes. This, now, annoys her.

“Doctor,” she says softly.

“Yes?” He replies only half turning towards her.

“Doctor,” she repeats a little more forcefully.

“Yes?" He says again and, this time, he turns to face her. Veronica holds his gaze for a moment and she can see the vulnerability, the hurt and humiliation in his eyes. He looks away.

“Remember that any changes you would like to make, for any reason, just include them in your email. The session is yours, Doctor; you are the one in control.” She knows this is not true but she feels he needs to hear it. There’s more to work on with this man than a long lost love. Veronica leaves the room and closes the door quietly. She stops off at the toilet, washes her hands thoroughly, checks herself in the mirror, avoiding her own gaze, and returns to the waiting room.

Back at the receptionist’s desk, she handed the piece of paper to the receptionist, who politely took it and referred to her screen. Veronica tried to imagine the man in this woman’s life. She assessed the woman’s features, small chin, pinched mouth, hair tending to oiliness and decided that her man is someone very busy and not much at home. The three rings, engagement, wedding and eternity, an old-fashioned cipher, seemed to suggest otherwise. She then handed back Veronica’s Medicare card and politely wished her a good afternoon. Veronica smiled in reply and left the suite.

It took her only half an hour this time to get back to her office; the traffic was unusually sparse, a good omen? She allowed herself a little self-indulgence: a calm feeling of a job well done, a satisfied customer, and a little lift to her growing reputation. Back in her office, she turned on her laptop and disappeared into the bathroom for a quick shower. As she dressed in her house clothes, she logged onto internet banking to check her account; the doctor’s transfer wouldn’t be there until tomorrow but she got a little buzz to see her bank balance and its reflection of her enterprise, her self-confidence and her firm grasp on the future. She had done this on her own. She was earning a living, supporting her son, and living, not extravagantly, but she had few money worries and if an emergency arrived she could deal with it. She then clicked on the Google icon and searched for dating websites. She was not surprised by the incredibly large number of possibilities but decided that she needed more time to deal with this properly. If each of these websites could supply twenty possible male-matches to her profile it indicated that there were thousands of male possibilities, why then did she think that finding one was not going to be easy? She closed down her computer.

Instead she studied her work clothes and decided to hang them back in the wardrobe but she put the wig in a plastic bag in her shoulder bag: it needed a wash.

As she locked her front door, her mobile phone rang its distinctive tone: “Knowing me, knowing you, ha-hah.....” Mother. And walked with it to the stairs, avoiding the lift.

“How are you?”

“I’m fine but you sound like you’re in a drum.”

“I’m walking down the fire escape.”

“Why? Have you stopped going to the gym?”

“No, but I was walking to the lift when you called, so, in order to take your call, I decided on the stairs: there’s no reception in lifts. Aren’t I considerate?”

“Yes, I suppose you are. The days, since we last spoke have been exactly the same as each other so there’s been nothing really to ring you about. Until now.”

“What’s happened?”

“I’ll tell you when you’re here.”

“OK. I’m on my way to an appointment now” she didn’t say that it was just coffee with Diane, “so I could be there at about 2. OK?”

“You don’t need to make an appointment. I don’t go anywhere. I’m always here. You can just drop in, you know.” Veronica knew that that was exactly what she couldn’t do: Why didn’t you call? You think I’m just sitting here waiting for you to drop in?

“My life is run by appointments. You taught me that.”

“Yes, I suppose I did,” says her mother with a sigh.

“See you at three then. Bye.” She put her mobile back in her bag. She had to stop for a moment and adjust her gait: she was walking too fast and with steps that loudly proclaimed indignation, or was it exoneration? Mothers! Anyway, by now she was walking along the street to a small cafe called Flora where Diane was waiting for her and she quickly forgot about her mother and Diane took her place.

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