On The Far Side


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On The Far Side

Nora Hicks was a large woman; large and round but she was the life of every party. In fact, as Stuart Mention once said, she was several lives of every party; but then he would say that since he aimed at that role himself but hardly ever achieved it, and certainly not when Nora Hicks was around. Be it coffee at The Corner at ten, brunch in The Mall at eleven, yum cha at twelve at Ming's, lunch at Wok & Muzzes at one, Canasta at three, drinks at the Intercontinental at six, or dinner at eight at Sandra & Paul's, Nora Hicks was sure to be invited by those who not only sought her company but also sought recognition of her friendship; and yet when invited out she still bought a bottle of Sacred Hill knowing full well that to all her contemporaries the stuff was known as Scared Hill, but then she never drank it: she, like everyone else, preferred the better Hill, Koonunga.

And so it was that one fine and warm September Sunday absolutely everyone who was anyone's was invited to a long lunch, of both table and time, to Sarah Hilltop's which was a little joke of its own since it was a hilltop where Sarah lived and one that overlooked the most prestigious view: Whale Beach. Everyone thought the little joke but no-one said anything, only because no-one had thought up a way of using it without it sounding trite; that's the kind of people they were. Match this with the fact that recently Rick & Steve had become Rick & Jane and Steve and nobody batted a lash, although some obviously surmised a great deal, and you have a more nuanced idea of the kind of people they were; in short what anybody did was accepted, but what anybody said had to be funny.

It turned out that Sarah wasn't good with numbers and although her dining table was very long it wasn't long enough so the long lunch turned into a buffet and everybody sat where they were and served themselves from the long dining table on which all the food from the planned five courses was arrayed together; the terrine with the salmon, the soup with the Caesar, the pasta with the Pineapple Salsa, and the stuffed quail with the Eton Mess. Everyone served themselves, that is, except Nora Hicks who stayed where she was in her overstuffed and cushioned arm chair and everyone brought her plates of food and fussed over her with phrases like "Oh Nora, dear, you must have the terrine the pistachios this year are the greenest they've been in ages," and "Try this Nora, Sarah always stuffs her quail with grapes and they're like little hot bombs going off in your mouth; you'll love it!" And they'd make little visits to Nora and plonk themselves down on the fat arms of her chair and vie for witticisms against the crowd. Nora usually gazumped everyone at this and so her visitors had to leave and stock-up on more ammunition before returning and trying again. Their excuse for leaving was to get Nora more food which they did. Nora had a healthy appetite and since she equated her size with her importance there was a lot to maintain.

It was during one of these brief moments of solitude that she searched for her napkin among the cushions she was sitting on but before she found her napkin she found Muffy, who cushion-like, Nora hadn't noticed when she sat down. That was over an hour ago and so of course the mut was dead. She stuffed it in her duffle bag and hoped no-one would notice: no-one did. Muffy is, was, Sarah's beloved miniature dog and Nora remembered her hostess calling for the little thing some time before but had, of course, thought no more about it. She certainly wasn't going to help search for the animal; she was quite comfortable where she was. Anyway she'd found it, albeit, too late and there wasn't much she could do about it now. Announcing her find seemed completely heartless. Not as heartless as killing it but it was an accident, surely; and besides the earth kept turning.

The synapses of the human brain spark relentlessly and at an astonishing speed; conversations can continue, take a different tack and reassemble while thoughts of a completely different trope can continue unmolested. Nora Hicks ate, sat, chatted, sat, ate, laughed, and entertained while her personal thoughts were constantly with Muffy's demise and its consequences; and all because it was not possible for her to tell the truth. Her reputation wouldn't survive it. She could see the headlines "Obese Socialite Sits and Kills Dog."

No one noticed a thing and even when everybody was leaving no one queried where Sarah might be; looking for Muffy they thought, or crying on the loo because she couldn't find her.

But a revelatory moment came for Nora when she got to her car; a small squat little thing it was that sagged where she sat, almost touching the ground. She realized she hadn't noticed this before but of course she had: it was her way of finding it in the Bi-Low car-park. It stood out from the mono-shaped rows of vehicles looking like something drawn by a burgeoning Picasso.

Was this why friends long ago began refusing rides and lifts to events? Yes, of course it was. She was a traffic hazard. She imagined her chassis scraping the tarmacadam, eliciting sparks, igniting the loose petrol fumes and everything going up in a ball of flame while still traveling in the left lane to turn off to Glebe. She saw the image on the evening news; taken with a brand new mobile phone. Such a sharp image; it would not do for it to be blurry.

She got in the car and felt everything sink a little further. Cries of Bye! and See you! she ignored as she headed for home.

She wasn't stupid. She knew about the famous 'Far Side' card of the ugly obese woman, with a small dead dog stuffed between her arse cheeks, tacking a lost-dog poster to a factory wall. No one had ever bought it to give to her, nor had they brought it to her attention while perusing the birthday card collection on the sideboard, any sideboard. It was all too close to home. And today it had got as close to home as it could get.

As she drove her mind raced. How could she possibly tell anyone? Yes, they would laugh, if it was found out, but not in her presence. It would be an in-joke about her so it would be so 'in' that she would never hear it. She would be excluded. Women, and Stuart Mention, would hush and stifle giggles as she approached. No. It must not be known.

She wound down the driver's window, reached into her coffin-like duffle bag on the passenger seat, grabbed the fluffy corpse, chose her moment, and threw it with all her might in a large arch into the scrub on the far side of the Wakehurst Parkway. The effort and momentum swerved the car but she maintained control and continued home determined never to think of it again.

But of course she could think of nothing else. Sarah Hilltop, warm lunches, long tables, buffets, over-stuffed chairs, small dogs, fluffy dogs, any dogs, and birthday cards all tricked her synapses to fire madly and brought her nothing but self-loathing, and, and ... the truth.

Eighteen months after Sarah Hilltop's ad hoc buffet Nora Hicks died in her sleep. Everyone thought about and eulogized her weight, personality, and their loss; but no one really knew the real reason; nobody, that is, except you.

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