"You should do it yourself darling, it's so liberating," Luisa announced as she
painted her toenails a soft pink.
Christine made a neutral noise while she lay back on the lush grass. Through her sunglasses she stared up at the
bright blue sky. Next to her Luisa lifted one delicately painted foot in the air to examine her handiwork. She gave a murmur of
contentment and then looked at Christine.
"Are you going to do yours?" she asked.
Christine shook her head. She did not need to turn
her head to be aware of the disapproving stare. The next thing Luisa would do was toss her long blonde hair down her
back. She gave a snort and did exactly that. The golden hair glittered in the sunlight.
As usual Christine felt the feeling of jealously rise up. It had always been like that; comparing herself to Luisa and in the end she had stopped competing. Her hair was now cropped, no longer than two inches all over her head. It had not
occurred to either of the women that Christine's looks were the ones that were most flattered. They had just always
accepted the fact that Luisa was the pretty one.
"You should really start making an effort, the only man in your life recently was Dave and look how he turned out."
"Good riddance I think, but it's made things difficult."
"That was because he seemed to think he came first," Luisa pointed out. "That's why I don't want a permanent one."
"Oh, so you hire them instead?"
"Why ever not? They do their job plus it sends the Wicked Witch of the West into a fit every time one of them turns up," Luisa crowed in delight.
Christine sighed heavily. "She's elderly and that generation have -" she paused momentarily, "standards."
"You mean morals?"
Christine shrugged. She did not want to get into a fight but she did think that her best friend was a little mean to her next door
"But it is funny to see the look on her face at the array of swarthy men I get trooping down the driveway," Luisa grinned.
"You are incorrigible!"
"Really? I thought this was Kent," Luisa answered
back. Christine tutted at the unoriginal joke and tried to pay no attention to the giggling woman on her left.
"You have the mentality of a teenager."
"So what?" Luisa demanded, "if I can't have just that little bit of fun what can I do?"
Christine debated that four days later while she weeded one of her flowerbeds. It was a job that helped her think and since
it was an endless task she spent her time thinking a lot. Which, she finally decided, was not always a good thing.
She was acutely glad for once when she heard Luisa's bright shout and her best friend skipped around the corner looking like an over grown Barbie doll. Her hair was curled elaborately and Christine wondered where she found the time for it.
"Hi," Christine greeted her.
Luisa wrinkled her nose as she looked at what Christine was doing. "Oh stop for a break," she insisted, "I've brought refreshments."
White wine as usual. Luisa turned and skipped
through Christine's back door to find a corkscrew and some glasses. Christine pushed her trowel into the ground
and slowly stood up.
"Busy day?" she asked Luisa slightly sarcastically.
"Hairdressers," she announced, "as a receptionist I must look good."
"Except you spend so much time at the hairdressers you never make it to work."
"Nonsense," Luisa replied calmly. She either didn't understand sarcasm or she just ignored it. Christine was of the opinion it was the first.
"Anyway." Luisa turned to Christine. "How do you fancy meeting Pierre my swarthy Frenchman?"
She swung her hips as she spoke causing the silk of her baby doll dress to ripple against her thighs. Christine smirked, that was
what all the dressing up was about. One of her rented men was coming round.
"No thanks," Christine said, "besides - "
"Oh come on Pierre's my regular man. He's lovely, fantastic
accent and six-pack," she added impishly.
"I'm busy," Christine objected.
"Oh my dear." Luisa rolled her eyes, "you are hopeless."
"I'm just not interested in swarthy Frenchmen."
"You should be, he's worth every penny."
"Oh, for heavens sake!" Christine felt her face start to flush and was helpless to stop it. To distract herself she opened the wine bottle and pour out the lightly fizzing liquid.
Luisa suddenly dropped the impish act and looked serious.
"Is this about Dave?"
Christine shrugged trying to be dismissive. She
gulped at her wine.
"Come on Christy," Luisa said, "he was a nice guy but please; just a little over bearing."
"Just leave it."
"What? Do you feel guilty? Why?"
"It just seems disloyal," Christine told her.
"Oh for goodness sake, you are free to do what you like."
"I'm fine on my own."
"Some things you can't do on your own," Luisa announced. Again the girlishness was back and she smirked. "The thing about women's lib is that you just have to accept that you can't do everything. Now and again a man his helpful and more to the point necessary," she told Christine loftily, "and speaking of which my swarthy Frenchman awaits."
Luisa glided out of the room. Most people walked but
not Luisa, and she disappeared out of Christine's front door. Christine for a moment looked at the wine bottle before going to the fridge and storing it away.
closed the door she gave a gasp of indignation. Luisa had used the fridge magnet telling Christine that 'women don’t
have hot flushes they have power surges' to pin a small advert to the door. Christine stared at it; the first
three letters were printed in bold, Rent-A-Man.
Christine opened the door and took the wine straight back out again.
The advert never got taken off the fridge. Two days later it was still there. Christine felt a shudder of anger every time she saw it. She was angry with Luisa for putting it there and at herself for not removing it.
Instead it just sat there hinting at her while Luisa remained conspicuous by her absence. Something that was her habit when she knew she had pushed an issue just a little too far. That however never stopped her from pushing an issue in the first
Now, Christine was looking at it again. Perhaps she was being silly over what Luisa was trying to tell her. Dave had been a nice guy but he had run roughshod over her ideas until nothing
seemed to be her own. He had taken over, in the nicest possible way, but he had still taken over.
Slowly she turned and, moving to the sink, looked out over the garden. She winced as she looked at the mess, all the things she had promised she would do and nothing had been done. Over the last few weeks all she had done was sit about and mope. Luisa was right about her turning into a dowdy old woman.
It had been meant as a bright joke, but it had hit home as an insult.
Christine inhaled deeply and turned around reaching for the telephone. She stared hard at the number on the advert and pressed the buttons on the phone. As the phone connected and during the long pause before it started to ring she almost hung up but as the impulse took her the phone jumped into life.
It was answered on the third ring.
"Hello," Christine said after the greeting, "I was
- well I wanted to hire someone."
She stared almost unseeingly out of the window as she stammered out the sentence. Only certain things stood out in the
landscape, blatantly refusing to be ignored as she worried about what to say.
"I wondered how much you charge," She said wondering why she was so nervous, "and what sort of things you actually do."
She listened to the calm, professional voice on the other end and eventually she smiled. She stared at the disgusting fountain that had been Dave's pride and joy and if the rented men could actually do something about it.
"Some pruning definitely, and there is a feature in the garden that might need a little bit of work, if you have an expert in water features."
Christine had twisted the phone cord around her fingers and she jumped with shock as the refined voice on the other end of the phone turned into something more familiar.
"Ah ha! So you're after my swarthy Frenchman after all!"