“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a neighbourhood made up of one moderately wide street, 22 semi-detached houses on either side with 22 adjoining driveways, an average of three vehicles and half a dog per property must have an abundance of goodwill amongst its occupants.
It is also a truth universally unacknowledged that this is not so.”
Sugar Bags & Canapés
“Harry, quickly, come down now. Our guests are arriving in 10 minutes,” Jenny is shouting up the staircase, wiping her flushed and sweaty face with the bottom edge of her blue cotton apron.
Harry descends in a hurry, fumbling with the zip on his pants whilst getting his hands tangled up with his long brown tie. “I can’t get that damn thing closed. For heaven’s sake, help me, Jenny.”
Jenny leaps forward and roughly grabs Harry’s fly, slaps the tie out of her way and pulls the zip with one powerful upward movement.
“Ouch! Can’t you be more gentle, woman?” Harry squeals. “I haven’t got time for gentle,” Jenny hisses just as there’s a knock on the door behind her.
“Oh bloody hell.” Jenny rips off her apron and thrusts it into Harry’s hands. “Get rid of it, quickly.” She straightens her low-cut sequined evening dress.
Harry turns left then right, unsure what to do and then decides to ball up the fabric and push it underneath the shoe rack near the door.
Jenny gives him a nasty look before she opens the door and transforms her round face into a brilliant smile. “Hello, Margaret. Hello, Karl. Early as usual,” she laughs overly giddy at the stern-faced couple in their mid-fifties on her doorstep. “Please, come in, come in.”
Margaret gives her hostess a smug look as she’s gingerly stepping inside, her husband on her heels. “I always say punctuality is a virtue, don’t I, Karl?”
“Oh, yes, you always say that,” Karl sighs, as he bends his tall frame to remove his shoes.
Jenny stops him in his tracks. “Not tonight. People generally wear their shoes at soirées.”
Harry looks down at his shoeless feet and quickly tries to grab his loafers from the shoe rack, thereby pulling the whole structure towards him and getting the emerging apron tangled around his feet.
Jenny, Karl and Margaret stare at him.
There’s another knock at the door.
“Harry, please take our guests through to the conservatory to offer refreshments,” Jenny orders with a wave of her right hand.
Harry is hastily pushing the shoe rack and stray apron back into position before leading his guests towards the back of the house.
Jenny straightens her hair in the hall mirror then opens the door with a radiant smile on her face.
“Jenny, luv. As tha’ got a bit o’ sugar I cud borrow, luv?” The old man standing on the doorstep holds out an old chipped, brown cup towards her.
“Lawrence. Ahem. I’m expecting guests.” Jenny’s face drops.
She nervously looks up the drive and frowns at Lawrence who continues to proffer his cup and fixes her with watery, grey eyes.
“Does tha’ need all t’ sugar for them then?” he asks.
“No. No. Of course not. Wait here,” she commands and pushes the door halfway closed.
As Jenny is opening the larder cupboard in the kitchen, she hears loud voices outside. She rushes to grab the bag of sugar and drops it on the floor. “Oh, shit!” she shouts looking at the sugary mess all over her kitchen floor.
As she’s crouching down on the floor, there’s a faint knock on the door.
Tom pops his head around the corner and sees Jenny on her knees amidst a pile of sugar.
“Jen. You’re sweet enough. No need for the sugar,” he grins.
Jenny blushes up to her roots. “Oh, Tom,” she trills.
Vicky pushes in after her husband. “Oh, no. Just what you need when you’re having a party.”
“It’s a soirée,” Jenny insists coldly.
“Well, let me help you,” Vicky says and kneels down in her tight leather skirt beside Jenny. “Where’s your brush and pan?”
“I’ll get it.” Jenny heaves herself back up to standing and opens the door to the utility room to grab the brush and pan. She hands both to Vicky who immediately starts clearing up the white mess.
Harry appears at the kitchen door. “Jenny…” he stops mid-sentence as he’s staring open-mouthed at the sight of Vicky’s leather-clad bottom wriggling around on the kitchen floor amidst the sugar.
“Hi, Haz.” Tom slaps him hard on the back and laughs, making him jolt forward and bump into a stony-faced Jenny.
“What is it, Harry?” she hisses.
“I, ahem, I,” Harry stutters still fixated on the spectacle in front of him.
Jenny knocks him hard into the ribs with her elbow making him wince.
“Ahem, I didn’t know you’ve invited Lawrence,” he finally manages to produce.
“Of course I didn’t invite Lawrence! Why would you say a silly thing like that?” Jenny whispers.
“Is that the guy who was on your doorstep when we arrived?” Tom asks. “I told him to go inside. Funny old bloke. Could hardly make out what he was saying. A bit broad for me,” he volunteers cheerfully.
“Such a lovely old man. I’ve seen him sitting on the bench outside his house. Always waves at me when I drive past. So nice of you to invite him,” Vicky chips in, now standing up with a pan full of sugar in one hand and the brush in the other. “Where’s your bin? You don’t want to use this anymore do you?”
“Thanks, Vicky, just leave it there. I’ll see to it later.” Jenny stonily points to the worktop behind Vicky.
“Lawrence?” Harry mouths at her soundlessly. Jenny opens her mouth to say something, as there’s a knock on the frame of the wide-open outside door.
“Yuhu! Anybody home?” a cheerful, extremely high-pitched voice can be heard in the hallway.
“Excuse me,” Jenny breathes as she’s pushing past Tom who nearly fills the whole of the kitchen doorframe.
“Tamara, come in.”
“Jenny, my love! Is it open house today? We could’ve brought a few more ravers with us. Haha,” the woman with the bright red hair and elaborate make-up says as she’s air-kissing Jenny on both cheeks.
She spots Tom standing in the kitchen doorway looking at her with interest. “Now, then. You must be the new neighbour.”
She looks Tom up and down and whistles. “Now I know why Jenny is having a party.”
She winks at Tom, who is clearly amused at being flirted with so openly.
“Oh. Hello, Harry.” She sort of waves in Harry’s direction.
“We’re having a soirée,” Jenny cuts in sharply. “This is Tom and his wife, Vicky.” She points at Vicky, who’s washing her hands at the kitchen sink.
“Hi,” Vicky shouts over her shoulder.
“Hm, there’s no chance for you, Jenny, my love. The wife’s way prettier than you,” Tamara taps a bright-faced Jenny on the arm.
“Where’s Howard?” Jenny snaps.
“Aw. He’s outside smoking a cigar. Can you believe it? He stopped smoking cigarettes and now he’s on the big cigars! He says he gets the dose of 10 cigs in one of them.”
Tamara shrugs her shoulders. “I’m not bothered. I stopped kissing him a long time ago,” she smirks and winks at Tom who laughs out loud.
“Ahem,” Jenny clears her throat. “Tom, Vicky. This is Tamara Mellenfort. She and her husband Howard live at No. 6, right at the end. I’ll introduce you to the Joneses of No. 1 when we finally move into the conservatory.”
A strong whiff of cigar smoke announces the arrival of Tamara’s husband in the kitchen.
“Well, hello everybody! You can always find them in the kitchen at parties, hey? Hahaha,” Howard booms, pinching his wife’s bottom as he’s passing her.
“Hello, Howard. Nice of you to join us,” Jenny sighs.
Harry waves at him cheerfully proudly standing side by side with Vicky.
“This is Tamara’s husband. Vicky, Tom, Howard,” Jenny points from person to person.
“Let’s go through to the conservatory now. The Joneses will be wondering where we are.” Jenny attempts to make a beeline for the back of the house, carefully avoiding getting too close to Howard.
But, he’s quick of the mark and pinches the flesh of her ample waistline. “Still plenty to grab there, Jenny,” he smirks while she squeals angrily and jumps.
Tom laughs out loud before Vicky silences him with a slap on the arm and a stern look.
As everybody herds into the candlelit, beige carpeted and furnished conservatory, they are met with a peculiar sight.
Margaret and Karl are sitting stiffly side by side on chairs in the far right-hand corner, each tightly clutching a glass of untouched sparkling Prosecco wordlessly observing Lawrence, who’s busy shuffling around the canapé buffet, using his gnarled hands to pile a plate high with Jenny’s carefully arranged soirée canapé cuisine.
“Tha’s made t’sandwiches a bit small ‘ere, me luv. But t’is a nice spread.”
Lawrence points to his old chipped, brown cup having pride of place in the centre of the attentively decorated table.
“Never mind t’sugar now, luv.”
Caren is a UK-based B2B and B2C professional freelance writer. Using her expert knowledge, skills and personal experience in corporate and small business development, personal improvement and autism, she crafts content that makes people take action. Her work is found in retail publications, professional websites, on her writer’s platform StoryBlog and more. When she isn’t typing away on her keyboard, you can see her having her nose buried in a book or hiking up and down the steep hills of the Yorkshire countryside with her husband, son and daughter.
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