The Steel Magnolia

by Victoria Mather. Drawing by Sue Macartney-Snape
The Steel Magnolia drawn by Sue Macartney-Snape

Rebecca looks a frail blossom. Men rush to her at parties, terrified that the strain of lifting a glass to her lips, or opening a door for herself, might be too much. ‘Please let me do that for you...’ And she does. Rebecca is extraordinarily accomplished about letting others do things for her. If she has the intimation of a headache she has to have a little lie-down and, weak-voiced, telephone a girlfriend who then abandons her job and rushes round to make Rebecca herb tea. ‘You’re so kind, Emily, could I have some honey with it? For my throat? And not a mug, darling, a china tea cup, and please put a pretty linen cloth on the tray.’

By the time her husband comes home from his hedge fund she has taken to the sofa, beautifully pale with the softest lip gloss and a smudge of mascara. ‘Little one, are you all right? What can I get you?’ Rebecca smiles bravely and says she could force down a little champagne. ‘Some Dom Perignon, the bubbles are too big in any other champagne, they’d hurt my throat. And we don’t really have to go to dinner with the von Stranglers do we, darling?’ Herbert von Strangler is an incredibly important client of Darling’s. He has booked Locanda Locatelli, but even London’s most expensive pasta never passes Rebecca’s lips, and she has no intention of tiny-talking to Bettina von Strangler about German fashion. Darling says gosh, and makes well-it’s-a-bit-late-to-cancel panicky noises and perhaps he’d better go by himself. Rebecca’s pinky-pale lips do a sad moue and she says sacrificially, ‘Well, if you must...’ So he leaves in a cloud of guilt, Rebecca’s little voice calling, ‘Do give my love to dear Bettina.’

As soon as the door has clicked shut Rebecca gathers the remote control and her telephone so that while watching her favourite programme she can ring Emily again – now putting her children to bed – saying that Darling has heartlessly left her alone with nothing to eat. What she needs is Daylesford Organic pumpkin soup. ‘You couldn’t be an angel, could you?’ Later, Darling is so gently smiled into guilt that he promises to take Rebecca for a spa weekend at Coworth Park, the Dorchester in the country.

Telegraph Magazine, 23 October 2010

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