by Greg Duncan
iced tea with a squoosh of lemon
It had been many years since Matilda and Sophie had spent time together. At junior high school, even though Matilda had always been a flashy fanciful one, they had been virtually inseparable. However, when Matilda's family moved to a different part of Chicago their friendship waned. For a while they telephoned to keep in contact but soon that stopped as each found new friends.
Sophie pursued her interest in painting and after art college one of the important galleries began exhibiting her work. When her first major one person show was advertised in the newspaper, she was surprised to receive a message from the gallery saying that a Matilda Frasenheim had called, left her number and could Sophie call her back. Although the surname was different, Sophie felt it must be her old school friend so she called and Matilda answered.
"Oh Sophie, thanks for calling back. It's so nice to hear from you. It's been so long. And I've really missed you, dear."
"Yeah, it's been a long time."
"I so much want to catch up with you. I've got so much to tell you, dear. Shall we meet for coffee? How about Forty Carrots at Bloomingdales?"
Sophie knew this was not the cheapest place to have coffee but if that was where Matilda wanted to go, then so be it.
"Fine; sounds good. Tomorrow? 10 o'clock?"
"Oh sorry, dear, can't do then, I've my yoga meditation class at that time."
"You're doing yoga? Hey, that's fantastic."
Sophie remembered Matilda's distaste for anything requiring effort - she must have really changed and this was worth seeing.
"Oh yes. It's so refreshing and helps calm my inner persona. Thursday would be fine. I won't be chairing the meeting of the Help for Homeless till the afternoon so 10 would be perfect. I'm so tied up with committees today can I leave you to reserve a table, dear? See you then. Bye, darling."
Before Sophie could reply, Matilda had hung up.
Reserve a table? Sophie knew that probably meant she would be expected to pick up the bill but she could not back out now.
On Thursday, it was almost a quarter past ten before Matilda swept into the restaurant all smiles and glitter.
"Oh so good to see you again Sophie, dear. You're looking so well. How do you do it? No don't tell me - it would make me jealous. But then I don't really need to be jealous do I? Not with the way life's been treating me, dear."
Sophie leant back in her chair to reduce the chance of asphyxiation from Matilda's over powering cheap perfume - it certainly was not one Sophie would buy.
With hardly a pause for breath, Matilda took command of the conversation. "I see you've got an art show coming up. That's so clever of you, dear. I'm so looking forward to seeing it. As you know, I love art."
Based on her memory of Matilda, Sophie was slightly lost for words at this unexpected revelation about art and so just replied with a single word. "Fantastic."
"Herbert taught me all about art."
"Herbert? Is he your husband?"
"Oh yes, dear. Herbert's my darling husband. He's a doctor, you know."
Matilda's words came out so fast, Sophie had little time to respond. She remembered it was best not to interrupt Matilda so Sophie spoke the first word that came into her mind and uttered another quick "Fantastic."
"He's a heart specialist. Much in demand."
Sophie was able to slip in another "Fantastic" before Matilda continued her on going gurgle of words.
"It meant we had to move out to Magnificent Mile."
"Really? The expensive suburb? Fantastic."
"Oh yes. We needed more space for the cars and for Carson and Yvonne."
"Carson and Yvonne? Are they your kids?"
"Oh no dear, we haven't time for kids. No Carson is our butler and Yvonne looks after the housekeeping staff."
"What can I say but how great for you. I knew this would happen to you one day - it's just fantastic."
"I know. Carson would have driven me here today in the Bentley but it's in for service so we had to use the Lincoln."
"It must be great to have such helpful people around you."
"Oh yes - you can't imagine how much I rely on them, especially on golf days."
"You play golf as well? That's fantastic."
"Oh I don't just play - I'm also vice-chair of the social committee. You know what it's like."
"I don't, actually, but in your case I can imagine. Vice-chair? Fantastic. I can see you being chair one day."
"Oh thanks, dear - I will make a great chairperson, won't I? But oh Sophie, dear. I've been spending all our time here talking about my little hum-drum life and there you are doing such great things with, er ... art. Tell me how did it all begin? Tell me everything. Make me jealous."
"Well - after high school my parents sent me to a finishing school in Switzerland."
"A finishing school? In Switzerland? Did they speak English? What kind of things do they teach at a finishing school? Did you learn anything there?"
"They taught us how to be polite in company."
"Oh tell me more dear. What was the most important thing you learned?"
"Well ... one of the things they taught us was - in polite company, don't use the word bullshit - instead, just say - fantastic."
For some reason, at that point Matilda stood up and walked out.