Perfect Surfaces – Geraldine McCarthy

On Saturday morning, Pam cleans the mixing-bowl at the kitchen sink while buns cook in the oven. She’s wearing rubber gloves to protect her nails. Only had them done the previous day, and they’re €30 a pop.

She’s volunteered to bake for a local coffee morning, in aid of some orphanage in South America.

The fairy cakes will take fifteen minutes. Two dozen should be enough; twelve plain and twelve with cherries. She wipes down the already spotless marble worktops, takes out the cakes, and has a quick coffee while they cool on a wire tray. The aroma of vanilla wafts through the kitchen.

Upstairs, she opts for skinny jeans, and a new baby-pink top. Her face is a little flushed from the heat of the oven, so she applies foundation, and then a little eye-shadow and lip gloss. The neighbours are all so glam, with their highlights and lowlights, their clothes always this season’s.

Fairy cakes in boxes on the back seat, Pam drives to the community centre. The Audi glides along like a dream. She’s glad she traded up this year.

Once inside, she makes sure to hand over the baking to Audrey, the head of the committee, who pecks Pam’s cheek and thanks her profusely from a cloud of Chanel No. 5. Audrey persuades Pam to stay for a cuppa, so they sit down in the far corner of the room, away from the hub-bub at other tables. Deep in conversation about the Tidy Towns contest, Pam feels a tap on her shoulder. She twirls on her chair.

Her mother. Grey roots and crumpled cardigan.

Pam’s stomach clenches. “Mam!” she says. “How did you get here?”

“Diane next door brought me,” her mother says, “thought I could do with a break.” She raises an eyebrow. “There’s only so many kitten videos you can watch on YouTube.”

Pam glances at Audrey, who averts her eyes, and nibbles her bun like a bird at a feeder.

Pam addresses her mother. “Oh, well, you know I’d have collected you, but I thought you were watching your weight, that you’d have no interest.”

Her mother twists her wedding band around her finger, as if she’s strangling a turkey. “Hmm.”

“Well, I can drop you back later.”

Her mother purses her lips. “Sure, if I came with Diane I can go home with her.”

Pam feels her face redden. “Well, I’ll call tomorrow morning then. Is there anything you need?”

“Not a bit,” her mother says. “Diane is beckoning me over. See you tomorrow.”

Audrey finishes her bun. “Well, I must mingle. Thanks so much for all your hard work, Pam.”

“Not a bother, Audrey. I’ll see you Monday night for picking up the litter. The group is meeting at the church, isn’t it?”

“Yes, see you then.”

As Pam drives home, she notices the varnish has chipped.  She’ll go to the nail bar next week for a repair job. They look so nice when they’re freshly done.


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Geraldine McCarthy lives in West Cork, Ireland.  She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry.  Her work has been published in various journals, both on-line and in print.

Appearance – Antoinette Carone

 

We used to pretend that we were wealthy. After all, as we were taught in theater class, it is the appearance that counts. Keep up the illusion long enough and it becomes a reality.

We shopped in the jewelry stores uptown. We never bought anything, but we made excellent excuses for not doing so: The amber did not quite go with my eyes; I did not really like the emerald; and so on. Then one day I saw an amethyst pin. I loved it! We said we would think about it and left.

I got a second job – just temporarily. I became a telemarketer. I hated every minute of it, but I was good at it. I guess all that pretending, all that making claim to an alternate reality paid off. At the end of six months I had saved twelve-hundred dollars.

I put on my one good dress – black silk crepe but very plain – and wearing sunglasses but no make-up, I walked into the jewelry store with the cash. The pin was still there! (I imagine it was too small for someone who could afford whatever she wanted to take notice of.) I never wore jewelry when I went into that store except for the gold studs in my ears, a graduation present from my aunts. I went home wearing the pin on my black dress. The austerity of the neckline really set it off.

There was a woman sitting in our living room with David, drinking white wine. David introduced her as Margot. I guess we effectively carried off the appearance of wealth, because Margot took quite a close look at my pin. She was a dancer, or so David said. That seemed to be true from the way she held herself and from the length and tone of her legs. She looked elegant and aloof. Perhaps Margot was pretending to be beautiful.

She certainly convinced David. He left me for her the following weekend. He said that he was obsessed with her exquisite looks, that he had more in common with her that with me and that he and I weren’t really meant for each other.

 

 

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Antoinette Carone was born in West Virginia. She has studied theater in New York city and holds a bachelor’s degree in Romance Languages. When she and her husband decided to spend a year in Naples, she kept a journal which was later published as Ciao, Napoli – A Scrapbook of Wandering in Naples. Her short stories “The Eternal Return” appeared in the May 2018 issue and “The Demon” in the January 2019 issue of the online journal Ovunque Siamo. She is an active member of the New York Writers’ Coalition.