Short Story: The Art of Deception

‘I’ve got to give it to you, ma’am, these scones, they really melt in the mouth.’

‘It was my grandma’s recipe. Lucy and I baked them together when she was young. We were so close before she became a teenager.’

‘Good old hormones, eh? They’ve a lot to answer for.’ ‘I think it was karma myself.’ ‘You’re telling me you were a rebel? I ain’t buying that, Mrs Watkins.’

‘Call me Beryl, dear. Everyone does. And you have to give me some credit. I came dangerously close to being sent away to an all girls school. Another scone?’

‘Go on, then.’

‘It’s funny, really, I used to bake with my own grandma when I was a girl. And it didn’t matter what we were making, as she’d hand me the whisk, she’d always say the same thing, “the secret is all in the beating.” I remember it because, when I got to my tearaway years, she’d say exactly the same thing before clobbering me with a cane.’

‘Blimey, that’s harsh!’ ‘It was just the done thing in those days.’ ‘Right. Beryl—’

‘I’m sorry for rambling on, Tom, I am. It’s just, I was so nervous about meeting you in person. Excited, of course, but, well, I suppose one never knows quite what to expect in these situations, do they?’

‘You don’t need to tell me. The old bladder had me pulling into the hard shoulder at least ten times on the way over.’

‘Ten times? Well, that’s never right, even if you were nervous. Perhaps you ought to cut down on the caffeine. Some more tea?’

‘Please, do you realise this teapot is Meissen porcelain? Might be worth a bit.’ ‘I can’t say I’ve given it much thought. Are you an antiques collector, dear?’ ‘You could say that.’ ‘What is it you—’

‘Anything worth a pretty penny.’

‘That makes sense. The tea set is an heirloom—belonged to my grandma, in fact. I was going to pass it on to Lucy. Of course, you never expect your granddaughter to...oh goodness, I’m so sorry.’

‘Do you want a tissue? I saw a box in the hall.’

‘No, no, it’s all right, I have one here. Actually, Tom, I’ve been meaning to ask you...would you mind terribly if I, I felt her?’

‘Beg your pardon?’ ‘May I put my hand on your chest? It’d be nice to feel close to her again...’ ‘Crikey, where are my manners? Of course you can, yeah, go on, put your hand right there.’ ‘You’ll never guess what I heard on the news a few weeks back. Scientists are replacing monkey hearts with pig ones. Apparently, they want to find out whether they could be used in humans. It sounds absurd, although I suppose, when you think about it—oh my word!’

‘How about that, eh? It’s mad what these docs can do nowadays, ain’t it?’ ‘My goodness, I don’t know what to say. I didn’t know it to be so...’ ‘Strong? It’s ticking faster now. I think your Lucy knows you’re close.’ ‘I've waited and prayed for this day for so long, but I never actually believed I’d— that’s really my Lucy in there, isn’t it? It’s really her.’ ‘It sure is. I can’t tell you how grateful I am—er, Beryl?’ ‘Forgive me, Tom, it’s just, you have no idea what this means to me.’ ‘Lucy gave me another crack at life. It’s all thanks to her and your family that I’m here today.’

‘They would loved to have met you. It would do them the world of good to know Lucy’s heart has gone to such a fine young man. Her mother is in such a terrible state.’ ‘I expect she will be, won’t she? My heart goes out—blimey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to...’

‘Please, sit here next to me, you’ve had a long journey. I can listen to it again later. Let me get you another scone.’

‘You know, Beryl, it’s proper weird, but this place it feels sort of familiar. You’re familiar...’

‘It’s that new scientific thing you told me about on the phone, isn’t it? What was it called again?’

‘Oh, they’ve got a right posh title for it, cellular memories.’

‘I have to admit, it sounded more spiritual than scientific when you explained it before. I called into the library to see if they had any books on it. According to the chap there, they didn’t. He suggested I use the machines. Google or something he called it. I told him nobody my age knows how to use the silly things. Anyway, dear, what were you saying?’

‘I’m remembering all this stuff I know ain’t mine to remember, and bits of my personality have changed too. It’s like I woke up from the op in a different body.’

‘You’re right, that does sound bizarre.’ ‘I think it’s Lucy.’ ‘If you’re talking about reincarnation, dear, you should know I’m a Christian.’ ‘No, it ain’t like that. What I mean is, I’ve got more than Lucy’s heart. See, the docs reckon it ain’t only the brain that can hold onto memories. When I told them about all the stuff that’s happening to me, they gave me your details. Guess they thought we could help each other.’

‘I see. My, my, this is a lot to take in. What kind of things are you remembering?’ ‘You and Lucy won a prize in the local cake-bake competition, yeah?’ ‘We did. It was a wonderful day, they even put our photos in the local paper.’

‘You know, I found your eulogy in that paper. Reading about your trip to that London Gallery with Lucy made me a right blubbering mess. Anyway, that’s how I knew for sure you needed me to come see you.’

‘I wasn’t told they’d printed my eulogy. Mind you, I can’t say I’m surprised. John, the editor, will jump on any opportunity to mention my grandma’s old art collection.’

‘Oh yeah, I remember now they said you’ve got, what was it? Twenty pieces from the Impressionist period.’

‘Thirty, they’re all heirlooms my grandma left to me.’ ‘Blimey, is it true you’ve got a Monet, then?’ ‘An original.’ ‘Blimmin’ heck, do you know how much it’s worth?’ ‘Well, no, I’m not like those folk you see on Dickinson’s Real Deal, Tom. I’m respectful of the things my ancestors have passed down.’ ‘Yeah, yeah, I get that, but how do you know it’s the real thing?’ ‘My grandma had its authenticity checked years ago.’ ‘You wouldn’t treat me to a little peek, would you?’ ‘Ah, I’m afraid I must refuse you there, dear. You see, my grandma was always a paranoid woman. She was very private and very particular about who she allowed to view the paintings, it’s a trait she passed on to me. You understand.’

‘Right.’ ‘Please don’t be offended.’ ‘Nah, it’s fine. You got to be careful these days, ain’t you? But, Beryl, you can’t tell

me you keep the works in this cottage. No offence, but there ain’t room in here to swing a cat.’

‘I don’t tell a soul where I keep them, dear.’

‘Wise as well as a great baker, Beryl.’ ‘Oh, I don’t know about that.’ ‘Ahhh, come on, there ain’t any point in being all shy about it. You’ve got to know

you’re a cracking broad.’ ‘Thank you, Tom, I really—’

‘We’re going to be good for each other, I can feel it in my bones.’ ‘I agree, it’s really a miracle we met.’ ‘But all good friendships, they start with trust, don’t they?’ ‘Well, yes.’

‘Then, how about we make a deal. I’ll tell you something nobody knows about me if you, you tell me where the paintings are. No, no, you don’t have to say anything yet, I’ll go first...I’ve never had a real friend before. Folk say I’m too keen, whatever that means.’

‘That’s nothing to ashamed of, dear. Lucy was something of a lone wolf too, I suppose aesthetics always are. Oh, I’m sorry, it’s my turn, isn’t it? Um, well, if you must know, all of the paintings are in the basement.’

‘The base—crikey, what about the damp? Tell me you at least got them in a safe box!’

‘Not exactly, but don’t worry, I’ve got a few bolts on the door. Mind you, they are getting a little rusty now...’

‘You can’t be—’

‘Dear me, I do believe we’ve gotten rather side-tracked, haven’t we? Perhaps you could tell me more about the memories you’ve acquired over a fresh pot of tea, eh?’

‘Actually, Beryl, I’ve been waiting for the right time to bring this up. I’ve got a little something for you.’

‘Two tickets for a coach trip to London? And, oh my word, a hotel booking?’

‘When I read your eulogy, I had this feeling. It was like your Lucy was trying to tell me that she wanted you to go back to that gallery in London. So, I thought to myself, why not get her there?’

‘So sweet of you, Tom, but I can’t accept this.’ ‘Eh, why not? It will help you feel closer to Lucy, won’t it?’ ‘Well, yes, but the ticket is dated for tomorrow!’ ‘What can I say? I reckon she wanted you to seize the day.’ ‘Why don’t you come with me? If we went together, I’d be taking a piece of Lucy with me.’ ‘You sure? I got two tickets so you could bring one of your lady friends with you, you don’t have to—’ ‘Tom, you’re coming with me, and that’s final.’ ‘Aww shucks, now I don’t know what to say. I promise I’ll show you a good time and we can talk about Lucy ‘til the cows come home if you like.’

‘Wonderful!’

‘Tell you what, if you bake some more scones to take with us tomorrow, I’ll pick up some proper padlocks from the D.I.Y. store. Hell, I might even get on the old Google and see if I can find us a number for a man who does insulation, how’s that?’

‘Tom, you really do have Lucy’s heart of gold.’

Caitlin Cording is a full-time writer concentrating on her first novel. She recently obtained first prize in the Reader Writer Lounge International Short Story Competition and has had her works accepted for publication in a handful of literary magazines. She lives in Wales with her wife and son.

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