Friends Renunited: A Short Story

For twenty five years I have hated Jennifer Cox.

I was fourteen the first time I had to stay behind in detention for writing on her desk with a black magic marker and from that day onward it was war between us.

Jennifer Cox is a cow.

That’s what I wrote and that’s what I had to scrub off with Vim in front of the entire class while Jennifer looked on with a self satisfied smirk that made me want to slap her exultant face with the wet J-Cloth I was holding.  She had a face like a ferret.  Or maybe she didn’t.  It’s difficult to remember what she looked like now and my memory of her has been distorted with time.  I just remember that blonde, flicked-back hair and the way she wore her cardigan over her shoulders as though she was somehow more important than the rest of us.

She was captain of the girl’s hockey team.  She won the Verse Speaking competition two years in a row and curried favour with the teachers by volunteering for every extra curricular activity posted on the notice board.  Her Black Forest gateau was the envy of every girl in the domestic science class.  In short, Jennifer Cox was a total cow and I hated her.

So it was a big surprise when I got an e-mail message from her.

You see I had put my name down on a web site called Friends Reunited.  It was becoming something of a phenomenon in the UK and thousands of people were getting in touch with old school friends, dizzying themselves with rose-coloured nostalgia for days that were probably best forgotten. 

When I logged on for the first time I was amazed how the list of old school mates stirred me up inside.  People I thought I’d never hear of again.  It was a bit depressing to tell you the truth.  There were lots of marriages, divorces and offspring.  There was a plethora of sales executives, managing directors and computer programmers.  Jennifer Cox wasn’t on the list of pupils from 1977 and I never thought to look at the list for 1979 when all the sixth form students would have left for university, their satchels crammed with A-Levels. (I left school at sixteen with an O-Level in woodwork and a sense of freedom so profound it was like being released from prison).

I received quite a few messages after I put my name down on the web site.  It was intriguing to hear from people I hadn’t seen for twenty five years and I derived a kind of guilty satisfaction from the fact that nobody was as famous as me.  John Williams (solitary loner with chronic acne, good at languages) was living in some obscure region of France with two horses and a wife called Sabine.  Gillian Watson (looked like Suzie Quatro and lied about her age to see The Exorcist) married a Canadian tax inspector and emigrated to a suburb of Toronto.  Nigel Fletcher (allegedly had sex with Miss Davidson) was working for Channel 4, making a huge deal about his outdoor swimming pool and a time share in Cancun.  That was the extent to which those classmates of mine had aspired.

It stood to reason that they would all be eager to get in touch with me.  Especially those who were still living in Nottingham.  And I’m not knocking Nottingham.  After all, it’s got a castle and a university and all that Robin Hood stuff going for it but I was brought up near Retford and the closest we came to a local landmark was a distant view of Gamston airport.

I didn’t recognize the e-mail when it came.

She’d changed her name since she got married so it wasn’t Jennifer Cox any more.  It was Jennifer Blake.

It was an eloquent and charming little note congratulating me on my success and reminding me how ‘outstanding’ I was in various school productions of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas.  ‘There was a hunger for life’ she wrote.  ‘You were destined for something more than Nottingham could offer you.  I doubt that anyone is surprised how far you have gone.’

Well.  I wrote back immediately.  I thanked Jennifer for her kind note and answered a few of her questions about Hollywood and some of the actors I have worked with.  I included a few witty anecdotes about one or two celebrities, knowing how much people love that kind of thing.  And I asked her to tell me a bit about herself.  I was curious to know what happened to The Most Popular Girl in School.

It was a couple of days before I heard back from her.  She told me about her husband, Nick, who was an architect with offices in Leicester.  They had been married for nineteen years and had a daughter – Elizabeth – who had just started at Leeds University.  They lived in a converted school house in Tollerton (where Jennifer had a small studio for her sculpture and painting) and a ‘teeny tiny’ flat in Paris where they spent every other weekend.  She had a dog called Henry and an orchard where she grew just enough fruit to keep them in homemade jam through the winter.  In the summer they enjoyed a couple of weeks ‘somewhere ancient and bucolic with olive groves’ and over Christmas they usually spent a week or so up in Scotland where Nick’s family had ‘one of those ramshackle country estates with no central heating and a decrepit housekeeper who serves kippers for breakfast’.

I read her note.  And I stood up from the computer.  There were police sirens down in the valley and Marcus was playing his music too loud again in the den.  The maid had just cleaned through the room; I didn’t want to mess up the sofa cushions so I went back to the computer and stared at Jennifer’s message for a moment.

I clicked the mouse to delete.

Jennifer Cox is a cow.

And I hate her.

BarmyCow BarmyCow
51-55, F
May 8, 2012