The monthly book club meeting was always run efficiently when it was Mrs. Cameron’s turn to host, which might have been why the gatherings were small on those evenings. She was a perfectly friendly lady but as a retired English teacher had retained the ability to silence a rowdy class with a glance The discussion never lapsed into gossip or doings of husbands and children under Mrs. Cameron’s supervision but stayed on the topic of the current book. This month they were discussing a psychological thriller which had been on the New York Times best seller list for several weeks.
“Let’s go round the room and hear your opinions. Alice, would you start, please,” said Mrs. Cameron, adjusting her reading glasses as she peered at a sheaf of notes in her hand. Alice cleared her throat.
“I was suspicious of it, to be honest. I couldn’t figure out what was real and what was fantasy. It was very confusing. Perhaps I took it too literally.”
"Interesting," said Mrs. Cameron. "Kate?"
“That's just what I was going to say,” said Kate, who hated being called on to speak. She had made a heroic effort to read the book and had struggled through the first few chapters before giving up. She was almost ready to agree with her husband Ron that she just didn’t belong in the group and wouldn't have been there if Alice hadn't persuaded her.
“Admit it, now, love,” he’d said. “You all just want an excuse to have some company, wine and gossip. Nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to pretend to like those artsy-fartsy, high-falutin’ books if you don’t want to. Stick to Agatha Christie if that’s what you enjoy. No law against it.”
Kate had to admit that he had a point. Left to her own devices, she preferred mysteries and chick lit. She felt herself withering under Mrs. Cameron’s amiable but inquiring gaze.
“Can you expand on that a little, Kate?”
Kate looked at the floor, aware of Alice trying to stifle a smile. She and Alice always had to avoid eye contact to prevent giggling like first graders when Mrs. Cameron was leading the discussion. She was frantically searching her memory for anything she could remember about the book, when the doorbell rang.
“Saved!” she muttered to Alice as Mrs. Cameron went to open the door. “It must be Monica.”
Even Mrs. Cameron had trouble keeping Monica on track at the best of times, and tonight Monica seemed more ebullient than usual. She breezed in, shedding her coat and scarf. Alice took the opportunity to whisper to Kate.
“Psychological insights, generous human portrayal, blah, blah... just waffle.”
“Evening, everyone. So sorry I’m late. I haven’t missed the wine, have I? Phew, thank goodness. Please continue while I catch my breath.”
She subsided on to the sofa, gratefully clutching the large glass of white wine that Mrs. Cameron had poured for her.
“Now, where were we?” said Mrs. Cameron, trying to regain focus.
Kate took a large sip of wine and a deep breath.
“I think that the story is a wonderful psychological portrayal of human insights.”
Mrs. Cameron beamed.
“Very true and perceptive. Monica, what are your thoughts?”
“To be honest, it’s been one of those days that I feel as if I’ve lost any coherent thoughts I had. I had a situation with Lexie today.”
All eyes turned to her.
“Oh, no,” said Alice. “I mean, I hope everything’s okay.”
“What color is her hair this time, or did she shave it off again?” said Kate. "Boyfriends, piercings, tattoos?" Mrs. Cameron blinked.
“Well, it’s been swings and roundabouts. You know it’s always drama and stress of one kind or another when Lexie’s around. She owes me a fortune for the dye I’ve had to buy to cover up the grey hairs she’s caused me. But I had a little fun this evening.”
She gave a satisfied grin and nibbled on a cracker.
“Go on,” said Kate. “Don’t leave us in suspense.”
Even Mrs. Cameron was diverted.
“Yes, indeed. What happened?”
“Ayahuasca,” said Monica, swigging some wine.
“Bless you,” said Mrs. Cameron.
“No, no,” said Monica. “It’s a mind-altering drug that people go to the Amazon to drink as a cure. Gives people hallucinations. She told me that her shaman had advised her to do it.”
The others gaped, speechless.
“She’d booked her ticket to Peru and would be back in three weeks. My heart sank, my knees buckled, and I had to sit down right then. I hate to say it but she’s impressionable and impulsive enough to fall for some scheme like that. Just as I was picking my jaw up off the floor, she said she was kidding. What had happened was that she had dinged my new car while going through the drive-through at the bank. It was all a diversion tactic. Of course, I was too relieved to be mad about the car at that moment. She was trying to sidle out of the room while I was speechless. Then it came to me.”
“What?” said Kate, entranced.
Monica grinned smugly.
“What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. I told her that it would have been fine for her to go to Peru since I had made plans to go on a cruise with my new friend Lance during that same time. Her hackles went up immediately. Have you ever noticed what a double standard young adult children have? They don’t want to tell parents about who they’re seeing or where they’re going, but said parents must give an account for every move they make? I explained that I had met Lance on a dating site online and she wasn’t to let the age difference worry her. He didn’t expect her to think of him as a father figure. I’m secure enough not to mind being called a cougar and I’d never do anything she and her friends wouldn’t do on a date. Funnily enough, that didn’t seem to reassure her.”
Alice and Kate were laughing out loud by now, and even Mrs. Cameron permitted herself a smile. Monica was in full flight, enjoying her audience.
“I never knew I had it in me to come up with a story like that on the spot. Perhaps I’ve been influenced by all this reading we’ve been doing.”
“Especially after this particular book’s wonderful portrayal of psychological insights,” Kate said confidently, winking at Alice.
“I let her squirm for a few more moments before taking pity on her and telling her it wasn’t true. It was her turn not to know whether to be mad or relieved, but I will say she took it with good grace. We ended up having a good laugh, and she promised she’d pay for the damage to the car without me having to ask her.”
Mrs. Cameron smiled wryly as she put down her notes.
“I don’t think this book can compete with your story for entertainment, Monica. Let’s resume at our next meeting, after you’ve given us the next thrilling installment of the Lexie saga.”