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Torfaen Tales

The Best of Friends

Rhian met Louise at Kate’s hen party. They were all a bit drunk, and Kate had them piggy-back racing.

“I’ll have to jump on your back,” said Louise. “I’ve got a bad leg, I’ll never be able to support your weight.”

Not likely, thought Rhian. Louise had to be at least 13 stone. “I’ve got a bad back,” she fibbed. “I suppose we’d better give the piggy back racing a miss.”

So they sat back down and had another drink instead.

“I like your dress,” said Louise.

“Made it myself,” replied Rhian.

“You’ve got a sewing machine, then? I wish I could sew, but I’m useless. I’ve got some trousers that are too long for me. I don’t suppose you’d mind …”

Rhian was saved from responding by the hen party moving on to another bar.

Respite was however short. There was a knock at Rhian’s door three days later. It was Louise, bearing a large bag.

“I brought those trousers you said you’d alter for me. And a couple of skirts as well. I’m parched, I’d love a cup of tea,” she added, plonking herself down in a chair.

Rhian opened and closed her mouth, rather like a goldfish. Still, she went and put the kettle on.

Four hours later she bade a weary farewell to Louise. Paul, her husband, had made his own tea and sloped off upstairs. Apart from no tea, Rhian had missed two episodes of Coronation Street which Louise had talked through, and her back was in half from bending over the sewing machine.

The following day Louise returned. If she’d known who it was, Rhian would have thought twice about answering the door. Her heart sank when she saw Louise had another bag of clothes.

“These are for you to say thanks for altering my stuff. Got them at the car boot fair, I did,” said Louise, emptying the bag’s contents onto Rhian’s dining table.

Rhian picked up a dress that was rather nice, but it looked a bit big. She glanced at the label. Sure enough, size 16.

“This is nice, but it’s too big for me. I’m a 12.”

Louise raised her eyebrows. “Never! I would have thought you were at least a 14, more like a 16.

No offence, mind, but you’re quite big in the bosom.”

Louise left after a cup of tea and some cake, with her boot fair purchases intact. Rhian knew she could have altered some of the items but stood firm on principle. She was beginning to get the measure of Louise and wanted to make a point.

Rhian bumped into Louise in town the following week. If she’d seen her first she would have taken evasive action.

“I’ve got something for you,” said Louise.

Not more outsize clothing, hoped Rhian.

“I’m on my way home now, I don’t live far. Come with me,” barked Louise. Rhian had noticed that Louise was accustomed to getting her own way. Still, she had nothing urgent to do, so she followed Louise’s car.

Louise lived in a terraced house just past the Post Office. The broken tricycle in the front garden was a foretaste of the interior. Louise was clearly quite a fan of car boot sales, for her front hall was full of boxes and bags which made entry to the house a bit tricky. The sitting room was just as bad, more boxes and bags, and ornaments on every dusty surface that the eye could see. Not that the eye could see much as the curtains were still drawn. The air was heavy with cigarette smoke and the stale smell of cooked meat, and Rhian could see a pile of unwashed dishes in the kitchen. Rhian remembered Kate having said that Louise was divorced. She had to assume that the husband had left due to the lack of housekeeping.

“Sit down,” ordered Louise. “I’ll get you a cup of tea.”

When Louise returned with the tea she rummaged in some bags in the corner, coming up with some cosmetic items. Rhian almost took a sip from her mug of tea, but noticed the lipstick stain on the rim just in time. She felt a bit sick.

“I got these for you since you didn’t like the clothes I got you. This cream is great for your wrinkles, and this mousse is good for volumising flat hair.”

Louise returned to the kitchen for some biscuits, and Rhian sneaked a glance in the mirror. Wrinkles? Flat hair?

“It’s my birthday on Friday,” said Louise through a mouthful of crumbs. “Come round on Friday night, I’m having a bit of a party.”

There didn’t seem to be much to talk about, so Rhian made her excuses and left as soon as decently possible.

“See you on Friday night,” called Louise from her doorstep. “And don’t forget to bring a bottle.”

Rhian rang Kate, who had just returned from her wedding and honeymoon in the Caribbean.

“Not being funny, but I don’t quite know what to make of Louise. Are you going to her birthday party?”

“Oh, Louise is all right. I know she can be a bit tactless at times, but she doesn’t mean any harm. Yeah, I’ll probably pop in for a while. See you there.”

“I don’t know why you’re bothering,” said Rhian’s husband as his wife deliberated over what to wear to the party. “You don’t seem to like this Louise woman.”

Rhian had to admit he was right, but she’d bought a present. She might as well go for a while.

Louise didn’t seem to have bothered to tidy her house since Rhian‘s earlier visit. Rhian could have sworn the same dirty dishes were still in the sink from Tuesday. And Louise looked scruffy. She hadn’t bothered to do her roots, and she had a food stain on the front of her dress.

“For me?” she squealed like Miss Piggy, whisking the wrapped gift out of Rhian’s hands and ripping off the paper.

“Oh. Well. You weren’t to know. Blue isn’t really my colour. But thanks anyway.”

Rhian had thought the blue necklace and matching earrings would suit Louise’s colouring.

Kate was already there. She’d brought her brand new husband Tom, and he looked like a fish out of water. Rhian sidled up to him.

“I take it you don’t know anyone either.”

“No,” he replied. “And there’s something in this room that’s setting off my allergy,” he added, scratching a red patch on his neck.

“Hardly surprising,” murmured Rhian tersely.

Tom shook his head and laughed half-heartedly.

“I don’t think I’ll be staying long,” said Rhian.

“Nor will we if I have anything to say about it,” replied Tom out of the side of his mouth as Louise passed by on her way to answer the door.

Rhian managed to escape just before ten, making out that she had an early start in the morning.

“Oh, you old fuddy duddy!” chided Louise with a dig in Rhian’s ribs. “Too boring to boogie all night long, are you?”

Rhian counted to ten under her breath. Louise was probably drunk and not in full control of her mouth.

A couple of weeks later Louise turned up unexpectedly on Rhian’s doorstep on Saturday morning.

“Hiya, my favourite fix-it friend,” she said, muscling her way in through the front door. “I’ve got a favour to ask. I’m going to a wedding this afternoon and my dress needs taking up.”

“Louise, I’ve got to go out in half an hour. I haven’t really got time.”

Louise’s face took on a petulant, wheedling expression. “Oh, please! It won’t take long. Anyway, I brought you a present.”

She reached into a carrier bag and brought out a little teddy bear wearing a grubby t-shirt on which was written “Best Friends”.

Rhian was speechless for a moment. She shook her head slowly. “Louise, let me be straight with you. As far as I’m concerned we’re not even friends, let alone best friends. I hardly know you! I have a give and take relationship with the people I call my friends. With you it’s all take. As far as I can see, you just seem to use people up for what they can do for you. I can’t think of anything I have in common with you. So why don’t you take your dress and your dirty little second-hand teddy bear and get out of my house. And don’t bother coming back.”

Louise’s eyes widened, but her mouth remained closed. She turned and left without a word.

Rhian felt a bit shaky as she closed the door. She’d never been one for confrontation, but she felt relieved having said her piece.

“Well done, babes,” said Paul. “You told her straight. With a bit of luck that will be the last we see of her.”

“God, I can’t believe I said that.” Rhian was still shaken up.

“Nor can I. But you don’t need people like that for friends.”

Rhian smiled. “You’re right.”

“You said you were going out in half an hour.”

“That was a bit of a white lie, I’m afraid. I just didn’t see why I should spend the next couple of hours hemming Louise’s dress.”

“How do you fancy lunch in a nice little pub in the country?”

“That sounds like the best offer anyone’s made me this week,” said Rhian with a satisfied smile.

By Karenne Griffin

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