Home > Big Little Lies(8)

Big Little Lies(8)
Liane Moriarty

She weaved through the tables toward them. They hadn’t noticed her yet. They were deep in conversation. She could see the girl’s profile clearly. She was too young to be a school mother. She must be a nanny or an au pair. Probably an au pair. Maybe European? With not much English? That would explain the slightly stiff, strained way she was sitting, as though she needed to concentrate. Of course, maybe she had nothing to do with the school at all. Madeline traveled with ease through dozens of overlapping social circles, making both lifelong friends and lifetime enemies along the way; probably more of the latter. Madeline thrived on conflict and was never happier than when she was outraged.

Madeline saw Celeste and her face lit up. One of the nicest things about Madeline was the way her face transformed when she saw you, as if there were no one else in the world she’d rather see.

“Hello, birthday girl!” Celeste called out.

Madeline’s companion swung around in her chair. She had brown hair scraped back painfully hard from the forehead, like she was in the military or the police force.

“What happened to you, Madeline?” said Celeste as she got close enough to see Madeline’s leg propped up on the chair. She smiled politely at the girl, and the girl seemed to shrink away, as if Celeste had sneered, not smiled. (Oh, God, she had smiled at her, hadn’t she?)

“This is Jane,” said Madeline. “She saved me from the side of the road after I twisted my ankle trying to save young lives. Jane, this is Celeste.”

“Hi,” said Jane. There was something naked and raw about Jane’s face, like it had just been scrubbed too hard. She was chewing gum with tiny movements of her jaw, as if it were a secret.

“Jane is a new kindergarten mother,” said Madeline as Celeste sat down. “Like you. So it’s my responsibility to bring you both up-to-date with everything you need to know about school politics at Pirriwee Public. It’s a minefield, girls. A minefield, I tell you.”

“School politics?” Jane frowned and used two hands to pull hard on her ponytail so it was even tighter still. “I won’t get involved in any school politics.”

“Me either,” agreed Celeste.

• • •

Jane would always remember how she recklessly tempted fate that day. “I won’t get involved in any school politics,” she’d said, and someone up there had overheard and hadn’t liked her attitude. Far too confident. “We’ll see about that,” they’d said, and then sat back and had a good old laugh at her expense.

• • •

Celeste’s birthday gift was a set of Waterford crystal champagne glasses.

“Oh my God, I love them. They’re absolutely gorgeous,” said Madeline. She carefully took one out of the box and held it up to the light, admiring the intricate design, rows of tiny moons. “They must have cost you a small fortune.”

She almost said, Thank God you’re so rich, darling, but she stopped herself in time. She would have said it if it were just the two of them, but presumably Jane, a young single mother, was not well off, and of course, it was impolite to talk about money in company. She did actually know that. (She said this defensively to her husband in her head, because he was the one who was always reminding her of the social norms she insisted on flouting.)

Why did they all have to tread so very delicately around Celeste’s money? It was like wealth was an embarrassing medical condition. It was the same with Celeste’s beauty. Strangers gave Celeste the same furtive looks they gave to people with missing limbs, and if Madeline ever mentioned Celeste’s looks, Celeste responded with something like shame. “Shhh,” she’d say, looking around fearfully in case someone overheard. Everyone wanted to be rich and beautiful, but the truly rich and beautiful had to pretend they were just the same as everyone else. Oh, it was a funny old world.

“So, school politics, girls,” Madeline said as she carefully replaced the glass in the box. “We’ll start at the top with the Blond Bobs.”

“The Blond Bobs?” Celeste squinted, as if there were going to be a test afterward.

“The Blond Bobs rule the school. If you want to be on the PTA, you have to have a blond bob,” said Madeline. She demonstrated the required haircut with her hand. “It’s like a bylaw.”

Jane chortled, a dry little chuckle, and Madeline found herself desperate to make her laugh again.

“It shouldn’t be peroxide blond, obviously; it should be expensive blond, and then you get it cut in that sort of ‘mum’ haircut, where it’s like a helmet.”

“You’re being mean.” Celeste tapped her lightly on the arm.

“I’m not!” protested Madeline. “I love that hairstyle! I told Lucy Ponder when I’m ready to run for the PTA she can give me the approved blond bob.” She said to Jane, “Lucy Ponder is a local hairdresser, and she’s the daughter of the lady who lives in the house overlooking the school playground. Everyone is connected to everyone in Pirriwee.”

“Really?” said Jane. A flash of something both hopeful and fearful crossed her face, and she glanced quickly over her shoulder.

“It’s OK, we’re safe, no Blond Bobs in sight,” said Madeline.

“So are the Blond Bobs nice?” asked Celeste. “Or should we steer clear?”

“Well, they mean well,” said Madeline. “They mean very, very well. They’re like . . . Hmmm, what are they like?” She tapped her fingers on the table, trying to think of the right way to describe the Blond Bobs. “They’re like mum prefects. They feel very strongly about their roles as school mums. It’s like their religion. They’re fundamentalist mothers.”

“You’re exaggerating,” said Celeste.

“Of course I am,” agreed Madeline.

“Are any of the kindergarten mothers Blond Bobs?” asked Jane.

“Let’s see now,” said Madeline. “Oh yes, Harper. She’s your quintessential Blond Bob. She’s on the PTA and she has a horrendously gifted daughter with a mild nut allergy. So she’s part of the Zeitgeist, lucky girl.”

“Come on now, Madeline, there’s nothing lucky about having a child with a nut allergy,” said Celeste.

“I know,” said Madeline. She knew she was getting too show-offy in her desire to make Jane laugh. “I’m teasing. Let’s see. Who else? There’s Carol Quigley. She’s sort of a wannabe Blond Bob; she’s not quite blond enough. She’s not actually on the PTA yet, but she’s doing her bit for the school by keeping it clean. She’s obsessed with cleanliness. She runs in and out of the classroom with a bottle of spray-and-wipe.”

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