Tiger in a Cage
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Who knows what secrets are trapped, like caged tigers, behind our neighbours' doors?
When Molly and Stan move into a new housing development, Molly becomes a one-woman social committee, throwing herself into a frantic round of communal do-gooding and pot-luck suppers. She is blinded to what goes on behind those respectable facades by her desire to make the neighbourhood, and the neighbours, into all she has dreamed, all she needs them to be.
Twenty years later, Molly looks back on the ruin of the Combe Close years, at the waste and destruction wrought by the escaping tigers: adultery, betrayal, tragedy, desertion, death. But now Molly has her own guilty secret, her own pet tiger, and it is all she can do to keep it in its cage.
I stand still, against the cold wall, looking at my former neighbours with an odd sense of detachment, as though they are strangers, and I am gripped by the idea that I should slip away, discreetly. Nobody will miss me. Julia and Gerald have been absorbed into an influx of late-arrivals, landing en-masse; weathered women in ghastly ruched frocks and ineptly rouged faces and their grizzle-bearded, rugged husbands.
But I cannot deny myself the opportunity of being near him. He is very handsome in his dress suit. He, too, has had his hair cut and a close shave. His jaw is smooth. I know he will smell delicious, of a particular brand—I can even name it—of soap.
At last the flurry of arrivals is over and the buffet is announced. There is a movement towards tables, a yoo-hooing and clannish beckoning of friends and relations. Chairs and heads are counted, people hover, jackets and handbags are placed proprietarily. The Combe Close set filch a spare chair and place setting from another table and squash nine around their table for eight.
At last, people are seated. I slip into a chair on a half empty table in a shadowy corner of the room, next to an elderly lady with two sticks who turns out to be Gerald’s distant cousin, and opposite a spectacled man who introduces himself as the driver of the coach which has ferried a cohort of hill-farmers into town, Julia and Gerald’s new neighbours—the ruched and rugged contingent. The other two occupants of the table are a husband and wife who have clearly had a row. No sooner are people settled than tables are called to the buffet. I offer to collect food for the elderly cousin. She gives me a long list of foods which do not agree with her.