In Rutherford Close on the outskirts of London, Stephen and Blythe Agresti were seeing off their dinner guests from the steps of their Georgian-style terrace. As always, they kept waiving and blowing kisses until the cars had crawled around the bend and disappeared out of sight.
‘Once again, you’ve exceeded yourself,’ said Stephen, as he closed the door behind them and Blythe collapsed onto the staircase pulling off her sandals whilst scrolling on her iPhone.
‘Thank you, darling,’ she said, without looking up. ‘But to be honest, I worried the whole time that the roses weren’t going to stick. I’m quite relieved.’
Meanwhile, in an Audi A5 around the corner, Miriam Caruthers was fishing her phone out of her handbag while her husband Dennis kept his eyes on the road. He’d enjoyed a Champagne cocktail and three tumblers of Stephen’s Claret and was keen to avoid attention.
‘That cake was couture,’ said Miriam. ‘I simply cannot work out how she managed to get the marzipan roses to stay in place, it shouldn’t be physically possible on top of the Swiss meringue.’ She scrolled on her phone. As predicted, the cake was already Instagrammed as was a pre-dinner shot of Blythe in her red cocktail dress tending to plants in her greenhouse.
Miriam watched the likes accumulate all the way into Battersea.
Over on the M25, a lilac Porsche Cayenne was heading for The Surrey Hills at a hundred and ten miles an hour. Inside the vehicle, Nick and Christine Shirley were having an argument because of something thoughtless Nick had said upon arrival at the Agrestis’ four hours earlier.
‘I just don’t understand how you could say that to her when I’m still fighting the baby weight,’ said Christine struggling with her seatbelt. ‘And right under my nose at that.’
‘I told you I was sorry,’ said Nick. ‘It was just something I blurted out. I never know what to say to Blythe.’
‘What do you mean, you never know what to say to Blythe?’
‘I mean that I never know what to say to Blythe’.
Back at Rutherford Close, Blythe was lying in the white sofa in front of the fire, waiting for Stephen who was locking up the greenhouse. These moments were the best part of entertaining, the quiet reflection after a well executed dinner. And tonight had been particularly enjoyable. Conversation had flowed and Blythe felt her guests had left happy and contented. Most importantly, they had all asked for second helpings of the cake.
How Blythe would have loved another slice herself.
Four weeks after the Agrestis’ dinner party, Miriam Caruthers stood in her Battersea kitchen admiring the tiered strawberry cake she had just completed. A smile formed on her chubby face as she picked up her Nikon 3300.
She couldn’t have asked for better light. Soft June sunset had followed a fluke storm and the air was clear and crisp. Unfortunately, the Nikon flashed at every shot and Miriam didn’t know how to change the auto-setting.
Keen to share the cake on social media, she carried into the yard, placed in on the rattan table and started shooting. It was easy. The cake didn’t have a bad angle.
She would have time, before the Agrestis and the Shirleys arrived, to add the best photo to the computer, retouch the icing in places and cut out the brown shadow of the council estate that had sneaked into the shot. Once that was done, she would email the photo back to her phone and run it through a couple of filters before posting.
‘I shall be borrowing Blythe’s crown tonight’ she thought.
A month later, at the height of summer, it was the Shirleys’ turn, and Christine was taking no chances. She had made everything herself except the cakes, which had been bought in from a retired cake designer who according to Surrey gossip had once made a wedding cake for The Saudis. The woman had produced six miniature chocolate fondants with edible calypso-red ribbons. All Christine would have to do was place them in a hot oven for six minutes before serving.
She smiled as the Agrestis made their way up the path to the farmhouse, Blythe floating an inch above ground as always.
Nick remained silent.
August and September passed too quickly and by mid-October, the baton was back with the Agrestis and the usual routine applied. Blythe left work early, took the children for sleepover at her parents’ house and returned home to finalise the table decorations and whatever elements of the dinner could not be prepared in advance. As always, the cake was surrounded by secrecy.
‘Almost there,’ she shouted as Stephen entered the front door. ‘Make yourself scarce for another ten minutes, and I’ll be there with the surprise.’
After changing into chinos and a casual shirt, Stephen popped around to the greenhouse at the bottom of the garden. He had built it himself and he and Blythe had collected the exotic plants over the years, lately adding moths and butterflies, fascinating creatures whose short lives began in such ugliness and ended in devastating beauty. Initially, Stephen had been conflicted about keeping living beings in captivity, but the butterflies seemed pleased enough with their quarters and, as Blythe said, at least they were safe here where no cat or other predator could get its paws on their fragile wings.
The current inhabitant was the most exquisite creature Stephen had ever seen, turquoise with a translucent, ice blue pattern around the edges of its wings. He felt a sense of calm wash over his body as he watched it fly from plant to plant gracing each with its presence.
At a quarter to seven, Blythe called him into the utility room where her latest masterpiece was on display. At first sight Stephen felt a stab of disappointment. The cake looked like an igloo, just half a white ball sitting at the centre of a stainless steel serving tray.
‘Darling, look.’ Blythe held up her phone. ‘This is what’s inside.’
The image showed a shimmering lake made of blue icing. It was surrounded by flowers and what Stephen assumed were marzipan plants and bushes. It was most extraordinary.
‘You can’t see it all in the photo, you’ll have to wait until later to get the full experience,’ said Blythe.
During the evening she was even livelier and more charming than usual, red cheeks peeping through the perfectly applied mineral powder. When it was time for coffee, she kissed her husband on the mouth before she disappeared into the utility room to prepare her work for presentation.
When she emerged, Stephen stood ready with the iPhone in video mode as instructed and the Caruthers and the Shirleys cooed as Blythe carefully lifted the top of the igloo, exposing the extraordinary landscape inside.
They all stared at the edible work of art until Miriam let out a scream and Stephen dropped the iPhone, which splintered on the tiled floor.
On top of the blue icing lay a lifeless, turquoise butterfly. A stone-dead creature of beauty.
‘What have you done?’ said Stephen, his voice breaking as Blythe’s face turned white. ‘Blythe?’
‘She was supposed to fly,’ said Blythe, staring at the tears that were forming in her husband’s eyes. ‘She was supposed to fly.’
Story by Mette Jolly, co-editor of funnypearls.com