If you go down in the Woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise hummed Five Pentacles softly while she put together a small picnic for herself and Little Girl who were joining other parents for a Teddy Bears’ Picnic lunch. It was a very warm day, and Five was afraid the processed cheese sandwiches would have melted by the time the picnic started. White bread, too. She knew what some of the other mothers would think, but the last end-of-day-reduced-price loaf had been white, and financially, just at the moment, she was a beggar who could not choose.
Two hard bangs on the front door announced the arrival of Seven Wands with Little Boy who was cutting his back molars and already looking hot and fretful. “You ready, then?” asked Seven. “I’ll just put Little Girl in the buggy and we’ll be ready.” “Don’t forget the bear,” said Seven, “there’ll be no end of a fuss if we turn up without bears…….. where’d you get that, then?” she went on, eyeing Little Girl’s rather scruffy toy. “Not that mine’s any better,” she added. “Same place as yours, I expect,” said Five. “Beyond Redemption?” asked Seven. Five nodded.
The two women set off. They were allies rather than true friends as they were both newcomers. While they didn’t really want to “join in” life would have been more uncomfortable if they hadn’t, so they made the best of it and rationed their public appearances. The Teddy Bears Picnic was apparently an unavoidable annual event, “Very competitive,” said Seven. “Just be ready to fend off not so polite enquiries.” “You’ll be good at that,” said Five, “not so sure about me.”
The small park was already full of mothers who had laid out little tables and chairs, or large rugs, (“Forgot the rug,” said Seven, “we’ll have to sit on the grass and get grass-stains.” “Mightn’t there be a bench somewhere?” asked Five. “Probably at six o’ clock this morning.” “Oh.”) and each pitch had its own large coolbox and at least one teddy bear. “Isn’t there anyone else like us here?” asked Five. “Over there, that rather squabbly bunch,” Seven pointed to five argumentative women whose offspring were having a bear fight. “Better if we stay here, I’ve been with them before and it wasn’t pleasant. .It won’t be pleasant here either, but a different kind of unpleasant.” Five’s heart sank.
Five and Seven found a place almost in the shade and sat down on some old plastic bags discovered at the bottoms of their buggies. “She’s brought quite a spread,” observed Five. “Ah yes, the Ten Pentacles family. Their little boy is awfully shy …..” Five Pentacles and Seven Wands and children worked their way through their small packets of sandwiches. “It isn’t what it says on the bottle,” said Five pouring tap water into a little mug. “Neither’s this,” said Seven, “same as yours but I added some orange.”
“That’s what I wanted,” said a little boy running towards Five and Seven, and reaching out for the own brand digestives. “Would you like a biscuit?” asked Five, “they are very plain ones.” He made as if to take the whole packet just as his mother caught him by the seat of his trousers and pulled him away. “I’m so sorry, my little boy never knows what he wants. I’ve got all this food here which is what he said he wanted this morning, and now he won’t eat any of it……. Say “thank you” – for one biscuit and then come back here and eat your own food, or share it with these children.”
“I think I’d better go,” said Seven Wands, suddenly. “Little Boy’s looking a bit peaky. May just be his teeth, but I think he’d be better at home……… Don’t you leave if you don’t want to. Look, Little Girl is playing with some of the others quite happily, you never know, some of the other mothers might even speak to you!” And she packed up quickly and left.
“Why don’t you come and sit with me?” asked the mother of the little digestive biscuit boy. “I’m Seven Cups, perhaps you know?” and she patted her rug. The two settled into a motherish conversation for a while and then noticed their two children and little Ten Pentacles were running towards them. Ten tripped and went down smack. Five Pentacles went over and helped him up. “You’re all right,” she said, “just a bit grubby. I’ll clean you up and Mummy will come over in a minute, you’ll be all right.” Five wet some kitchen paper from the bottle of drinking water and cleaned up little Ten who was more shaken than damaged. “You’ve got a teeny weeny scratch here,” said Five, so I’ll put a teeny weeny sticking plaster over it, just till you get home.” Ten accepted these ministrations meekly. “Fank you,” he said, ready to go back to playing with his new friends.
“You pushed my son over,” said a throbbing voice. Mrs Ten Pentacles glared at Seven Cups and her child. “No, I don’t think so,” said Five Pentacles, “he just tripped.” “He was pushed,” insisted Mrs Ten. “And what’s that you’ve cleaned him up with?” After a moment she thundered, “That’s TAP WATER, I can smell it from here. Don’t you know any better? “Oh, I see,” went on Mrs Ten Pentacles looking at the bottle, “you’re one of those who can’t afford proper drinking water. Come along, Junior, we’d better be going,” and she pulled her son from his refuge behind Mrs Seven Cups and turned to leave.
Mrs Ten Pentacles paused and turned to look at Five Pentacles. “That’s awfully like a dress I had once,” she said. She boldly felt the material of one of the sleeves between thumb and forefinger. “Good material,” she added. Five Pentacles wished Seven Pentacles was here to fend off her tormentor. “Not quite the same as the one I had, though.” Some of the other mothers were standing near, though not too near. “Didn’t you send it to Pre-loved a few years ago?” asked Five Swords loudly. Five Pentacles took a deep breath, planted her feet firmly, and said, “Actually I got it at Beyond Redemption, and then took it in so it fitted.”
Five Pentacles put her things back in the buggy, strapped in Little Girl, who looked disappointed, and said goodbye to the Seven Cups. As she passed through the park gates Five Pentacles thought she heard something like clapping but that was unlikely, unless they had been having a Teddy Bear competition or something about which she had forgotten. Her cottage was at the far end of the village, almost out of it, really, and she was feeling tired, so the walk home felt rather a trudge. A car drove past slowly and then pulled up just ahead. Mrs Seven Cups got out. “I’ll run you the rest of the way,” she said. “The buggy …..” began Five. “It’s a big car, we, and buggy, will all fit in.” “Thank you,” said Five, “for some reason walking is hard work this afternoon.”
“I hope you don’t mind,” said Mrs Seven Cups when the Fives were dropped at their gate, “but this is some of the food my little boy turned down. It’ll only go to waste otherwise.” Five looked guardedly at her new acquaintance. “You’ll be doing me a favour,” Mrs Seven smiled. “And I hope our children can play together from time to time?”
“By the way,” said Five, “I thought I heard clapping when I left. Was there a prize-giving or something I should have stayed for? Only I’d had enough by then.” Mrs Seven Cups laughed. “No, no-one’s ever stood up to Mrs Ten Pentacles before. The applause was for you!”
© Lucy Voss