“One of you is sleeping with my husband,” Issa says matter-of-factly, just before the sticky toffee pudding is served.
“Issa—” her husband protests, but everyone knows Jude is a womanizer and a fool. The truth of his wife’s declaration shoves his objections right back into his lying mouth.
“What I cannot figure out,” Issa languidly pauses to look at her nails, “is which one of you it is. My dearest friends, all just sitting here, watching me suffer, knowing what I know,” she says slowly, scrutinizing each female face around the dining room table in the summer cottage.
The four other women do their best to look completely offended at the mere suggestion they would take up with Jude. The four other husbands look quite pleased, happy for a little excitement to spruce up the otherwise dull weekend.
“Issa, are you mental?” Petra attempts to unimpale Issa’s verbal daggers from polite company. “Certainly there must be a misunderstanding.”
“Petra, we are beyond the hail-fellow-well-met part of the weekend. I just need to know which one of my dear friends has betrayed me.” Jude manages to sink lower into his chair. One of the husbands nervously chuckles and quickly receives his wife’s sharp elbow in his side.
“This is just—just not the place for this type of discussion,” Petra suggests, then quickly disappears into the kitchenette. In three minutes, she reappears with the pudding. “I have spent the entire afternoon preparing a delicious ending to our supper, and you may have just ruined it, Issa. We can discuss these matters in the parlor before charades.”
“Charades? Petra, this entire group is playing charades right here in the dining room, making a guessing game out of who is making a mockery of my marriage,” Issa states flatly.
“Issa, I assure you that your lesser half has been complicit in making a mockery of your marriage for decades, yet you choose to stay,” Petra rebuts. “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. Now, enjoy your pudding.” The husbands all give Jude a sympathetic look, which he gratefully accepts. The toffee sauce smells divine.
“Although I love you, Petra, my rock, I have confided things to you about my marriage that you cannot weaponize at whim. Why would you say something so hateful? It is you, isn’t it? His latest fling! If it is you, it will crucify me.”
“Please, Issa. I am wounded you would even wonder if it was me,” she says while dishing up the holy trinity of cake, toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream. “And what do you have to say for yourself, Jude?” Petra asks, holding a knife too close to his ear.
“Issa, we have had our problems in the past, but I promise—” Jude stops short when Issa gives him a withering look so cold that all the husbands fold their hands in their laps.
“I love how they have updated all the loos in the cottage,” Simone grins, attempting to change the subject to something less excremental.
“Our loo is where I found these!” From her oversized handbag, Issa dramatically pulls out a plastic bag holding what appears to be women’s underwear. “Panties! Size small,” she declares triumphantly.
“Well, Agatha Christie,” Andrea quips. “I wear large knickers, so count me out of your And Then There Were None performance.”
“Don’t be coy with me, Andrea. I know you have lost half a stone recently,” Issa snaps.
“She who is without sin among you, let her cast the first stone,” Andrea snipes.
“And what is that supposed to mean,” Issa says in a low and even voice, her eyes narrowing like a serpent’s.
“Last year at the cottage, you were prancing around in your negligee in front of my very own husband. Shameless as Bathsheba before King David,” Andrea bellows, clapping her meaty hand on her husband’s thin wrist.
“I am afraid I am not to your husband’s liking,” Issa seethes.
“Missing a chromosome, are you?” Andrea stabs.
“Yes. Specifically the Y one,” Issa parries.
“I have never in all my life—” Andrea screams.
“That is not much of a surprise either,” Issa says. “all things considered.”
“Issa, you have ruined our lovely weekend. We are leaving!” Andrea commands her husband who reluctantly puts his spoon down. It is quite an excellent sticky toffee pudding and he is loath to part with it.
“Well, rummy is more fun with eight players than with ten,” Simone remarks cheerfully. Her husband heartily agrees.
“Oh, Andrea, do sit down,” Matty sighs. “I must say, Issa, this conversation is most disagreeable. We have known each other for so long now and have accommodated one another’s peccadilloes. Why not let bygones be bygones?”
“You. Neville. Chamberlain.” Issa stands, preparing to depart.
“I am not appeasing Adolf Hitler, darling. I am simply saying you know how Jude is,” Matty explains. “Jude ran through most of the Cheltenham girls before you two even met. He probably has populated both Oxford and Cambridge with little bastards. At this point, it would be easier to find someone who has not been involved with Jude at one point or another.”
“It is you, Matty. You are having an affair with Jude,” Issa says.
“I told you I had an affair with Jude while you took holiday by yourself in the Greek islands. And don’t tell me you didn’t come home with some seashells in strange places,” Matty replies. Matty’s husband pours them both a cup of tea.
“Perhaps we can go through to the parlor. Anyone for a game of whist? Bridge? Maybe a few hands of spades?” pleads Simone.
Issa looks down at her pudding, now a melted mess.
She picks up the plastic bag of underwear and waves it at Petra, “And what do I do with these?”
“Are you sure they aren’t yours?” Petra inquires, pouring a bit more toffee sauce on top of her cake.
“Oh, they could be,” Issa admits, shoving the incriminating evidence back into her handbag. Jude reaches over to pat her shoulder.
“Well, just throw them out in any event,” says Petra diplomatically. “Incidentally, the cottage owner called and would like to know if we are booking again for next year.”
“Of course,” Issa replies. “How is that even a question?”
The four other women nod in agreement. The four other husbands make their way to the mahogany bar in the parlor.
“Cards, then?” Simone asks. “Maybe a few hands of Hearts?”