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THE GARDEN PARTY

Pre-Reading Tasks

 

T a s k 1. Choose a statement th tbets suits your point of view, develop it.

 

Life is unfair

We are both the followers of and the builders of our life

Sometimes we have to pretend

The things that surround us reflect our character and mood

Sacrifice is a form of revenge

If only things were different

There is no real love

 

 

T a s k 2. Name as many words or expressions connected with or containing the word garden as you can. (e.g. the garden party; fence)

 

 

T a s k 3.

a) Study the vocabulary. Read the explanations of difficult words.

 

Brides of Dracula a monster (Count Dracula was a vampire in Bram Stokers novel Dracula; his brides were women he seduced and turned into vampires)

Bump inf a reference to the new wifes pregnancy (i.e. the bump in her body)

 

 

b) Match the words in A with their Russian equivalents in B.

 

A easy-going adj envy sb v torrents of grief and regret n be ready for parenthood v alienate v cope with v flatter sb v disappear into the woodwork id unfaithfulness n probe a sore tooth id write sth off v stick to sb like a limpet id be an intellectual giant id bow out v worm ones way back to sbs life id be hostile to sb v a woman in a million n a kind of vengeance n the desperation and the deviousness n   B -; , , , ; ; ; - , ; -, , , , ; ; ; - ; o, , ; -; ; ; ; ; ; ; -, ; -, .  

 

*****

 

THE GARDEN PARTY

(by Maeve Binchy)

 

Helen looked out the window at the garden next door. It was a mass of colour, mainly from bushes and small trees. No troublesome flowerbeds that would need endless weeding, nor were there paths that would have to have their edges trimmed, or rockeries where one thing might spill and crowd out another. Little brick paths wound through it and there were paved areas with tubs of plants around the garden seats; unlike her own garden which badly needed attention.

She had been told that her neighbour was a Mrs Kennedy, who had two placid cats and was known to be easy-going. Admittedly Helen had been told this by the estate agent who would hardly have warned her even if Mrs Kennedy had been one of the Brides of Dracula.

Helen had been there for three days and she had not yet seen Mrs Kennedy. The two big cats spent almost all day asleep on the sunny garden seats. They looked so peaceful, Helen envied them. Dim creatures purring and dozing in the sunshine; someone to feed them at the end of every evening, birds to watch sleepily from a distance. How Helen wished that she too could have a life like that instead of sleepless nights, hours of anxiety, torrents of grief and regret. And now the whole nightmarish business of facing a new house, a new life, because Harry didnt love her any more, because he had found real love with this girl young enough to be his daughter. The girl who was pregnant with his child.



And Harry was so pleased to be a father. For fourteen years of their marriage he had told Helen that he wasnt ready for parenthood yet and that they were so complete in themselves they didnt need anyone else in their lives. Now, when she was thirty-six years old and he was approaching his fortieth birthday, he decided he would like to be a father. But he told her about the change of heart and direction only after he said that he was leaving her, and the mother of his child would be a nineteen-year-old.

Other people survived, but then other people could never have felt so betrayed, so shocked and so aimless now in life.

Her sisters lived far away in other cities; they were not a family given to writing or long telephone calls. And her friends? Helen knew only too well how easy it was to alienate your friends by weeping all night at their kitchen tables. Friends preferred to think you were coping, or trying to cope. Then they were supportive and practical and around. Friends could disappear into the woodwork if you cried on their shoulders as much as you wanted to.

So when Helen told people that she was going to move house, make a fresh start, everyone seemed pleased. A place with a garden, ideal they all said. Her sisters wrote and said she would find great consolation in digging the earth and planting and seeing things grow. Helen read their letters with mute rage.

She spent many hours of her first week in the new house staring aimlessly from the window and wondering about the unfairness of life. And then when she was least expecting it she saw Mrs Kennedy; much younger than shed imagined this woman barely looked ten years older than herself. She wore a rainbow-coloured skirt and a white T-shirt. She had a big black straw hat and smiled as she carried a tray of tea things to one of the two wooden tables in her garden.

Helen watched as she saw her neighbour sit down and stretch and close her eyes with pleasure in the afternoon sunshine. She was as languid and relaxed as one of the big sleepy cats.

As she watched, Helen heard the gate creak and two girls came in. One about sixteen, dark and attractive; one about six, a moppet with blonde curls. They flung themselves at the woman on the wooden seat.

You were asleep, Debbie, the older girl cried. Weve finally caught you. This is what you do all day!

Poor Debbie, are you tired? The six-year-old had climbed on Mrs Kennedys lap and was hugging her.

Helen felt a wave of self-pity wash over her. She would never know anything like this. How could life have been so unfair? She wondered for a bit why they called the woman Debbie, but she could look and listen no longer. She sat down by a box of untouched china. She didnt know where she would store it, who would eat from it. No marvellous children would come and throw their arms around her calling her Helen.

The afternoon wore on. Helen unpacked one cup and one saucer and one plate. She couldnt live the rest of her life like this. But what were the alternatives? Harry was gone; he was not coming back. She wished she could get the woman next door out of her mind, but it was like probing a sore tooth.

When she heard a car draw up outside and a younger woman arrived to collect the girls, Helen was again at the window. The younger woman seemed to have trouble dragging the children away; there were still so many things to do. The teenager wanted to inspect the flowerbed, which was her very own, and examine the lupins. The little girl said she had to feed the cats. Then there was a final hug.

Give our love to Granny, said the teenager to Mrs Kennedy.

Do you still have Granny, arent you wonderful, Debbie, said the younger woman: the girls mother?

I love Granny coming, well be making gingerbread and fudge tomorrow if you want to drop in. Mrs Kennedy smiled encouragingly.

Immediately the girls said they would come, and Helen saw from her upstairs window a look of irritation cross the younger womans face. She had to know who they were, these people who were acting out a play in the garden next door. There was wine unopened in her fridge. Helen wrapped it in tissue paper.

Im your new neighbour, Mrs Kennedy. I saw your friends or family leave just now so I thought I would come in and introduce myself. Im Helen she began, and then burst into tears.

She didnt really remember the next bit, but she was sitting in the garden on the wooden seat with a cushion at her back. Debbie Kennedy had poured them two glasses of wine and produced some little bits of cheese and celery. They sat like old friends in the evening sun. And Debbie seemed to look into the distance at the sleeping cats as Helen wept the story of Harry and his betrayal. I cant go on, its no use pretending.

I think you have to pretend one way or another, we all do. But the question is which way you pretend. She was very matter of fact.

How do you mean? Helen had stopped crying.

Well you could go one route and pretend nothing had changed and that you still thought he was wonderful, remain part of his life and take over the best bits ... Debbie spoke calmly. Or you could pretend that he is no longer part of your life and that you have forgotten him, and eventually, of course, you will. It will take time, but you will. It just depends which you think would bring you more peace, but both of them involve pretending.

Ill not forget him. I cant write it off, start again. Helen felt the prickling tickling in her nose, and hoped she wasnt going to start crying again.

Well then, dont forget him. Stick to him like a limpet, take over his life. I did, Mrs Kennedy said, pouring them another glass of wine as she explained the story.

Her husband left her seven years ago for a woman who already had a ten-year-old daughter. A ready-made family, he called it. He left with a series of clichés: Debbie was a survivor, she had a good job, she wouldnt miss him, it would leave her time and space for the things she really loved. But Debbie had really loved her husband. She had been shattered as Helen was now. If grief could be measured, hers had been just as great. But she had decided not to lose him.

She had not been hostile to the woman with the ready-made family. She had been welcoming. She had offered to baby-sit for them. She had won the mind and heart of the girl who was now her husbands stepdaughter, Tina. She had moved to live near them; she was a presence in their lives. Her ex-husband thought she was a woman in a million. He sometimes came and talked with her in the garden. He lived in a place where the garden didnt flourish.

Debbie Kennedy had decided to make her successors weaknesses her own strengths. Perhaps the new woman she never spoke her name was a tigress in bed; perhaps she was an intellectual giant; perhaps she flattered him more than Debbie had done. But Debbie still cooked better than she did. Debbie picked up his children from school and entertained them royally while the new woman was still at work. Debbie entertained her husbands mother regularly when the new woman had no time or inclination to do so. Debbie had arranged deviously that Tina should win two pedigree kittens in a competition when she knew the new woman was allergic to cats, and Debbie kept them, on loan, for Tina.

It sounds like hard work, Helen said, full of admiration.

Its very hard work, Debbie agreed. But then I was like you, I didnt think the day would come when I could ever live without him.

And now you could?

Oh yes, indeed I could. Now he actually bores me. Not totally but slightly. Hes very predictable. You would know immediately how he will respond. I never thought the day would come ...

So, if youre over him why dont you bow out? Live your own life? Helen wondered.

I cant now. I have too many other people that I love and who love me. I have his mother; she never liked me much during the marriage, but Im like some kind of angel compared to the new woman.

But surely ...

No, I cant abandon her, she never did anyone any harm. She didnt abandon me and divorce me, her son did. And I adore the girls. And there are the cats. I only organised them out of spite, but I love them now. I couldnt move on somewhere and abandon them when they had served their purpose.

And the garden: I realised that the secret was to have the minimum to do, but to give the children a flowerbed each, and I work on those secretly and feed whatever they plant, so they think its all their own work. Its a life, Helen, and I had no life the day he said he was leaving

But hes not the centre of it?

No, not now. He was when I needed it. Every single thing I did, I did from some kind of vengeance, and it gave me a purpose to my day.

I dont think I could do it. I mean its not as if there were a ready-made family. Theres only a bump and an awful nineteen-year-old, and he doesnt have a mother, and the cat thing wouldnt work.

Its that or get out of his orbit completely. When do you go back to work?

Next week.

Right, if you like, Ill ask the girls and Gran to help you unpack tomorrow. Its much better with a few people there. Well do a great deal in an hour and a half ...

But I cant.

Of course you can, and then, when you get back to work, have a gardening party. Invite every one of your colleagues to lunch, say that in return for two hours gardening theyll have a great picnic. Hire a huge trestle table for the day. Ill tell you what to tell them to plant and what to weed.

But I havent decided which road to choose; whether to worm my way back into Harrys life or not.

Youll still need to unpack and to clear up that messy garden, Debbie said.

They wouldnt talk about plans and strategies again. From now on they would not need to refer to the desperation of the one and the deviousness of the other. As the curtains went up at the windows, and the china was unpacked on to the shelves and into the cupboards, and the garden took shape, their lives would go on. Helen would make friends again. She would start with her colleagues in the bank who would view her differently after they had seen her as the host of a marvellous gardening party. Debbies surrogate family would never know she had loved them initially as an act of revenge. It was good to have such solidarity established on a summer evening.

 

*****

 

Reading Tasks

 

T a s k 1. Are the following statements TRUE or FALSE? Correct the false statements according to the text.

1. Mrs Kennedys garden was well-kept and tidy with flowerbeds, paths, paved areas and seats.

2. Helen was an only child in the family, but she had a lot of friends who she could turn to if she had problems.

3. Harry left Helen because he found a very young girl, whom he called a real love and who could give birth to his child.

4. Debbie Kennedy was at the same time a grandmother for the two girls.

5. Helen decided to go and meet Mrs Kennedy because she wanted to find out about the two girls.

6. Debbie Kennedy did more for the ex-husbands family than his present wife did.

7. Helen was in two minds, whether to worm her way back into Harrys life or not.

8. Helen and Debbie Kennedy understood each other very well because their stories were similar.

 

 

T a s k 2. Which of these words refer to the main characters:

a) Helen b) Mrs Kennedy? Give your reasons.

 

strong revengeful indecisive easy-going

a survivor vulnerable hard-working self-pity

a pretender an actress inquisitive wise

cunning weak clever envious

supportive faithful practical sacrifice

 

 

T a s k 3. Look through the text once again: what questions does Helen ask in the story? In what situations does she ask these questions? Have you ever put such questions to yourself?

 

 

T a s k 4. Explain the title of the story The Garden party. What does garden symbolise in the story? Find the examples in the text.

 

Post-Reading Tasks

Discuss the following ideas.

 

Ø Revenge is usually thought of as a negative, destructive force. A Spanish proverb says: No revenge is more honourable than the one not taken. Do you think Mrs Kennedys revenge can be seen like this? Have you ever taken revenge on somebody in your life? Was it in a positive or negative way?

Ø Can you imagine Helens future: revenge on Harry or forgiving Harry? Explain your answer.

Ø Nowadays there are a lot of deserted wives with or without children, divorced or separated couples or even deserted husbands. Whose fault is it: mans or womans? List the reasons for divorce and compare them with your partners (or another group).

Ø In all probability one of the reasons in your list is unfaithfulness. Do you think people generally have the same attitude towards an unfaithful wife as they do towards an unfaithful husband?

 


Date: 2015-02-28; view: 2853


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