The space in which Olive Whinging found herself shortly after the judge had announced her sentence was a small room painted bright pink with little butterflies and bunnies and kittens with cute, cheerful faces painted here and there. One window looked out onto a beautiful back garden filled with large, colourful flowers. Inside the room, a miniature plastic table sat in one corner with miniature plastic chairs made for very small children alongside it, and on the table stood an abacus, a number of cuddly toys (several of which looked as though they had been through a very rough time), some pieces of coloured sugar paper and a tin box of different-sized broken wax crayons. Blue plastic chairs, the sort with holes in the backs which can be found in school classrooms, sat randomly around the edge of the room, and on the bright walls there were many, many drawings which had obviously been drawn with the paper and crayons. They showed childish, dumpy figures, supposedly meant to resemble human beings, with stick arms and legs and round heads. In around half of the drawings, the ‘people’ were standing alone in some vast empty space or surrounded by figures with exaggeratedly angry expressions whilst the central figure cried rivers of tears the size of footballs onto the floor. Above these drawings, there was a laminated notice, decorated with Clipart drawings of flowers, saying ‘Before’. Next to these pictures there was the other half of the drawings. Again, there were more figures, and very often they were holding hands or being embraced by other, taller figures. Their smiles were so large that they covered almost the entire circumferences of the heads. These pictures had the flowery caption ‘After’ written above them. On what little space was left on the walls were large, colourful posters saying things like ‘You are special!’ and ‘Smile: You’re good enough!’ and ‘Be happy to be you!’
Olive was sitting in one of the school chairs opposite a middle-aged woman with long, blonde, greasy hair, a sugar-pink cardigan with more smiley bunny heads embroidered all over it, and a long, flowery skirt. Olive had been watching this woman’s face for a very long time, but so far she had not seen her enormous smile even vaguely droop, and even though Olive hadn’t said anything yet, the woman continually scribbled notes in messy, round letters into a pink polka-dot notepad. This made Olive uneasy. She felt as though she couldn’t even breathe without this woman coming to some kind of strange assumption to do with Olive’s mental state.
It had been suggested to Olive that she should address this woman, who was a councillor, very simply as ‘Summer’, though there were a number of other, much more inventive names building up inside Olive’s head, though she decided that she wasn’t going to use any of them just yet.
“So, Olive!” Summer said brightly, scribbling something down in her notepad (Olive couldn’t see what she had written very well, but it seemed to look a little like, ‘Sits and stares with disgusted expression – Mentally subnormal?’). “Tell me a little about yourself.”
Olive blinked. “What do you mean?” she asked, raising one eyebrow.
Summer wrote down ‘Definitely mentally subnormal’. “What I’m trying to do, Olive, is to assess what sort of person you are before we try and figure out precisely what it is that’s going on with your life at the moment. It’ll make my eventual conclusion much easier to reach. So, could you sum yourself up in three words for me?”
Oh! Olive thought. Now she understood! “Olive Juliet Whinging,” she said promptly, wondering why Summer needed to know her full name in order to evaluate her condition. What a stupid exercise this was. But then, she hadn’t expected many signs of basic intelligence from someone like this.
Summer paused for a moment, looking focused, as though trying to work something out. “Very good,” she said eventually, writing down ‘Reluctance to talk about self – Obviously very low self-esteem’ into her notepad. “Could you tell me a little about your childhood, perhaps? Though I don’t want you to feel pressured; feel free to stop any time you feel you need to. Don’t be ashamed if you feel too upset or overwhelmed to continue.”
Olive stared at her before speaking – why would she get upset talking about her childhood? “I got evacuated to the country when I was four,” she said lazily, leaning back in her chair, deciding to make it very clear to Summer that she was not the kind of idiot who got upset just by talking about her childhood. “We stayed with this pair of nutters called the Baxters. I got expelled from school after two years for improving the Christmas play. Every so often the Waterss and their revolting daughter Lucy came to visit. Oh, Lord…Lucy…Lucy was basically the reason that Mrs. Baxter hated me. There wasn’t anything wrong with me personally. I can’t help it if some idiotic child decides that she’ll pick on me.”
“Ah! And has the memory of this Lucy had a troubling effect on you?” Summer asked, sounding excited as she wrote down, ‘Evacuation, dislike of adoptive family, expulsion, perhaps bullied – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?’
“Well…I suppose,” Olive said, frowning as she noticed how excited Summer seemed to be about this. It was almost as though she thought she knew everything that had happened. “I mean, she is trying to steal Raymond away as well…”
“Ah! So Lucy has reappeared?” Summer cried, hurriedly writing, ‘Tormented by childhood memories’. Olive became even more confused; she had barely explained everything about Lucy yet. “Do you think that it may be her who induced you to stalk the Calzones?”
“I don’t know!” Olive snapped. Summer was talking about Lucy as though she knew precisely who she was, even though she didn’t. And what was this rubbish about her stalking the Calzones? “I didn’t stalk the Calzones, anyway; I was just being persistent. That’s the thing that gets you what you want in life: persistence! If I didn’t stalk them they’d probably go away forever. In fact, they were, seeing as Raymond got that job in Timbuktu! Wouldn’t anyone else do the same?”
“Ah! Now I see!” said Summer, writing, ‘Has to stalk family in case they disappear – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?’ “But back to this Lucy – Olive, are you sure that this dreadful Lucy figure of yours is real? She’s not just a demon from your past coming back to haunt you and prevent you from following the life you want to lead? Is she the reason you’ve been doing all of these things? You do sound very scared of her!”
Wow, Olive thought. Summer honestly did think that she was completely and utterly bonkers. “Of course she’s a real person!” Olive said incredulously. “Why would I make up a stupid little dwarf like Lucy? Actually make her up? Haven’t I got enough trouble in my life what with my children betraying me on all sides?”
“Right…so you’re angry at Ethel, that’s for sure,” Summer said slowly, skimming through her notes and annotating them in certain places. “But you have another child, don’t you? A son?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a son called James,” Olive muttered crossly, staring at her nails. This was getting very, very annoying. She couldn’t possibly imagine what on earth James had to do with any of this. He hadn’t been fulfilling his role in the Team very well at all recently, and she barely ever saw him.
“A son called James,” Summer said. “And why are you angry at James?”
Olive rolled her eyes. Where to start? “Well, all James seems interested in is going off to some stupid university somewhere rather than helping his mother. But then, he has always been a very selfish child.”
“Oh, yes,” Summer said, writing, ‘Jealous of son for being more intelligent and having higher prospects’. “No one is blaming you for anything, Olive.”
“I should ruddy well hope not,” Olive muttered. Honestly, this woman was an idiot. All she did was either spout complete rubbish or state the obvious!
A very long time later, after Summer had asked another bunch of stupid, personal questions, Olive had examined her nails until they couldn’t be examined anymore and had been supposedly diagnosed with every psychological condition known to man, Summer thoughtfully lowered her dotty notepad and looked at Olive full in the face.
“Olive,” Summer began very gently. “It seems to me that you feel threatened by your daughter. You’re clearly jealous that she has a much more stable family environment than you, so you feel that you have to get back at her by pretending to love her husband and want to steal him away. And I suppose that you’re also trying to hurt Frederick by doing this, in revenge for his failure to satisfy your emotional needs, and due to everything that’s currently going on all of the needs of your son and friends go ignored and under-valued, which is the reason why you feel so annoyed at all of them all the time. Judging from what you’ve been telling me about Mary, Hetty, Edith and Alice, your friends clearly do not have much intellectual capacity and so maybe don’t think much about what they’re doing when you get cross with them. Am I right?”
What on earth was Summer talking about? “No!” she said right away. “Well, apart from the part about my friends not having much intellectual capacity; that’s true. But the rest of it is all wrong!”
Summer scarcely blinked. “Which part of that was wrong?” she asked interestedly.
“All of it, apart from that little bit!” Olive said. “I do want to steal Raymond away, but not because I’m trying to get back at anyone, though I’d really love to…and Fred doesn’t care about me liking Raymond; he knew what he was in for when we got married! And although my friends, apart from maybe Alice on a good day, are really stupid, I’m often pretty sure that they do things to annoy me on purpose. They’re selfish, you see. Everyone’s selfishness is the problem!”
“Hmmm,” said Summer carefully, writing down ‘Denial’ in her notepad. “Olive, I know that sometimes the world can seem like a big, scary place, and that it seems as though everyone is trying deliberately to be horrible to you, but I hope you can try and remember that there are some people – me, for example – who are truly on your side. What you need to do is reward the people who are close to you. Praise them when they get something right, or even when they just try!”
Olive stared at Summer. Reward the people who were close to her. Summer had just said that she was on Olive’s side; was she angling for a present or something? Olive wasn’t about to get Summer a gift for just sitting there and spouting nonsense. She didn’t consider Summer to be on her side, anyway.
Olive tried hard to picture this woman as a member of the Team. Summer would probably be just as useless as Edith or James or Augustus and Adolphus; she certainly seemed to be one of those people who never did anything right.
At that moment, there was a sharp buzzing noise. Olive glanced over at Summer’s desk in the corner, and saw that the noise originated from a small buzzer in the shape of a very pink pig.
“That’s out session up,” Summer said, still using her sad, sympathetic voice. “This is has been a very good first session, Olive. I really do look forward to talking to you again next week. I think you’re clearly a very caring human being who seems to have lost the way somewhere in her life, but we’ll soon put that right, and before you know it, you’ll be back on your feet again!”
Suddenly, Summer held out her arms, and Olive swiftly turned round and headed for the door so she wouldn’t have to hug her. She wasn’t in the mood for pitying weird hippies like Summer. She had more important things to do, like lying on her bed and crying…
When Olive got home to Mary’s house that afternoon, she was surprised to find that Edith was the only person in the house – no one else seemed to be willing to speak to Olive at the moment; her general mood was even worse than usual since the court hearing. Even more surprisingly, Olive noticed that Edith actually appeared to be writing, in English rather than gobbledegook, on a piece of paper. And, absolutely stunningly, Olive could read the handwriting and saw that much of what was being written was spelt correctly. Aside from a forlorn number four which seemed to have taken the place of the letter ‘a’ as well as one semi-quaver where a semi-colon should be, it was almost perfect.
Olive decided to reserve her praise until she’d figured out what exactly was going on. For Edith to be making an effort to write legibly and accurately, something big had to be happening. “Edith, why are you writing?” Olive demanded.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Edith squeaked. “I didn’t mean to borrow your silver pen. It was just the nearest one I found! The paper isn’t special, too, is it? Actually it’s the back of one of those funny things Mary sometimes gives to the pizza man.”
Olive turned over the piece of paper that Edith had been writing on and saw that it was a cheque. The front side had already been written all over. She shrugged. “No big deal,” she said. “No, what I mean is, why are you actually writing? You never write!”
“Oh, I know, I get loads of horrid ink stains all over my hands,” Edith explained. “Plus, I can never get my head around this weird grammar stuff. The spelling’s okay because I’ve got my old pocket dictionary, but how are you meant to decide where to put all of the strange symbols, like the little tadpole thing?”
“You mean a comma?”
“Yeah, a comma! And that thing with the two dots…”
“Oh…the thing Alice uses a lot when she makes lists…a colon?”
“Yes! It’s all stupid, isn’t it? How are we meant to be able to write properly if only weird people like Alice can understand the English language? Do all the high-up people at the top think we’re all completely thick or something?”
Olive decided not to give this an answer; she didn’t want to hurt Edith’s feelings. “Edith, would you just please tell me why and what you’re writing?”
“Sure. I’m making a plan!”
Silence. Olive was struggling for what to say. Summer had told her to reward and praise her friends’ efforts to help her, but then Summer didn’t understand how mind-blowingly infuriating her friends could be. “You’re making a plan?” said Olive incredulously, smirking. “Since when have you made plans? Since when have you even attempted to make plans good enough to even be acknowledged as plans? Even Alice’s are useless at the moment.”
“Oh, this is a really good plan!” Edith cried defensively. “I’ve been thinking it right from when you left for the counselling this morning and everyone else ran away to the Barmy Duck. I told Alice I was making a plan and she ignored me and told me not to be ridiculous, and then I told Mary and Hetty and Fred and the others. Mary said she’d listen to it later when she was drunk enough, Hetty told me I was stupid, so I’m not talking to her ever again, and Fred said that it was a wonderful idea and that he’d be happy to put his full support behind whatever it was.”
“He was just pitying you,” said Olive, rolling her eyes. She felt like Summer; she was stating the obvious! “Couldn’t you have made Alice come up with another plan? She’s still pretty keen about the Team, isn’t she?”
“Oh, yes, but she said she had to go with the others to make sure that they didn’t get up to anything at the pub,” Edith explained. “She was shouting orders to them and stuff, just like she used to do before the court case, but I’m not sure that anyone was really listening to her…”
“Typical useless Alice,” Olive muttered.
Edith appeared not to have heard her. “Would you like me to explain my plan?” she squealed excitedly.
“No, I don’t think I’d be able to contain my joy,” Olive muttered sarcastically, trudging over to the drinks cabinet in Mary’s living room. She found that it was locked, so she headed out of the door towards the stairs leading down to the cellar. “I’m going to get the crowbar, Edith. Carry on making your plans if you must, but don’t disturb me with them. You ought to know I’m going through a very rough time; that was one of the few things Summer was right about…”
“Who’s Summer?” Edith asked brightly, but Olive had already disappeared into the dark mystery of the cellar, and either hadn’t heard her or was pretending not to have heard so she didn’t have to answer.
Edith turned back to her plan. The sheet from Mary’s cheque book was so filled up with tiny lines and lines of Edith’s best handwriting that anyone would have thought it was a piece of one of James’s novels. But it wasn’t a piece of one of James’s novels. Edith was confident that she had come up with a fool-proof plan. And, remarkably, she’d been able to predict that Olive wouldn’t be as hopeful about this plan as Edith would otherwise hope she’d be.
Edith understood that Olive was fairly contemptuous of plans these days, since all of Alice’ had failed, and she hadn’t exactly expected any support from the Team, either. But things were about to look up. Edith grinned, and she suddenly stood up and took the piece of paper over to the computer, with the intention of typing up her marvellous plan so that it wouldn’t get lost.
Everything was going to be all right after all. And everything was going to be all right after all because Edith had recently remembered something Olive had told her long ago about the advantages of having rich, intelligent, charming friends.