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One Upmanship in Northern Ireland

Day 12, 21st June 2011 (Visiting Father)

After walking the dogs on Murlough Nature Reserve, Dad and I went to meet one of his old friends, Jan, for lunch. She and her late husband had been my parents’ neighbors back in Belfast. I only met Jan a few times over the years, but remember my mother complaining about her, saying she was infuriating, always playing one-upmanship.

We met at the golf club where Jan is a member. It started off well, as we swapped memories of my mother and of the ’old days’ back in Belfast. She asked me if I remembered a couple of other neighbors, whose offspring would have been my age.

“What about John Gary?” she demanded. (Name changed to protect the innocent.)

A vague memory of a dark-haired boy came to mind. “Oh, yes, we were in the same class at Knockbreda Primary."

“He’s in America, you know,” she said with aplomb.

“Really?” Where did she think I lived?

“He’s in New York. He has a loft apartment, there.”

“Nice,” I agreed.

“He has a lot of money,” she continued. “He’s a millionaire. Done really well for himself.”

“That’s nice,” I repeated, at a bit of a loss.

“And he’s married. Got children. Grandchild on the way.”

“Great.” I was having a hard time keeping my smile up. Her voice had taken on a boastful and triumphant tone. I couldn’t understand why.

I looked at her closely for the first time, seeing the ostentatious, gold jewelry, thick chains and huge gemstones that glittered in the sunlight shining through the skylight above. I saw her eyeing my jewelry with a barely concealed sneer. Dad and I had planned to look at another Dolmen after lunch, so I’d purposely worn my silver pendant holding the meteorite I treasured, and had consequently matched that with silver earrings, bracelet and rings. Jan couldn’t quite hide that she felt superior to me.

“What a lovely day,” I observed, nodding at the sunlit green outside the window and trying to change the conversation.

Her eyes glinted but she didn’t buy it. “Yes,” she continued, “John’s done really well for himself. He’s quite famous in the banking circle, you know.”

Exasperation crept over me. “How nice,” I said, adding a touch of frost to my tone. “Pity I don’t remember him.”

“He took the whole family on a cruise, you know,” she told me.

I looked to Dad for help, but he was lost in thought, watching a red-faced man swing an iron on the green outside.

“To the Caribbean,” finished Jan.

I felt a flash of annoyance. “I’ve been to the Caribbean,” I said, before I could stop myself. I hadn’t wanted to get riled into engaging in her one-upmanship. Now I understood why Mum had found her infuriating.

“They went to Panama the year before,” she countered.

“I was there in 2006,” I answered.

“And Hawaii the year before that.”

“Been there several times.” My brain was screaming shut up! Don’t engage her!

She took a sip from her glass of wine. “John’s loft in New York is huge. Really beautiful. Where do you live?”

“I own a house in Oregon.”

“How big is it?”

I shrugged. “Don’t know. A few thousand square feet.” What an appalling woman! I couldn’t wait for lunch to be over.

“It’s nice that a wee boy from Northern Ireland is so successful,” she crowed.

Ire surged through me. “Well, I’m a published author,” I said, hating the petulant tone in my voice. She had riled me into feeling I had to justify my existence.

She paused. Before she could make any retort, I tilted my head to the side as though I heard something. “Oh, that’s my cellphone,” I lied. “Excuse me.” I got to my feet, grabbed my purse, and hurried outside to the front of the clubhouse. Holy shit! What a lunch.

I asked Dad about it, later. "Can't make out a bloody word she says," he shrugged. "I only have to smile and nod; she does the talking for both of us." :-)

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