Who's Who 8: Leftovers
Mum called up late in the afternoon, which was a surprise as I’d barely spoken to her all year. In fact, I’d been deliberating not getting her a present at all. I’d even pitched the idea to Tess as a peaceful protest, but she’d been dead against it.
“You’ll regret it,” was all she’d say on the subject.
In the end, I’d reluctantly picked a set of carving knives Mum had always wanted and left them on her doorstep on Christmas Eve. Wrapped, of course. I just couldn’t face going in there and seeing her with husband number three. Number one had been Bill, the strong man who’d been struck down by a weak heart. Number two had been my old man, who’d seemed unstoppable until something had spooked him into running off, never to be seen again. Roger, number three, was all modern midlife crisis, vegan ambitions and the worst kind of nostalgia.
As I’d stood out in the Christmas Eve cold, lit by the jittery glare of his lights strewn over the face of the house, I’d known it was best to beat a swift retreat. I couldn’t face a night of veggie snacks and passive aggressive pleasantries. That was why I’d knocked, set the present down and sprinted for the car.
Driving off, I’d caught a glimpse of the front door closing and thought that’d be the end of it. I’d played the dutiful son, kept the peace. Then I’d received the bloody surprise call.
“You should come over tonight,” Mum suggested. “It’ll be nice to see you.”
Tess agreed with her, adding it was best if I went on my own.
“Have some mother and son time. It’ll do you both good.”
It was amazing how quickly my wife could plan a night without me. A hot bath, some trashy TV and a bottle of red wine she’d received from her boss. She almost propelled me out the front door before my shoes were on.
Standing on Mother’s doorstep, it took me a moment to notice Roger’s precious sprawl of lights weren’t switched on. In fact, they were long gone. No trace left behind. I was running a finger over the bare brickwork as the front door was answered and I was ushered in for an awkward hug in the hall. Then my coat was seized and I was instructed to leave my shoes by the door.
“I’m just heating up some leftovers,” Mum announced, bustling back into the kitchen.
There was soft, soothing choral music flitting through the rooms. Candlelight winking beneath the lounge door.
“Roger not playing his Christmas number ones?” I asked.
“No, Love, Roger’s not here.”
I watched her open the oven and pull out the grill to reveal six thick slices of bacon. Now there was something hubby number three would very much not approve of.
“He seeing family?”
“No, no, he’s gone.”
“For good.” She clocked my reaction from across the kitchen. “Don’t fret, Love, I’m glad to be rid of him. He was a pest; forever getting under my feet.”
I watched her turn the meat, flipping the six substantial slices with ease, using the tip of a gleaming new carving knife. There was something about that pink, curling flesh. The white fringes of blackening fat. The smell of it filling the room. I can’t say why, for sure, but it turned my stomach. Maybe it was because of the way Mum was smiling at the sizzling sight of it.
“You know I’ve been through this sort of thing before,” she carried on. “You learn to adapt.”
When we finally sat down to eat, I made a strategic decision to avoid the bacon sandwiches. I stuck to the salmon, fresh bread and snacks and found myself watching, with a morbid sort of curiosity, as Mum polished off sandwich after sandwich. Clearly her vegetarian days were gone, as she did it all with an animal relish that’s normally reserved for the ravenous predators you get on TV.
She only looked more like herself again after she dabbed the grease from her lips and smiled.
“I really can’t thank you enough for those knives, Love,” she said. “They’ve already come in handy no end.”
On the way home, i remembered the night she told me Dad had left us. She’d served up a roast beef casserole that night. Or, at least, that’s what she’d said it was.