Last year I wished everyone a Merry Christmas with a poem, this year it’s a story…
The moment had come, Julie had been dreading it for some time, but she took a deep breath and entered the room, shutting the door firmly behind her.
She cast her eye around the place. The surroundings so familiar, and yet the cause of so much stress.
Right, she thought, let’s get this done!
Timing, she knew, was the all-important aspect, get it wrong and everyone would suffer, and she knew that everyone would point a finger in her direction.
Temperature would also be critical; she reached out and turned a knob, setting a temperature decided upon days before.
Her gaze then fell upon the dead body, lying there, cold and ugly in its present state.
The body had been prepped for what was about to come, but it was still missing one vital thing. She reached out and, opening up the body’s maw, crammed the pale, thick paste down, deep inside its cold clammy body. She breathed deeply; even after so many years she still couldn’t stand the feel of dead skin, and when she prodded it, she almost gagged.
She washed her hands. Glancing at the clock – 09:30 – she knew she had to be done by 13:00 at the latest, or suffer a fate worse than death; it was going to be close.
Opening the door to the now hot incinerator, she placed the body carefully inside, tapped some figures into the timer, and hoped for the best.
What to do next?
It was all a puzzle. Hot water, that was needed. The roots that lay on the side had to be heated for the desired effect, but surely she didn’t need to do that now?
Panic seized her; she did a little simple math. No, the roots could wait, but what needed doing next, right now? Again she looked around the room. Candles were stacked on a bare table; an odd round looking person had been carved out of wood and stood, as if shivering, on the window ledge. There were two candleholders in the form of strange animals wearing tree like hats on their head. Obviously, the candles would go in these, but when? Again, this could be done later; they’d only burn away if lit now.
There was a box that displayed a dark brown dome on its cover, flames leaping from its roof. She picked it up and read the operating instructions, and relief came to her as she learnt that this could be placed in the wave-generating machine, which dominated one corner.
She stared out of the window, at the rain lashing down. She didn’t want to be here. She didn’t want to be doing this. Why was it that she was always selected for this task? Why did nobody else come forward to share the burden?
She watched the water trickle down the panes, the sky dark, the trees seemingly bowing to her as the wind bent their branches.
She turned away, catching sight of the large wall clock. Oh sh..! She’d been daydreaming; where had the time gone!
Quickly she grabbed the large metal container and filled it with water. Lighting a flame beneath it she prayed it would hurry to the boil.
The roots needed some work, which she set to with haste. Sounds of encouragement drifted through the door, but this wasn’t aimed at her, someone else was playing a game in another room, one that sounded far more interesting than the one she was playing.
She cast the larger round roots into the boiling water, then checked on the body. She inserted a probe deep into its thigh, then again into its breast – progress was being made, it was slowly changing state, but would it be quick enough?
There was a cold store standing against one wall, and she walked across the room to peer at its contents. Yes, that was what she needed. She reached inside and grasped a large plastic container, its contents dark and mysterious. She frowned, unsure if she should use this, or should she revert to the old methods passed down to her from generation to generation. Blow that, this would be easier!
There was a whoosh, a clang, and a hissing sound. The metal container had boiled over, casting some of its contents into the hot flame. Damn! How long had it been on? She lifted the lid and prodded the contents with a knife. She bit deep into her bottom lip, sure that more time had passed than she would have liked, and decided to tip the liquid away leaving the roots behind.
Time check – 12:00 already, and still so much to do. I’ve got to get on she thought, and opening the incinerator door, she cast the roots at the dead body. They sizzled and spat as they came into contact with the hot liquid surrounding it, but she was far from satisfied. Why was she in such a mad rush, surely this was nothing she hadn’t done before? But the pressure; this day everything rested upon her shoulders, and she was feeling the strain.
White pointy roots stared up at her from the side; shouldn’t she have done something with these by now? Who cares, they weren’t her favourite things in the world anyway, so what would it matter if the accidentally found their way into the garbage!
She scrapped them away, and was about to do the same with the green, round, ball like things, but paused – People would complain about these, even though all they were good for were throwing at each other, at least in her opinion anyway! She put them with the bright orange things, and added some white and green tree like substances with them.
She turned to the bare table and then glanced at the clock. Should she risk the fury of the others and ask for help? It would make them shout out in anger and make her feel a failure, but better that, though, than the disaster of getting it wrong. No, she could not bring herself to that.
Grabbing various utensils, she ran around the table placing this here and that there, but wait… a bare table? That was wrong. Tears filled her eyes as she collected everything up again. Opening drawer after drawer – she was sure it was here somewhere – she eventually found what she was looking for.
She wafted it gently over the table, its bright, gaudy pattern making her feel nauseous. She hated this thing, but it was a necessary evil to keep the table safe from the beasts that would be presiding over it.
Again she ran around, placing things where they needed to be. Was it time for the candles? Nearly, so she placed then into the holders and plonked them on the table.
Time check – 12:45. Once more she inserted the probe. The state change had nearly been completed, so she left the probe in place and closed the incinerator. More water went into the metal container, and a flame erupted beneath it. This would be for the rest of the vegetables.
Another pan was taken from the cupboard and the gravy she’d purchased from the shop was tipped in – no old mothers recipe for her. She looked at the table. All the cutlery was in place, glasses where they needed to be; she smiled, and opened the door to the wine-cooler. Selecting her favourite wine, she popped the cork and poured herself a small drink – one for the cook, cheers!
She placed the bottle on the table and surveyed the current situation. Something beeped. She dashed forward and hit the cancel on the digital temp probe – the Turkey was done. It wasn’t going to get much resting time, but hey, neither would she!
The potatoes, lovely roast potatoes, were also almost done too, but they could stay in the oven and wait for the rest of the veg.
10 minutes later she placed the last serving dish on the table and stood back. Turkey ready for carving – check. Potatoes – check. Vegetables, including yucky sprouts and yummy parsnips – check. Cranberry sauce – check. Gravy, in her brand new gravy boat, a present from her husband (boy, does he know how to treat a lady!) – check. Wine – check. Mmm, something missing… she glanced around and spotted the stuffing hiding behind the Christmas cake. Stuffing – check. Pigs in blankets – damn!
Oh well, win some, lose some, and besides, they probably won’t even notice. She popped the Christmas pud into the microwave and set the timer, all she’d have to do was press start when needed.
So, this was it.
In they filed, her husband and their three kids; her husband parents, her sister and her husband, and bringing up the rear, the dog!
‘Where are the pigs in blankets?’ John, her beloved husband cried.
She fixed him with a look that almost cooked the pud. They were never mentioned again!
Finally, the meal had been decimated; the pud had been heated, and then mostly refused, due to over eating, and that just left the clearing up, which obviously included a mound of washing-up.
Julie casually refilled her glass. Everyone was standing, trying to look too busy with minor things, such as that stain on the tablecloth, to make a move towards the kitchen sink.
She saw her chance and slipped away unnoticed through to the sitting room. The fire was roaring away, whilst the TV displayed another repeat. She sank into her favourite chair and relaxed; she had escaped – 5 minutes later, she was fast asleep!
We had been reminiscing about our childhood, and found we shared the same memories of our parents always falling asleep after Christmas dinner. Roll the timer forward to present day, and we now realise why – it’s exhausting!
So, I thought I’d have a bit of fun and write something dedicated to all those parents, be it mother, father, or both, who find themselves stuck in the kitchen, putting together the most special meal of the year.
For all those who find themselves on the other side of the fence, be thankful, enjoy what you’re given, and please, let your parents sleep!
A big thank you to all my followers, your comments and support have been very much appreciated.
And I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.
A selection of pictures taken at Attingham park this Christmas – curtesy of Yasmin Staveley.