“It’s all very well for you dear. You can swan about talking about love and loss and shorelines and cordage and I don’t know what else. This is the sharp end of the enterprise and you’d best be gone and let me get on with it.” With a wave of her rolling pin Mrs H chased Charles from the kitchen, where he’d been drinking a cup of coffee with a shot of brandy in it to calm his nerves. He scuttled out obediently, head down.
The hall looked disappointingly dingy. The hangings made by the children in the primary school had turned out muddy rather than colourful as he’d hoped and one of them had already detached itself on the right hand side. As he pondered what to do about it Mrs H burst from the kitchen flailing her rolling pin.
“Mr Charles, Mr Charles!”
“Calm down, Mrs H. What’s the problem? Burnt the pies? Ha, ha, ha!”
“If I had burnt them that would be no laughing matter dear. No I haven’t, and there’s Something in the kitchen.”
“What do you mean, Something?”
“Something - alive!”
Reluctantly he followed Mrs H back into the kitchen. The table top was covered in a huge expanse of pastry.
“Look, Mr Charles!”
“What, Mrs H? I can’t see what you’re alluding to.”
“Look at the pastry. I just rolled it out, went over to the drawer to get a knife and when I came back it was like that.”
“Like what, Mrs H?” All Charles could see was the pale expanse. In his head he began to compose the first lines of a new poem:
Laid smoothly on its marble board/The edible cloth awaited the transforming heat....
“Like that, Mr Charles.” The rolling pin was pointing at a row of tiny marks.
“Teeth, Mr Charles!” declared the cook, triumphantly.
“Ah!” There was no denying the marks.
“What makes you think those marks were made by the teeth of a living creature, Mrs H?”
“You think it could have been a ghost?” Her ruddy countenance had faded abruptly to the hue of the pastry.
“No, no, woman, don’t be ridiculous! What would a ghost want with pastry? I am merely suggesting that you might have involuntarily made those marks yourself with....” He cast around in his mind for possibilities... “ a fork or some other kitchen implement...” His voice tailed off. Charles was not familiar with the contents of kitchen drawers. That was his wife’s domain. Or in this instance, Mrs H’s.
“Mr Charles, dear, there is nothing that could have made those marks other than teeth.” She waved the fearsome rolling pin again. “Look at this, smooth and round as a baby’s bottom. Solid, I’ll grant you, but not sharp.”
As the pair fell silent for a moment a thin sound came from the far left-hand corner of the kitchen. “Listen!” she cried, “The offender!” Charles and Mrs H crept like Tweedledum and Tweedledee towards the corner. She pulled aside the door curtain.....There was nothing there.
“Look, Mrs H, I’m very sorry but the reading is due to start in five minutes. I have to get back and mingle.”
“Alright, my dear, you just leave me to be eaten by a monster,” she called after the retreating figure. “But don’t expect any lunch.”
He stopped and swivelled on his heel, ready to protest, but Mrs H had turned her back and was fiercely rolling the pastry again.
“We’ll find it later, Mrs H,” he called back, in an effort to pacify her. “Whatever it was,” he added lamely.
The reading went off rather well. Charles had assembled a small coterie of fellow poets and, one after another, they stood and delivered their verses to the gratifyingly large audience. Without exception the readers tended to drop their voices towards the end of a line and one or two of the listeners were cupping their ears. They were, however, too polite to shout out if they couldn’t hear. They were, after all, English. Most of them had also paid far too much for a small glass of vin ordinaire and it amused Charles to watch them sipping at it as if it were Chateauneuf du Pape.
At the end of the reading a few people shuffled over and bought one or two of his overpriced dusty grey pamphlets.
“Glass of vino, boys?” cried Charles to his chums as soon as the door had closed on the last of the audience, and poured out generous libations for all. “I’ll go and see how lunch is coming along.”
As Charles opened the kitchen door it snagged against something lying on the floor. It looked awfully like Mrs H’s blue apron. There were noises in the room. High pitched and painful to his ears. Then he saw her. Face down on the pastry. As he watched, the rolling pin slid off the table and the momentum of the fall made it travel slowly towards him across the kitchen floor, leaving a bright red streak in its wake. He pulled the door to quickly.
“Change of plan, boys,” Charles announced gaily. “Liquid lunch at the pub suit?”
Cath Barton lives in Wales, where she write, sings, takes photographs, gardens, walks and generally enjoys life. She has, to her own amazement, been on a trek in Nepal. Check out her on-line photographic exhibition at The Camel Saloon www.camelsaloonwales.blogspot.com