…and all through the house, the snores of the over-indulgent could be heard.
There was no unison in the sounds though – it was one awful discordant mess. Hugh was the loudest – wasn’t he always – for he insisted on sleeping on his back and never allowed a whiff of fresh air into his nominated bedroom. Although he slept alone up in the attic, the rest of the house were certain they could feel the vibrations. Whenever Hugh stood up and announced “bed, I think” there was a mass rush to get to sleep before he did. Fortunately, he had a rather lengthy bedtime ritual, so there was plenty of time for his siblings and their partners to fall asleep first. Of course, if they awoke in the night, there was no getting away from the dreadful racket, which is why there was always a little middle-of-the-night gathering in the kitchen.
Sylvie had been the first – always the lightest sleeper in the family, she was granted the room furthest away from the attic. But it was no good. If she timed her final drink of water too late, she always had to get up – and then she was lost. Over the years, she’d tried earplugs of every shape, size and design, then reading – or rather being read to while wearing earbuds – meditating, taking a hot bath and having a warm drink. Nothing worked, so now she jumped straight to dressing in warm casual clothes – not being one for dressing gowns and slippers – before heading downstairs to wait for the others to join her.
She couldn’t do any washing up as that was too noisy, but the kettle would go on, the favourite mugs of the usual suspects were laid out on the countertop, milk would be poured into pans and hot chocolate, cocoa and a range of teas were laid out ready and waiting. Sylvie would always start with a herbal tea in an attempt to calm down – Hugh’s snoring had always made her feel wound tight as a spring and tonight had been no exception.
By the time she was joined by her favourite sister’s husband, Malcolm, it was time to warm up some milk. Malcolm’s preferred hot drink was cocoa, but Sylvie had brought some rather fine Italian hot chocolate, so both poured themselves a mug. Their drinks had barely cooled enough for them to start sipping, when the remaining members of the kitchen club started to trail in. Alan and Clare came together, as ever, Sylvie wondering if they ever did anything alone. Alan tucked a blanket around Clare’s lap after settling her into the sole comfy chair, before making them both tea with lots of honey. Sylvie was somewhat disconcerted to note they were wearing matching dressing gowns, pyjamas and slippers this year – was their no end to their togetherness?
Her own husband, Rob, was – as ever – sleeping like the dead. He also snored, if less loudly than Hugh. Hugh made the noise of a motorcycle – one with a very large engine which was running rough – whereas Rob’s snoring was an altogether gentler affair. He only snored on those occasions when there’d been a heavy meal and lots of drink taken. Other than their family Christmas gatherings, he was known to snore after big Lodge dinners, but slept in the spare room at home on those occasions. Here, for the Robinson family gatherings, there wasn’t enough room for them not to share – but then she’d no cause to complain when there was already Hugh.
Ma joined them too, but not because of the snoring – she never slept well these days, not since Dad died. She’d insisted on keeping the old house and while it was useful for their regular family get togethers, Sylvie and Hugh – as the oldest children – had wondered when they should try again to persuade her to sell up and move somewhere smaller. The idea had been muted that first year, but she’d been surprisingly angry at the suggestion, and they’d been too afraid of upsetting her again. She seemed to be doing better in the past year, going to church again, re-joining the flower arranging rota, she’d even been on a few trips – like that one with the flower group to Holland in the Spring. But she always insisted how happy she was to be home after each one – insisting that she could only stand people for so long. She had made friends with a couple of local widows, each taking it in turns to plan outings. But she liked them because they were like her “independent old ducks who like their own homes and their own company”. If they did persuade her to sell up, it would have to be somewhere local, and the pickings were very slim hereabouts.
Just as they’d all got settled with their hot drinks and the chat was going strong, Ma held up her hand. Yes, her sharp ears had heard something – there was a timid knock at the door. As one they called out “come in” and in came Sylvie’s newest sister-in-law. They’d none of them particularly taken to her, as she’d replaced a much loved sister-in-law after a very messy divorce. It didn’t help that she was very quiet and clung to Craig like a limpet, so much so that they were really surprised to see her here.
Alan made her some tea with honey while Clare tried not to look too perturbed at the attention he was paying to her sister-in-law, for she was dressed in extremely glamorous silk pyjamas, dressing gown and silly little fluffy mules. The chat had returned to their usual this and that, when the mouse broke in – Melissa, that was her name – saying she had something special to ask of them all, but especially Ma. Sylvie suspected everyone around the table shared her worry that they’d been less than kind and welcoming to her on her first Robinson family gathering after the wedding. The family hadn’t attended their wedding either, but that’s because Craig had arranged for them to get married on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean.
With murmurs of encouragement from around the table, Melissa started. It was quite a tale of woe. Craig’s business was in trouble, although the details weren’t entirely clear. Naturally, she received sympathetic noises over that news, but when she moved onto the subject of the maintenance Craig was paying to his ex-wife and their children, she was on rocky ground. Not that she seemed to realise, for she went on at some considerable length about their greed causing Craig and herself to make cutbacks. Perhaps feeling she wasn’t getting the sympathy she deserved for this, she dabbed ostentatiously at her eyes, even though Sylvie was quite certain there wasn’t a drop of water to be found there. Alan gamely tried to change the subject, but Melissa wasn’t finished yet. Turning to Ma, with a worryingly winsome look, she said “Craig suggested we move in here with you to save a bit of money. Wouldn’t that be lovely for you to have some company?”
Everyone around the table gaped at her – all except for Ma that is. She got up briskly from the table to put her cup in the sink before saying “Aye, that’d be lovely. Except I’ve arranged to have lots of work done on the house to tart it up before putting it on the market, so you couldn’t live here through all that, what with the mess and the noise.” She turned and smiled sweetly at Sylvie, “you know love, like you and Hugh have been at me to do for ages.”
Sylvie smiled. Her mother might be an old duck, but there was no doubting she was a smart one. She knew full well what Craig was up to. But it wasn’t going to work, and he’d be getting a good ticking off from Ma later. Oh to be a fly on that particular wall.
© Debra Carey, 2021
May your holiday gatherings be more fine Italian hot chocolate than Machiavellian misdeeds but, most important of all, may 2022 be when you fulfil your writerly intentions.