Authors: Christina Jones
Tags: #Fiction, #General
‘I’m never going back to Niall,’ Lulu hauled up her smelly Afghan coat and various layers of second-hand skirts, and knelt beside her mother. ‘It’s over. Really over. No doubt we’ll have to have a face-to-face about it at some time, but for the moment I’m happy keeping out of his way. And yes, I’ve felt okay today – quiet liberated to be honest. Anyway, what about you? Have you found things to do today?’
‘Surprisingly, yes. I’ve been really busy. It’s been okay – now, come and look at this.’
Lulu had lifted out some of the jet jewellery and was letting the delicate black tracery spill through her fingers. Mitzi watched with pleasure as Lu delved further into the box, her eyes shining. Doll, she knew, was nowhere near as sentimental, and it was lovely to see these ancient possessions giving so much delight.
‘We never get anything as beautiful as this at the shop … and blimey, look at this!’ Lulu pulled a battered and tattered book from the depths of the box. ‘Is it a diary? Could it be Great-Granny Westward’s secret confessions? Maybe she had a royal lover or something really scandalous.’
‘I don’t think so,’ Mitzi removed Richard and Judy from the box and took the book from Lulu. ‘She was a bit of a tearaway by all accounts, and there have been one or two dubious stories about her, but – crikey!’
‘What?’ Lulu stopped stroking the cats and looked over Mitzi’s shoulder. ‘What is it? Are you ninetieth in line to the throne or something?’
Mitzi grinned. ‘It’s not a diary full of salacious secrets at all. It’s a cookery book – it must be all her home-made things – look, all the recipes are handwritten and they all have funny names.’
‘No good to you then,’ Lulu teased. ‘You only know about M&S ready-made meals and how to defrost pizzas.’
Mitzi nodded ruefully. The art of cooking had passed her by. Like most people she had been inspired by Jamie and Nigella making it look so damn easy-peasy on the television. She’d rushed out and bought all the books. They stood, untouched, in pristine rows on their shelf in the kitchen. The recipes had sounded mouth-watering, the photos looked good enough to eat, but when it came down to actually
any of them, it was a different matter.
‘I could learn,’ Mitzi carefully turned the brittle, yellowing pages covered in dark-blue looping handwriting. ‘I’ve got loads of time now, and I really should be able to cook properly. I could start with these – after all, they’re clearly family recipes …’ She grinned at Lulu. ‘I know, I’ll have a bit of a practice and then I’ll get Doll round and you two can give me your verdict. We could have a girlie dinner party courtesy of Granny Westward.’
‘Yeah, right,’ Lulu looked dubious. ‘And I’ll bring the Alka-Seltzer and keep the number of Pizza Express to hand. Good God – you can’t cook that one, I don’t even recognise the names … what the hell are Grains of Paradise? And I bet Big Sava doesn’t sell Job’s Tears.’
‘Hmmm …’ Mitzi ran her finger down the list of ingredients. ‘Maybe you’re right – but I can get pomegranate and dandelion and sunflower and walnut.’
‘It’s hamster food,’ Lulu giggled. ‘Granny Westward must have been having a laugh.’
‘No, I don’t think so – I think these are all old names for herbs and garden plants and things. I’ll look them up and try to find modern equivalents.’ Mitzi was suddenly fired with enthusiasm. Here was something she could really get her teeth into – in more ways than one. ‘You never know, I might find I’ve got a flair for making these old dishes.’
Lu pulled a face. ‘Or you might just earn yourself a new reputation as the Hazy Hassocks poisoner. I don’t suppose Granny Westward was a sort of hooky-nosed, warty-faced,
cauldron-owning, old biddy, was she?’
‘For heaven’s sake,’ Mitzi laughed, ‘Granny Westward was a down-to-earth soul who lived in a council house in a nice little cul-de-sac in Hermitage – not a broomstick-riding witch! Anyway, we’ll have to give this one a go first, Lu – look what it’s called …’
‘Wishes Come True Pie,’ Lulu peered over her mother’s shoulder. ‘Well, yeah, okay,we could all do with some of that.’
‘Right,’ Mitzi closed the book and stood up. ‘Wishes Come True Pie it’ll be. Next Friday night. Just the three of us. I’ll stick faithfully to the recipe and we’ll see what happens.’
Lulu picked up Richard and Judy and scrambled to her feet. ‘Okay, but we’ll all have to remember the old saying: be careful what you wish for because it might just come true.’
Mitzi laughed as she negotiated the ladder. As long as she managed to cook Wishes Come True Pie without burning the house down on Friday night she’d be more than happy.
WISHES COME TRUE PIE
A good handful of sunflower seeds
A pestle of pulverised walnuts
A sprinkling of desiccated dandelion (sun-dried)
A handful of pomegranate seeds
A good pinch of sage
Small chunks of root vegetables – onions, carrots, swedes, turnips
A few grains of ginseng
A little chopped bamboo root
Job’s Tears to taste
A handful of Grains of Paradise
A pinch of Tonka
Two teaspoons of liquid amber
Salt and pepper and powdered mustard in equal quantities to taste
Short-crust pastry rolled with chopped endives
A rich thick gravy made from kitchen stock
Must be served with white and green vegetables – white for lasting happiness, green for luck.
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.
Cover with endive pastry.
Cook in a moderate oven for one hour and a half or until pastry golden brown and ingredients softened. Serve immediately with vegetables.
Note: For wishes to come true, the wishes must be made while eating the first mouthful. The wishes must be personal. Against all folklore traditions, the wishes in this case must be spoken aloud. This pie will always make wishes come true, so a warning
be careful what you wish for.
‘Spit – er – sorry, rinse please, Mrs Clackett.’
Swivelling away from the patient, Doll free-wheeled across the dental surgery on her neat little chair to tap the updated notes into the computer.
Mr Johnson, the dentist, was helping Mrs Clackett to her feet with great solicitude, as well he might, Doll thought, seeing that the extraction had just cost her not only an incisor, but also an arm and a leg.
As Mrs Clackett was the last patient of Friday afternoon, there was an end-of-term atmosphere in the surgery. Fortunately for Doll’s social life, Hazy Hassocks didn’t subscribe to weekend emergency dental treatment, so if the villagers couldn’t confine their toothache to Monday to Friday, they had to seek relief elsewhere.
‘Got anything nice planned for the weekend?’ Mr Johnson was rinsing his hands with relish. He asked her the same question every Friday. ‘You and Brett doing anything special?’
‘Just the usual.’ Doll whizzed round the surgery, shoving instruments in the steriliser and wiping up any traces of tooth chippings, blood spatters and encrusted amalgam. ‘We’ll be wining and dining with the A list, and then
clubbing all night in London’s latest hot spots.’
Mr Johnson kindly laughed at her oft-repeated response. ‘The celeb lifestyle must get so boring. So, it’s a swift Saturday night pint at The Faery Glen and hours of telly, is it?’
‘Actually, there is a bit of a break in the routine – I’m going to my mum’s for dinner tonight.’ Doll pulled on her coat. ‘She’s cooking.’
‘Bloody hell. Retirement is clearly taking its toll. I’ve always told your mum that half her plaque problems are due to her constant diet of ready-made meals. She reckoned it was better than poisoning herself with her own culinary efforts.’ Mr Johnson flicked off the lights in the surgery. ‘Has she been taking lessons in her spare time?’
Doll shook her head. ‘She found an old family recipe book in the loft – traditional country cooking stuff. She’s wants to try it out on me and Lulu. We’re not overly optimistic.’
They stepped out into the blustery darkness. Doll shivered. Sad to think that an evening of Mitzi’s iffy cooking was preferable to an evening of watching Brett snoring beside the fire.
‘Well, good luck with it.’ Mr Johnson hurried towards his latest retro toy, a British racing green Jensen Interceptor. ‘Rather you than me. And if you’re not in on Monday I’ll know the reason why – oh, and don’t forget, Mr Earnshaw starts on Monday, too. I’ll probably put you in with him, and have young Tammy nursing with me. You know how Tammy tends to scream when things go a tad awry. Best not scare him too much on his first day.’
Doll nodded. The new dentist, Mr Earnshaw, was to replace old Mr Wiseman who had mercifully been retired before his personal fondness for Novocain had led to criminal proceedings. She and Tammy and Viv the receptionist had hoped that the new dentist would be sex on legs. It would, they’d asserted during many a tea break, liven things up a bit.
Sadly, on the day that Joe Earnshaw had been appointed, Viv had been at lunch and Doll had been in Winterbrook at the denture cast manufacturers returning a full set of false teeth allegedly tailored for Miss Fenwick, which had, when inserted, made her look like an extra from
Night of the Living Dead.
Tammy, who had been entrusted to report back on Joe Earnshaw’s phwoar rating, had wrinkled her snub nose. ‘Ancient!’ she’d said scathingly. ‘Dead old! Nearly as old as Mr J and Mr W!’
‘He can’t be that old,’ Doll had frowned. ‘He’s fresh out of college.’
‘Yeah, but only after a mid-life career change,’ Tammy had said. ‘He used to be a brickie.’
Mr Johnson leaned from the window of the Jensen. ‘Enjoy your meal, then. And don’t forget to floss afterwards! Toodle-oo!’
Doll watched the Jensen roar away into the darkness of Hazy Hassocks. Mr Johnson updated his classic sports cars on a regular basis. As she wrestled with the door of her elderly Polo she pondered as always on the huge anomaly between the joint incomes of a dentist and a solicitor, as the current Mrs Johnson was, and a dental nurse and a postman.
Not that she was materialistic, she thought, chugging away from the surgery. Oh, she had a few more material needs than Lulu – everyone had more material needs than Lulu – but nothing more than the basics. It would be so lovely to be able to afford a bit more than the basics … a proper holiday … a wedding and a baby.
The bungalow was in darkness when she pulled up outside. Sighing, Doll unlocked the door and stepped into the chill bleakness. Brett hadn’t remembered to fix the timing on the central heating again. He’d be asleep in front of the full-bore electric fire, with the living-room door closed, leaving the rest of the house to shiver.
As she’d suspected, the living room was like a blast
furnace. The television chattered to itself in the darkness and Brett’s snoring drowned out the manic screeching from the cartoon characters. Turning down the television and switching on the lights, Doll looked round in dissatisfaction.
Brett was very much magnolia-man when it came to interior decor, as Lance had been. The bungalow was clean, neat and paid testimony to a bland lack of imagination. Not, Doll thought, that she’d ever go quite as mad with colour as her mother had, but a few soft edges, a touch of cosiness – pictures, cushions, plants – surely wouldn’t hurt? Brett, sadly, considered such fripperies far too girlie. He became quite sulky and dogmatic when Doll suggested making changes and she’d long become too apathetic to insist. At the tender age of thirty, Brett was a bit of a dinosaur really.
He snored and stirred in his armchair as Doll looked at him, not with passion, but with an almost motherly affection. He was tallish and slimmish and fairish. Not ugly, not handsome, not anything particularly outstanding. He was hardworking and stoic and simply part of her life.
They’d known each other since they were fifteen. Neither of them had had anyone else. They shared a history, and rubbed along okay. The spark, such as it had ever been, had spluttered and died years before, but she still couldn’t imagine her life without him in it. Sad then, that they had probably stayed together out of habit and fear of the unknown.
Hurrying across the hall and into their icy bedroom, Doll pulled off her uniform, changed into jeans and jumper, and pounded across the hall again. Making a cup of tea and beans on toast, she elbowed her way back into the living room with the tray.
‘Brett … Brett … wake up. I’ve made your tea.’
He stirred and blinked at her. ‘What? Oh, I must have dropped off.’ He hauled himself upright and took the tray. ‘Thanks. Where’s yours?’
‘I’m going to Mum’s, remember? She’s cooking for me and Lulu. A sort of girlie supper party.’
Brett attacked his beans on toast and didn’t look up. ‘Oh, yeah. Okay. I’ll probably be in bed when you come home, then.’
In bed and asleep, Doll thought sadly. As always. She longed for a baby, but to have a baby you had to have sex, and to have sex it helped if you were both awake at the same time.
When she pulled up outside her mother’s house she’d almost expected to see the emergency services already in situ. It seemed impossible that Mitzi could cook an entire meal without setting fire to something or poisoning herself while tasting her concoction.
‘In the kitchen, Doll!’ Mitzi called. ‘Come on through, love.’
Doll inhaled the fumes emanating from the cooker – unknown aromatic herbs and spices served to produce a rich exotic fug which wreathed and swirled round the kitchen – blinked at her mother and then, finally, at the devastation.
Mitzi, with a towel tied round her waist, and her sleeves rolled up, was red faced, and her hair was standing on end. The kitchen looked even more scary. Not a work surface was visible, not a pot, pan or spoon appeared to be unused. Heaps of dried leaves, unidentifiable lumps of vegetation, and small bowls of peculiar-smelling unguents were scattered across the table top. Saucepans bubbled happily on the hob, the oven was radiating heat, and Richard and Judy were peering nervously over the top of the washing basket.