Can anybody's life be called ordinary? To the person living it, each passing moment should be all important. Even the scrubbing of a dirty new potato ready for lunch must be felt for what it truly is - a precious moment of rare life, to be cherished as a gem of priceless sparkling beauty.
"Make sure you do those potatos properly. Last time I gave you a job in the kitchen, I spent the rest of the week clearing up your messes!"
The voice came and went, like a bird of prey that merely pecked at my carcass, then, thinking better of it, soared back into the blue sky, blotting out the glorious sun for just a nonce.
It was Christmas Day. There WAS something special in the air but, equally, it was not like Christmas Days I remembered as a child: those were so special, all the people I saw that day would seem to have a halo glowing above their heads. But today was not significantly unlike any other. In fact, we all decided to split up, get into our various vehicles and tour the local towns and countryside, before lunch, it being such nice weather for the time of year.
The turkey was already "doing" inside the oven, plus the bag-pudding hissing above the steam, my potatos ready-scrubbed in their milky liquid and, finally, but not least, of course, the various items of alcoholic beverage lined up in the fridge eager for consumption. I noticed that the stuffing was still on the kitchen table and not safe inside the turkey's gaping belly ... but I did not draw attention to this, for fear of delay to our trips.
Many people were out and about, and I was relieved they all looked as ordinary as myself. My own particular husband and children harnessed themselves into my car, all excitedly chatting about their Christmas presents (many of which had been brought with them on the trip, no doubt only to be discovered several months later when I got round to clearing out the back of the car). I was a great collector of secondhand books, so I'd not been given any of these, for most people think Christmas presents should be new things. Somebody HAD bought me a new paperback, but it was a science fiction novel I would never want to read, if I had not read it already from the public library.
The other families staying in the same house as us for the seasonal weekend, including my own parents with their new children, drove off in their jalopies, even before I'd had the chance to start mine. We were all to return here by "lunchtime" (a moveable feast, if ever there was one). I was glad I was not ultimately responsible for its production. (Perhaps I SHOULD have told someone in authority about that stuffing). I was eager for a drink, but driving.
We soon became lost in the first town we encountered (the one we were staying in). Because of the recent bomb threats, most of the roads that the public could use as short-cuts through the garrison areas were fenced off. Not all of them, since we saw soldiers toting their Christmas slop buckets between barrack-rooms in some of the less sensitive military demarcation zones. In any event, the maps were sufficiently confusing to send us on a wild goose route through the smaller town of Bulstrode. But once there, we scaled the climbing alleys, till we reached the market square.
I do not know whether my family noticed it was becoming less and less like a proper Christmas Day. There were a few stall-holders calling their wares in the square. The one that surprised me most was an old fellow with a brazier selling off portions of fish and chips. "No time spent in waiting for drinks", he called. I did not quite understand the drift of his sales pitch - maybe, today of all days, he was giving the drinks away free or, at least, speedily, while they were still piping hot.
I was delighted to see in one corner of the busy square a man selling secondhand books. Tomes of various sizes were spread around him on mats, some huge purple encyclopaedias and entrancing little matching volumes no doubt containing rare fictional gems. I could not wait to get my hands on them.
My attention was temporarily drawn by the others in my party to the fact that some of our fellow guests at the house had turned up at the same place, evidently also confused by the shut-down garrison and the undependable maps of the area. They were haggling with a shopkeeper at the entrance to his open-plan emporium. From this distance I could not actually discern what he was selling and indeed what they were buying. They had not yet noticed us. My mother must have been among them since I could hear her voice right across the square.
At the same time, I spotted Auntie Enid wandering through the crowds in another part of the square. SHE was not staying with us for Christmas, so it was surprising to see her as lost as the rest of us. If I recall correctly, Auntie Enid was a relation that everybody seemed to acknowledge, but nobody knew exactly who she really was. The nature of her relationship with the rest of us was to remain a mystery of the tenable universe. She bore an uncanny resemblance to the Queen. I waved at my mother to point out the whereabouts of Auntie Enid, but she had evidently already seen her and decided that it was impractical to leave the others to make herself known. My mother had not yet seen me. By the time I turned back to the secondhand books, the man had already cleared them away, surrendering any hope of likely customers on Christmas Day, and scarpered, mats and all, whilst the going was good.
One of my children was by now tugging at my person, pointing eagerly into the blue sky. Why I took it for granted, I do not now understand, but I was not surprised to see that the child was indicating a peculiar-looking flying craft. It seemed like a huge piece of electrical equipment, one of those components sold in shops which I always thought were for experts or, at least, for people who were clever with their hands. It spread its spindly wings on ratchets, even as I watched, its insidious roaring making most of the people in the square to block their ears. It was buzzing very close to the tops of the buildings and, as it careered towards us, I saw it was literally enormous, bigger than a jumbo jet. Then, from another quarter of the sky, there came another monstrosity like a floating steel works complete with chimneys and silos. It must have crept up on us, unawares, for I now only noticed its crescendo of booster-engines for the first time, as it thundered close above our unprotected heads, blotting out the sun for more than just a nonce.
The two craft darted off together as if they were playing tag, towards what I took to be the direction of Colchester; and we could now view them as smaller contraptions, emitting bumble bee noises as they made flirtatious sorties over the Essex marshes. As they gathered speed to make a re-approach to the outskirts of Bulstrode, the roars sporadically returning to our ears, they clipped wings: it was an accident, I was sure, but my husband said they were fighting. How he knew, I have no idea. In fact, I had no time to question him, for the two craft scattered apart, cartwheeling out of control, and with a pair of ill-timed skull-cracking crashes they made a messy landfall elsewhere in Bulstrode, beyond the unsuspecting rooftops. Thickly plaited plumes of dense smoke streamered into the sky. And I cried. I still do not know why I cried, but it seemed the most appropriate thing to do.
I then saw that the shop where my mother had stood with the others was in ruins, evidently collateral damage of the engagement.
My mother was never to know about my duplicity with regard to the turkey stuffing.
We drove home in silence and convoy, easily finding the way. My husband was missing. One of my children was hopefully with him. Unaccountably, Auntie Enid was with us. I cannot remember much of what happened when we returned to the house, but I certainly now felt selfish in having kept that job of potato scrubbing all to myself. For one fleeting moment, I thought there was a faintly shimmering halo above Auntie Enid's head, as she dished up the food. I cracked myself open a cold beer. It would soon be time for the Queen's Speech.
"When she was a child, her only Christmas presents were an orange and a sparkling silver threepenny bit in a stocking. She was far more excited about those than ever children these days feel about the most expensive new fangled science fiction hardware..." Rachel Mildeyes (THE SAYINGS OF PETAL FRANCES)
Published 'Gothic Light' (1991) part of which was recorded directly from a dream.