I am trying to establish the house phone’s whereabouts.
It’s ringing very, very faintly, as if buried by a cushion but persistently, as if the caller knows full well that I’m running tiptoe round the house with my ears pricked like a dog’s, searching through soft-furnishings: it can only be my mother.
“So where did you find it this time?” Mum says.
“In the barn,” I say, “under a pile of bedding.”
Mum says she thought as much but don’t talk to her about bedding, she’s just doing my sister’s.
“She’s just left,” Mum says, “gone back to Sligo. All six of them. I’ve never had a mid-term like it. Or rather, no Valentine’s day like it. I mean we had a whole day devoted solely to love. A whole day.”
My mother has a healthy suspicion of romantic fuss. “What was that like?” I say.
“Memorable,” she says, “God knows — you know how your sister likes a theme. She kept threatening me on the phone before she came.”
“With what?” I say, recalling my sister stuffing my husband into a seven-year-old’s pumpkin costume; orange, for Holland in the World Cup.
“Extreme fancy dress,” she says, “I don’t know what that is, but I didn’t like the sound of it.”
“That doesn’t sound like her,” I say, “I’d have thought Valentine’s was a bit commercial. She doesn’t do commercial.”
“Believe you me,” she says, “there was nothing commercial about it. They arrived here on Valentine’s day. All in red. I shouldn’t think there’s a second-hand shop left in Sligo that has a shred of red left in it. I can’t tell you what they looked like.
"Though I must say little Marius looked very brow-beaten in his red jumper. He drew the line at red trousers, he said, and I don’t blame him. I mean such compliant children but really.”
“So what were your instructions for Valentine’s then?”
“I had to cook a special lunch. So I made spaghetti with a nice tomato sauce. Then strawberry jelly and strawberry ice-cream for pudding. All red, you see.”
“I bought a red table cloth and covered it in red glitter and love-heart chocolates for the children. And I had to welcome them, all in red sparkles myself. Strict instructions — top to toe. ”
“And did you? Wear it top to toe I mean?”
“Well of course I did,” she says with so much indignation you’d have thought that the image of a 78-year-old in ruby sparkles wasn’t at all burlesque.
“After the red meal, we all went to the beach, still in our red,” she says. “It was minus-five. They all tried to force me into the sea for a swim but I thought if Marius can draw the line at red trousers, I’m drawing the line at heart-attacks. Honestly. Minus five. I’m nearly 80.”
“They all ran in together,” she continues, “Even little Lola. I went for a walk while they swam, just round the corner to the steps and back. And when I got back, Lola said, “did you go round the corner with that man for some privacy Granny?”
“What man?” I say.
“That’s exactly what I asked Lola,” Mum says, “apparently she’d seen a stranger — a man — walking along the beach in the same direction as me. And then I asked her, privacy for what? And she said, “privacy to have a nice kiss Granny. Of course.””
“And then it was back home for more celebrations of love,” Mum says. “All the children gave me home-made cards. Lola’s had red footprints all over it and it said, “I love you from the bottom of my heart to the tips of my toes.”
“Bless her,” Mum continues, “she wanted to watch Frozen but she wasn’t allowed. She tried so hard to have a little tantrum but you know, she’s so expertly managed, she doesn’t stand a chance.”
“Then Marius gave me a present,” she says, “a crystal. Yes, I know — of all things — but he said it was a special soothing crystal.”
“Have you completely lost your mind?” I say.
“A special soothing crystal, for nightmares, insomnia and stress,” Mum continues, “and let me tell you, after that Valentines day, I thought I might need it.”
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