My tea was on the window ledge, steaming the UPVC.
I nodded, ravenous from the scent of roast potatoes and cauliflower cheese. Mum held out a cracker. I pulled and it snapped. A whistle dropped onto the lino. Mum put on the purple paper hat.
‘Let’s hear it then.’
I sighed and unfurled the paper note. A green ink holly leaf was blurred in each corner.
‘What’s Dracula’s favourite pudding?’
Mum pretended to think.
‘I-scream,’ I said, barely pausing.
‘Your Dad liked a good joke.’
‘Yeah, he liked a good joke.’
Mum stirred the gravy, reminding me of those kids in the advert who follow the beefy vapour. She’d laid the table in the front room, so we sat overshadowed by Granddad’s carriage clock in the weak winter sun.
‘I don’t suppose I’ll see you over Christmas-’
I set down my fork. It clattered more than I intended.
‘Shall we just enjoy the meal?’
I bit into a roast potato. It was nuclear hot. I gasped and gulped at the merlot Mum had bought from the Co-op specially. We ate in silence. When I’d finished I felt bad. I daren’t look at my watch or the carriage clock. It was like being told not to walk on the grass – it only made me want to do it more.
‘There’s more if you want it,’ Mum said.
‘It was delicious, but I couldn’t manage more.’
‘I could wrap some. You know – something to take with you.’
I snorted. ‘What like when I started at Uni?’
Mum’s face froze. I was about to apologise when she started laughing. She’d packed a roast dinner in cling-film. The plate had upended in my bag on the train and soaked half my clothes in gravy and boiled cabbage.
‘Better than the toast you ate.’
‘I didn’t live on toast.’
‘True. I forgot pizza.’