“We’re really so sorry Craig. She was an amazing woman.”
“The best of the best.”
“She was so sweet, so gentle. We all loved her.”
“Amy was one of a kind, she didn’t deserve for this to…”
“I broke your pie dish.”
That one simple truth banished the spell of unending platitudes. Caught me off guard. “Sorry, you broke…?”
“The pie dish.” Deb looks at me and makes a circle with her hands. “Round thing. Generally used for the carrying and serving of pies.”
“Oh. Right. Pie dish. Thanks.” I shake my head to clear the remaining fog. “No, not thanks. I shouldn’t thank you for breaking stuff. I mean, don’t worry. It’s not a pie dish.” Deb smiles as I ramble. My well-wishing groupies sip their drinks and look uncomfortable. “Sorry guys, I should really…” I gesture at Deb and the kitchen. The sympathy brigade dissipate in a fluster of waved hands and placations.
“We’re here for you.”
I nod and walk towards the kitchen. Deb follows.
“What is it then?” she says as I open the door.
“The not-pie dish that has been masquerading as a pie dish this evening.”
I laugh. It feels odd. Like relearning speech after a stroke. “Things are not always as they seem. It’s a pâté dish. Was a pâté dish.”
“Pâté? It’s a bit big isn’t it? I thought pâté came exclusively in small terracotta pots. Not in bloody enormous round beige ceramic things.”
“This was the last of its kind. You have destroyed the forefather of pâté dishes and we are now doomed to a future of small terracotta pots. Assuming of course we are not overrun with cheap plastic jobbies in the meantime.”
Deb smiles and shakes her head.
“What?” I ask.
“You sound like you. It’s nice. I’ve missed it.”
I start sweeping up crumbs and pieces of dish. “Thanks Deb.”
“For what? For breaking your ovenware?”
“Yes. It was on its last legs and I’d never have forgiven myself if I’d been the one to smash it.” I flip the lid of the bin up with my foot and drop the broken dish inside. “Not just that. For being normal.”
Deb smiles again and pulls a bottle of Chardonnay from the fridge. “I’m as normal as it gets. Drink?”
I return her smile. “You are anything but normal for which I am eternally grateful.” I sit at the breakfast bar and pull out a second stool for Deb. “Just be careful in the cupboard. There’s a wine glass that’s really an ice-cream sundae bowl and I’d hate to lose it.”
“Haha. Funny.” She pours two glasses and sits next to me. “To things that aren’t what they seem.”
We sit in silence and drink our wine. It isn’t uncomfortable but I feel the need to speak regardless. “Do you mind staying in here with me for a bit? I don’t really want to go back…”
“Tell me about the dish.”
“It’s a pretty boring story.”
“It’s still a story.”
“Fine. Just put the glass on the counter if you start dropping off.”
“Deal. But first a top up. Would hate to break the flow once you start.”
I laugh again. It feels better. “Thanks. And so, true friend, my tale begins.
“Once upon a time there was a nerdy boy who looked a bit like me and whose mother worked in a local butchery of some repute…”
“Your mum was a butcher?”
“God no! She helped out with the books. It was actually a general store and butchery. Meat at the back, token bit of fruit and veg at the front and a bunch of stuff in between that may or may not have been canned or household goods in the middle. Whatever was in the middle it clearly held little interest for young me. It also had the best twenty pence sweet mix in the known universe.”
“That’s a bold claim. On what grounds? Variety?”
“Nope. The simple fact that when Auntie Jean or Auntie Noreen were working twenty pence was always bumped up with a bonus handful of something. Anyway…the butchery was run by the two Lucas brothers, affectionately referred to as Mister Glyn and Mister Kenvyn. Mister Glyn was the jollier and more butcherly of the two if you went solely on appearance. Mister Kenvyn was more serious but also the more skilled knifeman, if you went solely on local opinion.
“Mum knew their movements at the shop like a prisoner timing a guard patrol. If she sent me up on a Saturday morning for a pound of mince it was always Mister Glyn. If there was some sort of roast or speciality cut in the offing it was always Mister Kenvyn. Either way I got my sweet mix and a packet each of Benson and Hedges and More Menthol.”
“Bit young to be smoking surely? Even in Wales.”
“Funny. Hard to imagine my parents smoking now. I could have saved my mum a fortune if she’d just taken my tip of buying regular cigarettes and slipping a polo mint on the end. Those menthols were expensive.”
“So, getting back to the dish…”
“Sorry. Yes. The butchery had a selection of things as you would expect. Primary and secondary cuts. Hams, cheese…probably weird shit like brawn that my brain has erased and…pâté.”
“In large beige dishes.”
“Always in large beige dishes. Anyway, I don’t know how or why but the pâté dish ended up at home with us and became the vessel of choice for corned beef and potato pie from then on. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever made, and/or eaten, a corned beef pie that didn’t come from that dish.”
“I’ve never had a corned beef pie.”
“And you never shall for not a single dish remains that can…”
“Yeah yeah. So why did you end up with it?”
“I think I inherited it at college. Probably went home for the weekend and then back to res with a corned beef pie and it stayed with me. It was the third part of my first-year-of-college diet triumvirate – the other two being toasted sandwiches and savoury rice with tuna. I replaced the tuna thing with instant noodles after about six months but I still feel queasy just thinking about savoury rice.”
“If it makes you feel better just thinking about it is also making me queasy.”
“Drink more wine. It’ll help. Anyway, the dish has been with me ever since. I made my first ever chicken pie in it and drove it a hundred miles to a hungry girlfriend in the middle of the night. I made an ill-fated corned meat pie when I couldn’t get corned beef in South Africa and I might have even used it as a makeshift bain-marie once or twice. But mostly, it housed corned beef pies.”
“Until I killed it.”
“Yes. Until you killed it.”
The door of the kitchen opens. Tina? Taylor? Soldier, Spy? No…Tasha. Tasha and Simon. Worked with Amy.
“Oh. Craig. Sorry. We didn’t know you were in here. We were just looking for some more wine.”
I point at the cooler box next to the sink. “Plenty of white in there. If you need red there’s a wine rack next to the stereo. Take whatever you like.”
Tasha performs a halting shuffle across the kitchen floor and stops three feet or so away from me. “Everyone is so sorry…we are so sorry Craig. You were such a wonderful couple and it’s just…just…”
She breaks into sobs. I learn forward from my stool trying to bridge the too distant gap and we end up in an awkward, long-armed embrace. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”
Over her shoulder I see Simon grimacing in a chin-up sort of a way and I dutifully wink and grimace in return. Tasha eventually pulls back and gives me a watery running-mascara smile before backing out and closing the door. Deb gets up, pours more wine and sits down.
We sit in silence once again. For the second time I’m the one to break it. “Why is it my job to make them feel better?”
“It’s always the way at funerals.”
“Still doesn’t seem fair. All I’ve done the whole day is make a parade of acquaintances feel better. I barely know half these people. Those I do know I’d gladly forget and yet my role is to dispense hugs, smiles and agreement.”
“And food, despite your best pie dish destroying efforts.”
“It wasn’t a pie dish.”
“And she wasn’t a fucking angel.”
The words are out before I can reign them in and the dam wall breaks.
“Craig, you don’t need to…”
“No. I do need to. I have to.”
Deb sits. Waits. Says nothing.
“She was a bitch Deb. You know it and I know it. She made me feel small and stupid our entire marriage. Her family hated me from the start and nothing I ever did could change that. She managed to drive out anyone I cared about while I was too busy being blind and in love. She knew just when to pick a fight to cause maximum damage – five minutes before my parents would arrive, in my lunch hour at work, on the phone on the rare occasions I was out with friends. All the times she knew I’d be too embarrassed to fight back. She made me miserable and she made me into something lesser. Like some sort of dilution of myself, and you know something…I’m glad the crash happened. And that makes me the worst person imaginable.”
I’m crying in great choking sobs now and the words stop. Deb says nothing. Just pulls my head onto her shoulder and strokes my hair. I mumble out some I’m sorrys. She whispers me to silence.
After a time I sit back on my stool and breathe my way back to control. “I shouldn’t have…”
“Yes. You should have, and you needed to. You aren’t the worst person in the world Craig. What you’re feeling might be anger, or grief or the truth. Maybe it’s a bit of each, I don’t know, but what I do know is that you needed to let it out. You are my friend, I love you, and I’m still here. And if everyone else goes I’ll always still be here.”
I reach across and hold her long, cool fingers in my hand. “And they’re all still out there. Talking, drinking and reinventing Amy.”
We sit in silence. This time Deb is the one to break it.
“They need to reinvent her. She would have been a really shitty pâté dish.”
I laugh. This time it feels good.