Friday, 7 March 2008
Terry had invited me round for coffee, so I was sat at the breakfast counter drinking a microwaved Nescafe very slowly when his mother came in clutching a Louis Vuitton suitcase and some carrier bags that rattled.
"How was your holiday, mum?" asked Terry. He put down his cup of coffee and went to hug her. She pushed the suitcase into his arms, and I took advantage of being ignored to pour the coffee into the nearby biscuit jar. Terry's idea of coffee had apparantly been acquired during a stay at Guantanamo Bay.
"Well, it was nice," said his mother, sighing. She's in her early eighties now, a little bit under five foot, and has fever-bright eyes that never seem to miss anything going on around her. She's also very competetive and hates to lose at anything. She's been banned from all of the local Bingo Halls. They usually say she's too aggressive a player and makes the other patrons feel nervous. She says that she's just a little outspoken about infractions of the rules. We're not sure: there have been a large number of stabbings at Bingo Halls she's been too, and we think it's a little suspicious that all of these little old ladies just happen to have fallen awkwardly onto their knitting.
"Where did you go, Mrs. Mossbrook?" I said. Terry hadn't mentioned that his mother had gone on holiay.
"Italy," she said. "It was a tour of churches, a religious thing I think. Lots and lots of saints. It wasn't my idea of course, but Agnes from number 30 didn't want to go on her own so I said I'd go."
Terry had put the suitcase by the washing machine ready for unloading later and was picking up the carrier bags. They clacked and rattled in an oddly familiar way.
"What's in here, mum?" he said, opening one. I saw what looked like a human leg bone fall out onto the table, little crumbs of dried mud falling off it.
"Oh, that Agnes," she said. "Every church we went in she had to get herself a little scraping of earth from the grave of whatever saint was buried there."
I started to grin, and Terry turned pale.
"Of course, I couldn't let her win," continued his mother looking as smug as the cat that found the cream, "so I collected relics from each church."
"Relics?" said Terry, and I knew he was hoping that these would turn out to be gift-shop souvenir replicas.
"Yes," said his mother. "I've got a bone from every saint. The carrier bag at the bottom has the one I got from some church in the Vatican; that one was a bugger to get out, I can tell you. Finally I shopped Agnes and let the swiss guard take her away while I got out of there."
Terry sat down heavily in a chair, his head in his hands; I started laughing; and his mother bustled over to the coffee-jar to microwave some more Nescafe.