An extract from ‘Deck the Halles’, which is coming very soon, promise! It’s the sequel to Fa-La-Llama-La. 

Noelle’s pre-Christmas preparations aren’t going as planned. She’s been called in at the last moment to find a venue for a national llama show, and has already had to deal with two family crises. And now here’s a third: 

I had just turned the heat under the pan right down to leave our meal keeping warm until Mum reappeared when the phone rang. I automatically turned to grab my phone off the table, where I usually left it. But of course, we’d tidied up in honour of Mum’s visit. The table was forlornly bare of everything except three empty mugs. Where had I put my phone? I couldn’t for the life of me remember. However, the ring tone was coming from somewhere close by, and sounding slightly muffled. Of course, I’d shoved it in my handbag, along with three notebooks (I’m a notebook junkie), several pens, two pegs, a clean sock and a packet of tissues as part of the cleaning process. I rummaged through these and the bag’s other contents and found the phone. I squinted at the number. It was a call from the UK, but from exactly which one of its residents I had no idea.

Only one way to find out.

“Hello?”

“Hi, sweetheart,” came Dad’s voice in reply.

I was so stunned at hearing his voice that I had to sit down. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d spoken to my father on the phone. Mum handled that side of things, and merely relayed messages to and from my other parent. I wasn’t even aware he had his own mobile.

Dad’s voice was faked breeziness.

“Sorry to bother you, dear, but I, er, can’t seem to find your mother.” Not ‘my wife’, note, but ‘your mother’. Like Mum he was good at unfairly apportioning blame. “You don’t happen to know where she might be, do you?”

You’d have thought we were talking about a mislaid pair of glasses.

I decided to torment him a bit. Well, he did deserve it.

“When did you last see her?” I asked.

“Hmm, I’m not entirely sure.” I began to feel lots more sympathy for Mum. “Either Thursday night or Friday morning. Before I left for a weekend with Pop.”

“One of your war re-enactment events?” I suggested, knowing darn well it was.

“Yes.” Dad’s tone suddenly became all enthusiasm. “It was really excellent. Pop and I loved it. We went—”

“But about Mum,” I interrupted firmly.

“Oh yes.” The eagerness left his voice. “Well, she wasn’t here when I got back. Only an unfinished note.”

“Unfinished?” That sounded odd, even for my annoyed mother.

“Yes. She’s just written ‘George, I’ve left you’.” That sounded fairly complete to me, but obviously my parent thought otherwise. “No accompanying ‘some dinner in the oven’ or ‘clean socks in the top drawer’ or ‘a shopping list pinned to the fridge’ like there usually is,” Dad continued his explanation. “I’m worried her memory’s going, Noelle. Looks like she wandered off halfway through writing this note. Do you think I should call the police?” Before I could answer, he did so himself. “I should, shouldn’t I. Yes, I’ll do it at once. I’ll call you back in a moment and—”

“Dad, don’t call the fuzz,” I told him sharply. “Mum’s fine. She’s here. With me.”

“What, in France?” Dad sounded shocked. “Whatever is she doing there? Did you invite her?” He sounded slightly peeved at being left out.

“No, she invited herself,” I informed him. Then I took a deep breath. “And… and that note isn’t unfinished.”

“What do you mean?”

Had Dad always been this slow on the uptake?

“I mean, she’s left you, as in… left.” Bother it, where was my usual command of language when I needed it?

“Left?” Dad echoed faintly and still puzzled.

My patience ran out and at last my brain flipped into gear. “Left as in deserted, absconded, gone away, exited, vamoosed, departed, run off. Also as in not coming back.”

“Not coming back?”

“Well, just to get her stuff at some point I expect,” I shrugged, “but not to stay.”

“Not to stay?”

There was a long pause.

“She’s left me?” Dad sounded pathetic. “But why?” Now he sounded indignant.

I sighed. Why was I having to do Mum’s dirty work for her?

“Dad, all I know is that she’s fed up of you disappearing off with Pop all the time.”

“Well, why didn’t you say something before?” he challenged.

“Me? I didn’t know!” I riposted, and mostly truthfully. I’d only known a few days ago. “And it’s not my job to sort out your marital issues,” I pointed out, now very annoyed.

“Leaving me is going a bit over the top,” muttered Dad.

“Is it, Dad? You’re quite happy to swan off with Pop over Christmas and sit in a muddy trench and pretend to be a soldier—”

“Stetcher bearer,” Dad corrected me, priggishly.

“Whatever,” I snapped. “You’ll do that and leave Mum all on her own for Christmas when you know she loves family Christmases. And you wonder why she’s mad at  you?”

“I thought she’d appreciate not having to do all the usual cooking and stuff for a change,” Dad attempted to defend himself, feebly and rather sexistly. “Put her feet up instead.”

“Oh, give me strength” I exploded. “You know as well as I do that Mum isn’t a ‘put her feet up’ sort of person. You’re being a selfish old git, plain and simple. Bye Dad. I’ll tell Mum you rang.”

It’s a shame you can’t slam receivers down on mobile phones, because that’s what I felt like doing. I had to make do with jabbing the end call button ferociously instead. Not nearly as satisfying. Still loaded with adrenalin, I tossed my phone furiously into my handbag, forgetting it was stuffed full. It bounced straight back out and landed glass first down on the floor with a loud thunk and an unmistakeable cracking sound.

“Drat!” I swore.

I retrieved my phone with its now shattered screen and stared at it dumbly.

“At least I know what to get your for Christmas now!” quipped Nick, coming up behind me and slipping his arms round my waist.

I leaned back against him. “I think I hate my family,” I sighed. I was only half-joking.

 

There are many more muddles to come but everything will work out fine for Noelle, Nick and the others, as you’ll soon see!

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