The Gift (Day Five)

Finally the time for pudding arrived; the mother snuck away from the table to fetch the pudding and, as she returned, the pudding glazed in brandy and a secret extra drop of the magic liquid, the whole room fell into a hush, struck with awe, almost meditative. Whatever feuds had made them forget the prospect of the pudding were now put aside; they became as children again, united by that domed gastronomic spectacle that was slowly bouncing towards them on a plate in the mother’s hand. The pudding on the table, Frank lit a match and the pudding erupted in a delicate fiery glow. The glow subsided, the pudding was cut and each took a piece, silent as the ceremony demanded.

There was no difference at first in the pudding’s taste, for the brandy and the extra drop of the magic liquid had kept the flavour much the same as it always was. Only, the after-taste was different; there was something vaguely bitter, almost metallic, about the taste it left at the back of your mouth. And they noticed, for just a moment, that they did not want to stop arguing. It was only a very brief moment, like that point when you realise you could avoid that extra piece of cake but choose nevertheless to keep eating. The pudding was only a comma in whatever terse sentence they had already begun. They chewed, swallowed and resumed their sentences.

“Honestly, Frank,” said Sam, “you talk to me like I’m a child. I’ve sold thousands of packing cases and you only live in a shoe box. What can you possibly tell me about investment?”

And Tiffany said, “Well, Wendy, if you don’t want to hear what I have to say…”

And Suzy said, “Uncle Frank, you’re the worst uncle I’ve ever had…”

Only the mother and Sasha noticed what was happening, having left their helpings to last. They looked at each other, and looked at the pudding, and looked at each other again. What was going wrong? the mother asked herself. Did they need to eat more pudding? Perhaps there had not been enough of the liquid; perhaps she should add some more…

She was just about to go to the kitchen to get the bottle when there was a knock on the door. Opening the door, she found three of the neighbouring families standing outside, half-eaten puddings in hand, fury plastered over their faces.

“This pudding,” said one of the neighbours, his face a fiery red, “does not work. It hasn’t made us happier; it’s only made things worse.”

“We knew you were trouble,” said another neighbour, “the first time we saw you. Look what you’ve done to our family, you and your infernal pudding.”

The mother stood at the door, her eyes starting to sting.

“I don’t know what’s happened,” she said. “I just don’t know.”

Go to Day Six

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