The aroma of roasting beef filled the kitchen. My stomach grumbled in anticipation, soliciting a smile from my new mother in law.
“Would you like something to stave you off, Michelle?”
“Thank you, Norma but I’ll wait – it smells delicious by the way.”
“Frank is a traditionalist when it comes to Sunday lunch; we must have a roast come what may, summer or winter.”
“I may need a few cooking lessons from you then. Tom raves about your meals.”
“I shouldn’t worry too much, my dear. Tom has a healthy appetite and eats almost everything.”
“You can say that again, I’ve never known anyone pack away so much food and never put on a pound.”
“He has a fast metabolism just like his father. Could you drain the vegetables and get them into the serving dish for me?”
“Of course, this one?”
“Yes, dear, thank you. Then we can call the men to the table.”
As I placed the serving dish on the beautifully set table, I hear Norman call out to Frank and Tom. Their heavy footsteps sound on the basement stairs. I turn to watch my new husband and his father enter the dining room. I have a vision of how my young lover will look in another thirty years. The same lean, tall figure but with greying hair, it is a pleasant prospect.
“Hi, honey. Come and sit this side with me.”
“In a minute, I’ll just see if Norma needs anything else carried through.”
Norma is pouring the last drop of gravy into a gravy boat. She smiles as I pick it up and return to the dining room. My brown creases as both men abruptly stop talking as I enter the room.
“Mum’s gravy – nothing better.”
Before I can respond, Norma carries in the large roast on a platter. She places it in front of Frank, who gives her a peck on the cheek as he stands up with the carving knife in hand. With expert strokes, he slices the meat and plates are passed around. After serving ourselves from the deep vegetable dishes the gravy boat is passed around. The dark liquid is thick and hot. I notice they each flood their plates with it. The murmurings of satisfaction accompany the clink of silverware on china.
“This is the best gravy, I have ever tasted, Norma. You must let me have the recipe.”
“The trick is to take time thickening it, Michelle.”
A look passed from father to son to mother. Was it a secret family recipe, I wondered. There was plenty of gravy left on each plate as well as in the boat, it seemed such a shame to waste it but before I could voice my dismay, Frank broke a bread roll in half and dipped it into the dark liquid then ate hungrily. Tom and Norma followed suit and smiled at me.
“Waste not, want not my dear.”
As I bit into the soft roll, the rich meaty taste filled my mouth; it was so good, better than any other gravy I had ever tasted. I really needed this recipe.
“Now for a nice long walk before pudding. Are you game, Michelle?”
“You don’t eat the whole meal before going out?”
“No, we walk off this half of the meal first before having something sweet. Always done it this way, just like my father, Tom’s grandfather Joshua.”
“Well, I’m not one to go against family tradition; I’ll follow your lead.” How odd to walk half way through a meal but I suppose you don’t get so sluggish and tired. With coats donned and hiking boots laced the four of us file down the back garden path to a gate in the high fence. The ground beyond was in direct contrast to the lush green lawn. Barren and brown ground was covered in millions of pine needles; the vertical trunks spread heavy boughs of dense greenery only above us. Frank led the way on a well trodden path weaving through the mighty pines. Tom’s hand slipped into mine as we hung back slightly from his parents.
“I want to show you something special.”
He led me off the path but almost parallel to it. We were on a clearly deserted path, its indentation filled gradually with needles.
“Do you trust me, Michelle?”
“Of course I do, why?”
“Close your eyes, I will guide you.”
Tom’s hand grips slightly tighter and I tread carefully as his arm encircles my waist.
“Step up with you right foot and now down, that’s it, great.”
I feel roots under my feet and a branch brushes my arm.
“Just a little further – you’re doing great.”
A few more steps and then Tom’s hands are on my shoulders turning me to the left.
“Now open your eyes.”
I blink to adjust my vision and do not fully comprehend what I’m seeing at first.
“Is that a bicycle?”
“Yes, isn’t it weird?”
“How on earth did it get up there?”
“Oh that was my fault, I’m afraid. I forgot it and by the time I remembered the tree had grown around it.”
“Very funny, Tom, stop larking about.”
“No really, it was mine and to tell you the story means you can know the truth about me – well all of us actually.”
Okay, now you’re freaking me out. What are you talking about?”
“I’m a wizard, Michelle and I’m two hundred years old.”
The world went dark instantly.