Connie had her head in her hands.

Connie had her head in her hands.

I was heading for a repeat performance of Christmas Day and my hand was reaching to switch on the telly, when a shower of knocks fell upon my front door.

I opened it to find Connie with her head in her hands.

Once I’d pried her hands away I saw the empty eyes and I was scared.

“I can’t,” she said.

“Can’t what, Connie, for goodness’ sake?”

“I can’t,” she repeated. “I just can’t.”

“Please tell me what you can’t do?” I begged.

“I can’t deal with them any more. Please, please take them back.”

You know who she was talking about as well as I do.

“Where are they now?”

“They’re in my car.”

“Bring them in,” I told her.

It turns out that Charlton has been her lodger all this time. She’s been going on for a while about how excited she was to have this “attractive” single man sharing her home. I never picked up on it because it was all happening around the time of my getting the wrong end of the stick about Mother.

Charlton and Mother trooped in the house separately. Apparently they had rowed bitterly over Christmas dinner and when Mother had stormed off she had done it into Connie’s room, there not being many other places to storm off into in her flat. Charlton had gone out. Connie was left with a lot of washing up and nowhere to go and lie down.

I should have felt sorry for her but the truth is she’s had plenty of warning from me not to go meddling with my family.

“Go home,” I told her, like some reassuring lawman about to take on the outlaws alone. “Enjoy the peace. And wash the sheets thoroughly.”

“I will,” she shuddered.

Peony called much later to say sorry that they hadn’t shown up, that she and Justine and John had all fallen asleep on the sofa after breakfast and woken hours later. They made me think of a ball of hamsters in a pet shop.

“You sounded so happy yesterday, Mum. But not today. What’s up?”

“The party’s over,” I told her.

The party’s over.

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