Sandra’s been invited to a party. The whole family can go and it’s a great way to meet people in the new neighbourhood. But there’s a typo on the invite and if there’s one thing Sandra can’t stand, it’s scrappy proof reading…
BYC Picnic and Barbecue
32 Elmdale Drive
Festivities kick off at midday. There will be party bags! Please bring cool bags for leftovers!!
See you there!!!
Sandra hated typos. Almost as much as she hated unnecessary exclamation marks. Neither made her blood boil quite as much grammar mistakes, but they were still high up the list, along with people who didn’t indicate properly whilst driving and people who didn’t wash their hands.
She sniffed and laid the invite on the table. What a typo to make, though. How many times must they have proof read that before they put it through the door? Actually, by the looks of it, they didn’t proof it at all. What’s worse, C isn’t even anywhere near O on the keyboard.
She sighed and picked it up again. She read it and squirmed with each new exclamation point. Dave would want to go, and it would be great for the kids. It was, in fact, everything Dave was saying they needed.
She looked around the kitchen. The boxes were driving her mad. They’d been in two weeks, surely she should have unboxed the kitchen by now. Except, when exactly was she supposed to do that?
She sighed, rubbed her head and shuffled through to the lounge. Andreas was sitting in the middle of the sofa, starfished out to cover as much ground as possible. He’d perfected the star fish when he was sleeping in with them. They had a large double bed, but still she and Dave ended up sleeping on two inches each at either side, whilst their expansive son enjoyed the lion’s share of the mattress.
Sylvia was sitting on the floor, rubbing her elbows and looking close to tears. She often looked close to tears when Andreas was around, and Sandra didn’t blame her in the least. Sandra often felt close to tears when he was around, too. At least Sylvia slept better. She was still in their bed and would find a nice little spot, normally nestled against Dave’s back, and stay there all night.
‘Mum, Andy won’t let me on the sofa.’
‘Why don’t you just go on the other sofa, sweetheart?’
‘Because I want to go on this one.’
‘Why’s that? Is it somehow better? Is Andy’s sofa made of softer material than the other one? Is it magical, perhaps, ready to whisk you away to other lands?’
‘Oh. So why do you want to go on it?’
‘Because Andy’s on it.’
‘Of course. Well, my sweet, Andy looks very comfortable there, so you might want to rethink your current course of action and find a different place to sit.’
‘I want to sit there.’
Sandra sighed and rubbed her forehead. If they were still in Muswell Hill, she’d pop upstairs and plead Bev for some kind of alcohol. But they were out in the sticks, now, and she didn’t know anyone. Not unless you counted Mr Adams next door, who seemed nice over the fence, but would probably react badly to being asked for alcohol at half ten in the morning.
She slumped back into the kitchen, ignoring the pleading from her youngest towards her intransigent oldest, and settled herself back at the table. The invite caught her eye and she read it again.
Why was she hesitating? She knew why. The bloody typo. Anyone who sent out an invite with that bad a punctuation error on it couldn’t be relied upon for anything important. What if something went wrong at the picnic? First you put the wrong letter on your invite, next you’re trying to put out a fire with petrol.
Dave would laugh at her and tell her to get over it. She was quite used to being laughed at, but it would be nice if she could make the right decision before he got home. She took a deep breath and her jacket off the hook. Then she sloped back into the lounge.
‘I’m just walking down to 32. Andreas, you’re in charge. Look after your sister, understand?’
Andreas looked at her from his cool blue eyes and carefully shook his head. ‘Not a chance. She’ll be dead before you get back.’
He didn’t even crack a smile. Kid was dryer than the desert. Every time he did something like that, she was convinced one day he would be serious and she’d return home to a blood bath. It hadn’t happened yet, but there were no guarantees, not with kids.
‘Look after her.’
Andreas shook his head again and Sylvia burst out moaning. Sandra shut the front door as quickly as she could and marched up Elmdale. As always, the long road with its over flowing trees and huge houses set back filled her with peace. Any time she missed Muswell Hill, she just had to step out her front door and remember why they’d come. It was perfect here for the kids, her, too.
Andreas would be out here all the time, just as soon as he made some friends. There were a couple of boys already out, kicking a football back and forth. They watched her wander down the street and she tried a wave. One responded with a brief raise of the hand. The other just stared.
She tried not to stare back. This was their turf, it wasn’t surprising they were suspicious of her. She just had to make sure she didn’t try to hard. Kids knew when you tried too hard. Those two looked particularly too cool for school, though. And the one who hadn’t waved look really ill, too, pale and bloodshot.
She marched past them and found number 32. She raised her hand to knock on the door and hesitated. The place smelt of roses, but fake ones, like someone had a really strong air freshener. But the flowerbeds were immaculate. In fact, there was some really lovely planting there.
She jumped as the door opened. A lady peeked out, then opened it fully. Sandra had to work very hard not to stare. The lady was wearing more makeup than she thought it was possible to without your face dragging along the floor from the weight.
Her eyes were kind of dull and she smelt even more strongly of roses than her house. Her clothes were, to put not too fine a point on it, the sort that got you pilloried and mocked back in Muswell Hill. But she wasn’t in London anymore.
‘Hello?’ the lady asked, sounding far more lively than she looked.
‘Oh hello, sorry, I was about to knock when I noticed your lovely flowerbeds.’
‘Oh, thank you, yes, a real passion of mine, I’m afraid.’
‘Don’t be, they’re lovely.’
There was an awkward silence during which Sandra took a second to remember why she was there. Then she did and looked again at the lady. She didn’t look like the sort to leave glaring typos in an invite, but you can never tell.
‘I received your invite, to the picnic. I just came to say that we’d love to come, and thank you.’
‘Oh, splendid, that’s such wonderful news. You’ve just moved in, is that right?’
‘Yes. We’ve moved out from London. It’s so peaceful here, and it will be nice to meet some people.’
‘Well, that’s just perfect then. And you have some children to bring?’
‘Two, I’m afraid.’
‘Oh no, not at all. Two’s fine. Lovely. Well, we’ll see you Saturday, then?’
‘Yes. Great. Lovely. Um, see you then.’
The door closed softly and she stared at it for a moment. That was… odd. She wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was because the invite felt like it was written by someone far younger. Or maybe it was because of the way she asked about the kids, like they were an added extra instead of real people.
She shook her head and ambled off home. The two kids were still kicking the ball about. The game was a bit dull, really, like neither of them could be bothered. She hoped Andreas would meet some others as well. She wasn’t sure she liked the look of them.
She stopped at the front door and shook her head. She had to stop being so controlling. Dave talked about it all the time. She was never happy with the way things were, always trying to control things. If Andreas made friends with those two, she had to trust him to recognise if they were a bad influence. She had to.
She opened the door and stepped inside.
Saturday dawned sunny and she sighed in relief. All of her winter clothes were still buried in a box somewhere, like she was a raving optimist who actually believed in British summertime. But today would be warm, though not too warm.
Dave growled and rolled over, so she slipped from the bed and made some tea. A few hours later, the kids were in the kitchen, scrubbed and looking as lovely as it was possible to make them.
‘Andy, stop fiddling with your collar.’
‘I hate this shirt.’
‘You look lovely in that shirt.’
‘I’m not supposed to look lovely. Sylvia’s supposed to look lovely.’ He gave his sister a sideways look. ‘Then again, I suppose making her lovely is impossible, so I don’t mind stepping up.’
‘Mum!’ Sylvia slapped her big brother. He in turn grabbed her wrists and lifted them above her head. Once he had them both grasped in one hand, he started to poke her in the tummy and beneath the armpits. She wavered between bouts of giggling and telling him to leave her alone.
Sandra left them to it and got her purse from the lounge. Dave was staring out the front, fiddling with his collar. She pulled his hands away and held them in hers. He looked down at her and chuckled, then pulled her into his embrace. ‘It’s going to be fine. We’ll meet some lovely people and all will be well. Really.’ He pushed her back and looked into her eyes. ‘Really, it’ll be fine.’
She sighed, nodded, and dragged him into the kitchen. They pulled apart their warring offspring and divvied up the food. Dave was carrying the coleslaw as that had the largest chance of being spilt. She and Andy were handling the packs of burgers and Sylvia had insisted upon carrying the industrial pack of white rolls. It wasn’t the classiest food to take to a barbecue, but everyone liked burgers and she hadn’t had time to make anything fancy. She took another deep breath and they headed out the door.
A laminated paper arrow on the front door of number 32 sent them down the side path to a high gate. She knocked and it swung open, admitting them into a rather wonderful garden. The expert planting she’d seen out the front was in evidence back here as well, but the garden was dominated by a split level lawn that stretched maybe fifty metres. The back right corner was paved and contained a barbecue that was smoking happily away.
Directly behind the house, a table was set up with drinks and cups on. The lady who Sandra had met at the front door rushed around it and bustled over to her. She caught sight of maybe ten or fifteen other people milling around on the lawn. The two boys from the street were there as well.
Andreas took one look around and made a B-line for the boys. Sylvia clung to Dave’s hand.
‘Hello again, so lovely you could make it. I’m Elspeth. My husband is around somewhere, I’ll introduce you when I see him. Can I offer you something to drink?’
She accepted a glass of wine gratefully and made their introductions. Elspeth was about to introduce them to everyone else when a bumbling sort of man in slacks and a bad jumper shuffled up.
‘Oh, splendid, Sandra, Dave, this is my husband, Edward. Oh, and he’s brought snacks.’ She clapped her hands together and took the plate from her husband. Sandra examined the snacks on offer and sighed. Cocktail sausages, and burnt ones at that.
Oh dear. She exchanged a brief look with Dave, in which they both said everything they needed to. On second thoughts, maybe she was exactly the sort of person who would leave a typo at the top of an invite.
Sandra took a sausage and bit into it. Just as her teeth met bone, Elspeth gave her a bright smile. ‘I hope it tastes okay. The Anderson’s brought him, I mean, them, and we’re still getting used to the new barbecue.’
Sandra removed the sausage from her mouth and stared at it, and the narrow white bone clearly protruding from the end. Her gorge rose and she looked around for a bin. And possibly a sick bowl.
Andreas appeared and ran straight into her, nearly knocking her off her feet. ‘Mum, we have to leave, now.’
‘Andy, can you please be careful, you nearly knocked me over.’
‘No, Mum, you don’t get it, we have to leave.’
‘Andy, please don’t be so rude.’ She gave Elspeth what she hoped was an apologetic smile. She blinked and looked at the sausage again.
‘But Mum, they’re zom—’
‘These must be the children.’ Elspeth interrupted as she lifted a long, sharp knife from the table. ‘It’s so kind of you to bring them. Which should we start with?’