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Cul-de-Sac Chaos

Short Story

H. McAndrew Published: 01 June 2024

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Chocolate chip panettone with a slice taken out on its side

We have all known the kind of people who seem to think it’s a good idea to put things on their head, to entertain or for a laugh. Intoxicated youngsters walking home at night with a weighty traffic cone on their head. I have a vague school memory of a discussion in a geography lesson as to how in some countries, people carry baskets on their heads as a method of transporting goods. The class enjoyed an experiment of carrying Mrs Hunt’s basket filled with our textbooks; needless to say, we were not proficient at this task and Mary Pulford had to be taken to the sick bay with a wrenched neck.

My daughter Olive has been pushing her head into things for as long as I can remember. She was often to be found with a paper basket on her head, one of my old stockings, a bucket and then there was the fateful day she decided to try out my husband’s precious gilded fruit bowl, a present from his aunty Irene. She wasn’t the kind of child to find her free time boring, in fact quite the opposite. Her days were filled with playing ‘teachers’ and making registers on the home PC, followed by lining up her dolls and bears on the floor and giving them a good talking to whilst munching on chocolate digestives, that I thought were hidden in the depths of the larder.

But some things never change. Now at the grand old age of 25 and home for the weekend, she is tucking into her fourth slice of chocolate chip panettone. I’ve grown used to quiet Sunday mornings, with an early bird cyclist for a husband and grown-up children living their own lives, I relish a large cup of Earl Grey tea and a snuggle with Fig the cat. Her brother died recently; at the hands of a fox, we believe. Whilst Fergus was a loving and joyous cat, his loose bowel movements had tested my patience when coming into the kitchen first thing in the morning. Olive had returned for his burial in the garden, they were particularly close.

“Hey Mum, look at me.” Olive is standing with the panettone tin over her head, she has pulled it down low, and I can’t see her face.

“Mum, are you there, I can’t see a thing, it’s better than a face mask … but a bit hot and sweaty.

“Olive, take it off your head at once, you’ve dropped crumbs everywhere, and I was considering using it for Fergus’ burial.”

“Mum … I can’t … it’s stuck and … Mum … I can’t breathe.”

I consider myself calm when faced with adversity, but I find myself pulling frantically on the tin, whilst Olive sobs uncontrollably. Her pale pink tee shirt is damp around the neckline, and she is staggering around the kitchen like a drunk.

Spotting my neighbour’s son, Joe in his driveway, working on a car, I imagine some useful tool will be found and lead my wailing daughter to the back door.

“We can’t go round there Mum, we haven’t spoken since last year, it would be weird.”

“Never mind that, we need to get you out of this thing, and quickly.”

I’d completely forgotten that I was still in my nightwear, with floral dressing gown and slippers finishing off the outfit nicely.

“Joe … Joe … please can you help me, have you got some bolt cutters or other to get this tin off Olive’s head?”

He emerged from under the bonnet of his car with a smirk on his oily face. Joe bent down to pick up a tool from his box; Olive has broken away from my grasp and spinning around breathing heavily, knocks Joe full in the face with the brown cake tin. He falls to the gravel drive swearing under his breath.

“Hold still Ollie, I’ll have you out of this in no time,” he says with a quiet reassuring voice.

“Can I help?” My neighbour Linda, a doctor, has arrived on the scene. She’s heard the commotion and is offering medical assistance. “I’ve got some morphine in the house if we need to sedate you.”

“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.” Joe says as he deftly cuts through the side of the tin as if opening a can of tuna for lunch. I hope Olive doesn’t notice the strands of blonde hair falling to her feet.

She emerges red and moist, apologising and thanking Joe she almost runs home.

“Something to put in a wedding speech I suppose” I say, rolling my eyes.

Later, I suggest to Olive that she gives Joe a pack of beers by way of thanks. Reluctantly she slopes off dragging her heels, but with a full face of make-up I notice.

As the late afternoon stretches into the evening, she seems to have been gone for some time. I’m not a nosy neighbour you understand, but I can stand at my bedroom window and see directly into the car strewn driveway next door. In the glow of the light on the front porch, I can see them, sitting drinking beer together.

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