A man’s house is Constance’s castle.
“Oh shit, I haven’t switched the photos around”, Ceri said. “Quickly delay her”, and disappeared into the lounge.
“No don’t leave me, balls….Hi Constance, lovely to see you”. I stammered my greetings in an overly friendly voice, several octaves higher than normal. Her fingers were dry and flaky on my lips as I bent to kiss them. Another ancient custom she couldn't let go. I could smell a sort of putrid, stale aroma, like wet clothes left in the dryer for days. Constance was tall and gaunt, a stooped crook of a woman, more rigid pole than human flesh. Her skin seemed impossibly thin, as if they had ordered the wrong skin for her body and god and his angels had just desperately pulled it over to fit, before shouting no refunds and flinging her down to earth.
She would never have been a child,i mean not a proper child, too regal for antics. Whenever I asked Ceri about her mum, she always described her exactly as she appeared now. As if age was immaterial to her, she did not age because she was time itself. Eternally ancient. Ceri appeared from her last minute photo swap and gently kissed her mother's cheek.
“I'll get the kettle on”, she said disappearing again.
“Lovely to see you Daryl. Are you going to take my coat?” Constance’s voice was coarse, of course. I smiled and hung the ancient anorak on the hook. She had ascended into the front room, and stood as still as a painting, a queen in waiting.
“Constance, would you care to sit down? I asked
“Why thank you.” I swear she creaked as she sat.
I saw her inspecting the changes, the newly painted door-frame to the kitchen. Door closed for now; one shock at a time. I saw her gaze sweep across the room to the wonky photo-frame. Behind the recently jammed in photo of Ceri and Constance from our wedding, I knew there was another photo of Ceri and her dad laughing. The gaze paused a moment and then continued onwards.
“I’ll just see how Ceri is getting on” I said and backed out of the room, keeping the door as closed as possible.
“Oh god. Are you sure about this” I asked.
Ceri was gently hitting her head against the cupboard. “What else can we do, those ungrateful bastards?”
She was referring to the children of Prof. Peter Thronbuck, who on the recent death of their father had put not just the spanner but the whole toolbox in the works, when they announced that the house had been left to them, not to Constance, much to her surprise and our dismay. It wasn't meant to be like this. When Ceri’s dad had died a few years back, we had gratefully inherited the house. The house that Ceri had grown up in with her parents battling away, and that had also been both battle and Constance free for the past twenty years. Until now that was. Like a queen exiled, who had quietly built an army of regret and bitterness, that now swept through my land, to restore her to her throne. I was powerless to stop it. I added an extra sugar to her tea. Perhaps a few more of these each day would be the start of my usurping, but I highly doubted it.