Went for a bite to eat with MG ( Mother Gargoyle ) recently, where, over a hot, frothy coffee, she reflected upon her childhood, eighty plus years ago, and the delightful simplicity of play, in a time when paved streets were the canvas upon which your imagination painted its own landscape of fun.
Engrossed by her tales of yesteryear, of her growing up in a gas lit, terraced street of the 30's, I gradually became conscious of a warm glow filtering through the chilled atmosphere of winters trappings to rest upon my heart, as I delighted in watching MG's face brighten with her happy reflections.
That's when MG casually chucked into the conversation how her and some of her friends would knock upon a neighbours door and ask if they could view the dead! "Ah those were the days"
I thought I'd misheard her, and I told her so....
"Oh no" she answered with a warm smile " It's what you did back then, we always did it!"
"Hold on mum, you 'always' did it? What do you mean? Did you just knock on random doors and hope there'd be a dead body inside or was it part of a tenancy agreement that you kept one? Was this a weekly occurrence, you know, like was there a specific day set to one side for it, like wash day or shopping day, did you have 'visit the dead at home day'?"
She did that thing with her eyelids, you know, that thing you do when you half droop them like a narrowed shutter to filter the amount of stupid coming at you!
And then after a swallow of coffee she continued...
"It was the custom, back then, that when someone died in our street we'd go round to the house and ask to see the body" she paused here, for another little slurp, before finishing with "and then we'd kiss it"
Instantly I regretted just having taken a huge gulp of my own coffee, as my flabbergasted state caused me to spray most of it over myself and everyone within a 1 metre radius of our table.
"Oh for God's sake mother!! Kiss it!!! Why the hell would you do that???" I asked incredulously
With an exasperated 'tut' she went on...
"Because that's just how it was! Anyway, I stopped doing it when old Mrs Green from over the road died, because seeing her gave me nightmares. It was a struggle to kiss her, I can tell you!"
My face went through a series of expressions worthy of gymnastic merit, each displaying varying levels of repulsion, before asking "Why, what was it about Mrs Green, in particularly, that scared you?"
Sitting back in the chair in the eatery, after a lengthy sigh and with a little bit of a shudder, MG sat forward, somewhat conspiratorially, to share with me in quieted whispers...
"She was a small grey haired woman, tiny and withered. Her eyes were wide open and staring. Her mouth was open too but they'd stuffed cloth into it, REALLY stuffed it in!
She had a surprised look on her face and hollowed cheeks!". Reclining back into her chair she shivered with the memory and drifted into a contemplative swig of her coffee.
My mind considered the possibility that given Mrs Greens post-mortem state (bulging staring eyes, rag stuffed into gob) maybe natural causes wasn't much of a truism to have etched onto the Death Certificate!
And then another thought grabbed my attention involving a series of business cards that would have come in handy at the time advertising the services of a most industrious partnership called 'Kiss A Corpse Inc'. And the slogan? 'You Snuff It ~~ We Snog It'.
Hm, I think there's room for a revival here!
Anyway, just as I was mentally sifting through the possibilities for merchandising this, cups, T Shirts...Lip Balm!....our food arrived...
I'd ordered a Chicken Caesar Salad, which, by the look of it, had been designed to represent the death of Julius Caesar himself!
The lettuce lay across the plate in a theatrical state of withered collapse, like a disassembled laurel leaf crown, bearing the scars of a frenzied knife attack!
This being apparent by the profusion of brown, wounded leaves which were evident. The 'brown', as I'm sure you know, occurring due to the oxidisation process caused by the reaction of metal upon the lettuce (impressive eh? *smug grin*)
As for the rest of the ingredients, as sparse as they were, well, the chef must have flung them onto the plate via catapult whilst to-ing and fro-ing, at some speed, from his lofted position on his mood swing!
They were just measly, scattered offerings of chicken that wouldn't have provided sufficient nourishment to feed the actual chicken in the first place! (had that bizarre situation ever occurred).
MG had ordered fish and chips which, unfortunately, had also succumbed to the effects of the chef's psychotic break!
To be fair his mindset, despite its meltdown, remained loyal to a theme, and on this occasion he had seen fit to cook my mothers fish as a tribute to the victims of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, AD 79.
Indeed, looking at the fish, which lay preserved in an impossibly curled position upon the plate, it was obvious that it had been subjected to the same pulse of thermal energy that the poor residents of Pompeii and Herculaneum had suffered on that fateful day!
All that was missing from this pseudo-biblical tableau, was a layer of ash from the chefs fag!
Well, whilst the culinary trip through the dark annals of history had been an engaging affair our grumbling stomachs demanded to be fed and so, after voicing our complaint, the previous disaster was replaced with fare of such equally disastrous content as to convince me that the chef had finally managed to attain a level of psychosis never before known to man nor lobotomist!
The chicken, and whatever other unidentifiable scraps which accompanied it, were even more stingily distributed than before and whilst the lettuce was more fresh this time, psycho-chef had used enough of it as a filler on the plate as to feed the entire cast of Watership Down for several sequels to come!
This time MG 's fish had taken on a mummified appearance, dry and tightly bound in breaded wrappings, applied haphazardly in such a style as to suggest the chef had worn boxing gloves!
It was at this point myself and MG, our appetites now depleted, decided to admit defeat and so, after acquiring a well deserved refund, we made our escape from the restaurant with a backdrop of clanging pots and pans as an accompaniment.
Lunch hadn't quite been what we'd expected and we wondered what we could do to bring some cheer into the rest of our day.
"How about a nice walk around the cemetery?" suggested a smiling MG
"Mother, I can't think of anything more perfect" said I.
And with decision made, off we went, with a jolly step, to canter with the cadavers.
© Copyright Lynn Gerrard 2.8.2012