At the conclusion of the previous episode, the lady of the house rumbled her consort’s attempts to sneak a little kick into his morning coffee. The kitchen staff, a veritable army of them, all knew that the mistress was never to learn of the master’s special coffee. Now, through mischance, her massive mitt had enveloped his thermos, and she had swallowed some of his special, tweaked drink...
Knowing full well what to expect, her beau immediately relaxed all the muscles in his face and his expression dropped, like an egg into a frying pan, flattening itself to reveal not a whit of emotion.
His wife’s face, by contrast, was brimming with emotion.
“You promised me!” she chirruped in a voice that dislodged a picture on the far wall.
“Darling! It’s not what you think...” he countered, ruefully recognising his impotence as the words left his mouth.
“This is how you have chosen to repay me?!”
He said nothing, having learnt through long experience that to interrupt would merely prolong the agonising process of chastisement. Parroting the actions of the legion of cleaning staff still toiling in the vast hangar which passed for a kitchen, he kept his head low. Even without looking up he could feel her fierce eyes ranging around the room, singeing everything they rested upon. There was a moment or two of near-silence, broken only by the low panting of the army of workers and the occasional thuggish snort from the lady of the villa which prompted him to keep his head down. It wasn’t over yet, worse luck.
“This is how you repay me?!”
Shit. She’s gone right off the deep end, he thought, bracing himself for what he knew was coming.
“Me?! ME?! You do this to me! This is my reward, is it?!”
He said nothing, holding his breath and, with consummate effort, his tongue.
“My family made you. MY family. If it wasn’t for my family, you’d still be living in a council flat in some ghastly estate somewhere!”
Still, he said nothing.
“The money. The money you spend as if you’d earned it...where did that all come from, eh?!”
Not a peep.
“I’ll tell you...from my dear grandfather. And the home you live in! Don’t forget that! It’s my money that enables you to gad about the place with an army of lap dogs! Don’t you ever dare forget it! Well, what have you got to say for yourself?! Eh?!”
Schtum. Like a man who’d had superglue for breakfast.
“I asked you a question, and I expect an answer.”
His brain was racing faster than it had ever been required to. Inside his head, gears with missing teeth began to grind and groan as the machinery, which had long lain in a state of disuse, was urgently prodded into action.
“Well, you know, darling...it’s the stress...”
An explosive snort, reminiscent of the greatest hits of Bikini Atoll cut him off before he had a chance to get the rest of his pathetic explanation out.
“STRESS?! What stress?! You haven’t done anything for years but ride on my coattails, spending my family’s money!”
That was it. She’d gone too far. She’d crossed a line. His spite and spleen suddenly demanded release, and he drew himself up, casting an unintentionally absurd image clad, as he was, in a pair of Adidas ‘Adilette’ comfort slides and an EU mankini.
Before he had a chance to vent his spleen, to let rip and tell her what he thought of her grandfather and the rest of the family, the situation was recast.
Before he could let her know that her family’s insider information merely expedited the creation of his fortune, circumstances changed.
It was one of the old servants who effected the change. A staff member almost as much a feature as the trees planted by the original owner weeks before he was dispossessed of his villa. In actual fact, although the servant looked as though she’d always been part of the furniture, it was her mother who had initially served the grandfather when he claimed his prize. Years later, the daughter took her mother’s job when the grandfather decided he’d had enough of the old woman’s irritating mannerisms.
This woman spoke.
“Oh, is that where I put my coffee? Oh, I am sorry, Ma’am. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble...I never fail to add a nip to my coffee...it helps me get through the day, Ma’am.”
The man of the house relaxed, grinning inwardly. This woman’s language would derail his wife and no mistake. He wasn’t wrong. The language was a trigger.
“Ma’am?! How many times do I have to tell you?! Don’t call me ‘Ma’am’! Good God, how many times have you been told?! What is it with your family?! I can even recall your mother having trouble learning the correct form of address!”
The old woman smiled, uncertainly.
“My grandfather used to repeatedly tell your old mother that she was not to use ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’, given that they were outdated forms of address which stank of bourgeois attitudes! Have you forgotten that we have developed to a higher level of...society?! Good God, you and your lot learnt nothing at the re-education camps, it would appear!”
The old woman tugged at an imaginary forelock, a quizzical expression on her face.
“Er...er...Madam Comrade?” She asked in a halting voice.
“Good God, no! How many times, how many times?! You people can never keep up. That was the correct form in the past. Now...now...oh, call me mistress. If you must!”
The conversation was over, and flushing, the mistress of the house, thrown off course by the old woman’s interruption, whirled her elephantine shoulders round, creating a draught which caused several of her youngest child’s fridge-door artworks to become detached from their magnetic moorings. Failing to notice, she minced out of the kitchen, causing the pots and pans to start a symphony of cacophony.
Her husband waited until the racket of her delicate stomping had subsided, listening as the rattling of ceramic ornaments in display cabinets gradually subsided.
When the din had fully abated, he turned, swivelling in his slip-on slippers, grinning from ear to ear, to face the old servant.
“Marika, you’re a genius!” Swooping his thermos up in a wild, dramatic gesture, he drained the contents in one, taking several seconds to complete the act, and staining his upper body with rivulets of brown fluid. He replaced the thermos on the worktop and then shook it to check that it was, in fact, empty. That done, he ran a hefty finger up his torso repeatedly before sucking the brown juice off his swollen digit. Waste not, want not, and there was good, strong home-brew from one of the gardeners in that coffee.
Turning his attention to Marika once more, the master of the house, confidence refuelled by his wife’s exit and the home-brew, beamed upon the old maid. Swiftly advancing, he had her trapped in a bear hug before she could duck.
Her glasses squashed awkwardly against his impressively fleshy man boobs as his meaty arms enfolded her, his processed-ham coloured hands, each the size of a large dinner plate, bore down on her, concealing her back.
“Marika, you’re a wonder! I could kiss you! Don’t worry, I’ll see you right for this!” he spluttered excitedly, inadvertently diffusing specks of spittle over the maid’s cap which covered most of her grey head.
“I don’t need no kisses, master, you know I always help you. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. You know what I need, don’t you, master?”
“The Gods in my bank will shower you with gold, my dear, never fear! I’ll ring them immediately, and the wonga will be waiting for you in the usual place! You’ve served me well, once more, and it won’t be forgotten!” He broke off, was silent for a second, and then broke into a series of girlish giggles.
Looking down on Marika through his frameless spectacles, he winked conspiratorially, tapped the side of his beefy nose with a sausage-like finger and whispered:
“Don’t you worry, Marika, we’ll queer her pitch. She thinks that she’s going to be candidate for PM. Ha! I’ve got a lapdog that’s far better-suited to the job! My little Geri’s got my vote, and I can make him dance to whatever tune I fancy!”
And, with another tap on his beefy hooter, followed by yet another wink, he swivelled his bulk around, and strode out onto the terrace.