Grandma peered at the clock over the top of her glasses.
‘Pauline’s lot will have eaten by now,’ she said. Mum banged the sprout dish down on the table. One bounced into Grandma’s lap. She tested it with her teeth.
‘Hard as a bullet,’ she declared. Mum went back into the kitchen without saying anything. She closed the door behind her, but we could still hear her high-pitched wail.
‘Have you checked that it’s cooked through?’ asked Grandma, as the turkey was set down on the table. We watched as Mum’s knuckles whitened on the handle of the carving knife. Dad gently eased it from her grasp. He patted her shoulder. She glared at him.
We chewed in silence.
‘Nearly time for the Queen,’ said Grandma as she scraped up the last spoonful of pudding.
‘Not for me,’ grunted Rob. These were the first words he had uttered all day. He stomped upstairs with a box of mince pies.
This set Grandma off on her favourite monologue; the one about young people having no respect for tradition. And wasn’t it about time the boy had a haircut?
‘I blame the parents,’ said Dad. Nobody laughed. Mum held her spoon like an offensive weapon. Suddenly, Grandma paused, mid-criticism, and looked at the clock again.
‘The Queen!’ she shrieked, hauling herself to her feet. Mum sprang into action. Still brandishing her spoon, she made a human shield in front of the television. Grandma lunged for the remote. Mum flung it out of reach.
‘There’s a film I want to watch,’ she said, menacingly.
Grandma collapsed onto the sofa, snivelling into a tissue. She had never missed the Queen’s speech. Not once. She blew her nose hard, and stuffed her tissue back into her handbag. She looked up at us.
‘You’ll be sorry,’ she said.
The next year was a bad one for us. Dad got made redundant. Rob didn’t get his grades for university. Then, in the autumn, the gales blew half our roof off. Dad hadn’t kept up with the insurance payments.
‘The evil old witch has put a curse on us,’ said Mum, when she and Dad were back on speaking terms.
‘Don’t talk daft, Pet,’ he said. But you could tell he was thinking the same thing. He phoned Auntie Pauline.
‘Can you have her again this year?’ he pleaded. We all heard Auntie Pauline’s snort. He must be joking. Never again. Not after what happened the last time. Dad asked what she meant. There was real fear in his voice when he told us what she’d said.
It had all been Uncle Kev’s fault. He had refused point blank to wear the paper hat from his cracker. Grandma had turned nasty. It was just after that when Uncle Kev fell off his ladder. His leg had never been right since.
We sat in silence for a bit, absorbing this confirmation of Grandma’s powers. Then Dad had an idea. He looked up Uncle Dave’s telephone number. They hadn’t spoken in years. They can’t stand one another.
‘Dave, it’s your big brother,’ he said, cheerfully. There was a stunned pause on the other end of the line. Dad grinned at us as he spoke.
‘It’s time for you to step up to the plate,’ he told Uncle Dave.