The Unexpected delivery of offal
Molly Smedhurst saw the van park outside her house and the Pete’s Meat man get out and walk up her drive, whistling a merry tune and carrying a container of what was, assumedly, meat.
“Pete’s Meats”, she said to her husband, “why on earth are they coming here?” Molly had been buying her meat from the supermarket ever since the government brought in austerity.
“They must have the wrong address,” said Reg Smedhurst, who always had a practical answer to everything. “It’s all this online ordering, it’s famously error prone.”
The Pete’s Meats man rang the doorbell.
“I suppose I shall have to answer it,” Molly said. Reg didn’t even bother replying, he was happily ensconced in his favourite chair reading the Daily Mail. During happy moments such as these Reg wouldn’t bother getting out of his chair for the grim reaper himself, let alone someone as insignificant as the Pete’s Meats man.
“Mrs Smedhurst?” the man said.
“I’ve not ordered anything,” Molly said. In her experience of modern companies it was always best to get your complaint in first, otherwise you’re on the back foot from the start. Once you’ve said ‘Hello’, they’ve got your soul.
The Pete’s Meats man looked down at his clipboard, to check the order.
“No, you’re right, Mrs Smedhurst, it’s not anything you ordered. It’s a gift.”
“You’re giving me free meat?” she asked suspiciously. It sounded like one of those dodgy ‘free-gift’ ploys you read about in the Express (Mrs Smedhurst couldn’t stand the Mail – it was one of the very few things she and her husband disagreed about). “Well, I’m not signing anything if that’s what you think.”
“No, you misunderstand, it’s not a gift from me. Somebody’s ordered this for you – they’ve paid for it and everything. And there’s no need to sign for anything – there’s enough paperwork in the world already.” The Pete’s Meats man beamed a friendly smile as he held out the package.
“A gift? I don’t understand, it’s not my birthday for another six months? Who sent it?”
“Hang on, let me check.” The smiling Pete’s Meats man turned over the page on his clipboard. For a second the smile wavered.
“Oh, it doesn’t say. It’s anonymous.”
“Anonymous? Who sends meats anonymously?”
“Well, this is the first I’ve delivered. We were speculating about it at the depot. A secret admirer perhaps?”
Mrs Smedhurst gave him one of her stares.
“Let me assure you young man, I’ve never had an admirer in my life, secret or otherwise.”
“Well, secret admirer or not, all of this lovely meat is yours.”
Molly took the box of meat from the man and took it into the lounge, to show Reg.
“I thought you said you didn’t order anything,” he said distractedly, without raising his eyes from the paper.
“I didn’t. It’s a present.”
“A present? But it’s not your birthday for months. Who’s it from?”
“They wouldn’t say. It’s an anonymous gift apparently.”
The Daily Mail didn’t approve of anonymous gifts. Charitable donations were there to be boasted about, what’s the point of saving a child in Africa if it doesn’t send you a postcard every few months.
“Well what’s in it?”
“I, well, I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”
Molly opened the box, eventually, after Reg attacked it with three different types of knife.
“It looks disgusting. What is it?” asked Reg, not the world’s greatest connoisseur of any food in its pre-cooked state.
“It’s offal,” his wife answered, “the sort of thing you love in a fry-up. Hearts, liver, kidneys, lungs – a mix of beef and pig if I’m not mistaken. ”
“Well you’d better get frying then.”
“No, I’m not cooking any of it until I know who it’s from.”
“Why? Do you think it’s poisoned?”
“No, of course not dear. Who’d try to poison me? Besides, if you were going to poison someone you’d send a nice box of chocolates, not a box of internal organs. No, I mean we can’t eat it – we have to invite whoever sent it to come to dinner with us, it would be rude not to. ”
“But you said it was anonymous? How will you find out who sent it if the meat man won’t tell you?”
“Oh, well, I’ll just have to phone people and ask.”
After putting the meat away in the fridge, which took a great deal of effort, involving moving all of the fruit into the fruit bowl, placing the yogurt in the egg-space and moving the eggs back into their carton, then placing the cheese on the non-cheese shelf, emptying the last of the pomegranate juice into a glass and throwing out the new-fangled-thing she’d bought on a whim at Waitrose on Thursday because it had been on special offer and had looked exotic.
“So who’s on your list of suspects?” Reg asked.
“Well, I suppose it must be Sally. She’s always late with my birthday present. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s sent me a present just before her birthday.”
Molly looked up Sally’s number on her mobile phone, but called using her landline, as it was cheaper and, Molly always found, more comfortable.
“Sally dear, I just thought I’d give you a call as we haven’t spoken for a while. It’s me dear, Molly. Yes.”
The conversation lasted an hour, at the end of which Molly was totally up to speed with all the gossip in, well, wherever it was Sally lived now.
“Did you even ask her about the offal?”
“I did, I said I’d received a late birthday present, but it had come without a label. It wasn’t her though, she said she’d given me something on my birthday and I had to go through the pretence of remembering and thanking her.”
“It took you long enough. You were an hour on that phone.”
“Well, I haven’t spoken to Sally for, well, not since last year, yes I remember, it was during the Olympics. I made a joke about that athlete, you know, the one in the shorts.”
“The Olympics, that wasn’t last year, that was 2012.”
“Well 2012 then. Anyway, it wasn’t Sally. I can only think it must be Amy, she’s hopeless with gifts. That scarf she bought me in 1997, I still tease her about it. It was totally not my style.”
Another hour passed as Molly rang Amy.
“Did you even ask her?” said Reg when Molly finally got off the phone. He’d heard much of the conversation and to his inexpert ears it had sounded decidedly non-offal-related.”
“Oh, yes, it wasn’t her, but her husband’s suddenly announced he’s a transvestite. He goes around in dresses now.”
“What, Brian? But he was a pipe smoker, a real ale man.”
“He still is, he just wears dresses to the Frog and Kettle now, instead of trousers.”
“What you mean he actually GOES OUTSIDE.”
“Oh yes. He’s quite the talk of the Frog and Kettle. He has quite good taste, apparently, all the women talk to him for fashion advice.”
“Good lord. That’s another one we’ve lost.”
“Anyway, I’ve decided it must be someone local. Some silly WI thing, maybe I won a raffle or something and nobody told me. I’m going to bingo tonight, I’ll ask around. If it is a raffle I won’t have to invite anyone for tea, you can have it all for breakfast.”
“There seemed rather a lot there for one breakfast.”
“Oh, at least a weeks’ worth I’d have thought. That’ll keep you out of trouble.”
That night Molly went to bingo for the first time in months and made a special effort to talk to everyone she could remember the names of, and that nice woman with the funny hat who she’d never been properly introduced to but who always looked like the type who might send unexpected offal to strangers.
To her delight she won one of the prizes, just £47, but, because her luck was really in, she also won a bottle of wine.
“Good god, Iraqi wine?” Reg said, when she got home. “Whatever next?”
“Now Reg, you know how important it is to build trade with Iraq, it’s exactly what they need to rebuild their economy after the war.”
“Bloody Blair. Why did we ever invade that bloody country – now we’re stuck drinking its wine until the oil runs out. Anyway, who was it?”
“Who was what dear?”
“The offal? Did you find out.”
“No, I didn’t. It wasn’t a raffle, that’s for certain. Hopefully we’ll find out next Saturday.”
“Next Saturday. Why, what’s happening?”
“I’m throwing a dinner party. I’ve invited Shelly, Nina, Jess and Umi from the WI and Claudia and Doreen from bingo.”
“Good lord. A dinner party. I don’t remember the last time we had a dinner party.”
“And I’ll invite Sally and Amy. You never know, they might make it down. We can put Sally up in the spare room and Amy always stays at a hotel, she’s got money to fry has Amy.
“But she’ll bring Pete.”
“Good, so it won’t be all girls, there’ll be someone for you to talk to.”
“But he wears dresses! Besides, everyone you’ve invited hasl already denied they sent. They’ll just deny it again.”
“Well dear I haven’t really asked anyone directly. I’ll serve up the offal for dinner, it’ll be a conversation piece and I’ll explain my unexpected delivery and whoever sent it will confess.”
Preparations for the dinner took up most of the next week. Molly even got Reg to set up the computer so that should could email out formal invitations, using the warmest and friendliest of fonts. Reg was frustrated, because he’d hoped for the promised fry-up every morning, but every lump of offal was retained for the greater good of the dinner party.
The day before the party, Molly was surprised to see the Pete’s Meats van pull up outside.
“Whatever is it this time?” she said. “Surely I’ve not been sent another anonymous delivery of offal.”
“No, it’s not anonymous this time,” Reg said, “it was me.”
“You? But you hate shopping.”
“Yes dear, but I also hate the idea of poisoning all our friends with two-week old offal, that’s been sitting in the fridge decomposing. I’ve ordered steak, burgers, chicken and veggie burgers.”
“He’s a transvestite, dear, not a vegetarian.”
“Oh, they’re different things are they? I always assumed it was all part of the same package.”
“Honestly dear, you make such a fuss, a man can’t even wear a dress without you whipping his steak away.”
Molly answered the door and brought in the new delivery of meat, but after the delivery man had gone and she was opening the package, she burst into tears.
“Whatever’s the matter?” Reg asked.
“What’s the matter? You’re the matter. You’ve ruined my party. It was going to be an offal party, and I’d make the mystery of the offal centre stage.”
“It can still be an offal party – you can bring in the rotten meat, tell the story, and then bring in the proper food before everyone runs out screaming at the sight of rotting offal.”
Molly was angry all morning, but by the afternoon she saw the sense of it and brought Reg a cup of tea with a swig of whisky in it, to show that she’d forgiven him.
The dinner party was a triumphant success. It’s true that Molly never found out who the mystery offal-giver was, but the story became an instant legend amongst her circle and the replacement meats were voted a total success.
Reg was pleased to see that Brian was unchanged, in spite of the flowery cocktail dress he was wearing, he still smoked a pipe and had brought a mini-keg of ale from a local micro-brewery that was decidedly pleasant. The two men pottered into the shed after the meal, where they made short work of the keg and the political problems currently infesting the UK.
Reg was happy for another reason, too. His plan had worked even better than expected. He knew Molly would phone all her long-forgotten friends when the mystery meat arrived, but never in his wildest dreams did he think she’d go so far as to throw a party. It was exactly what she needed, what they both needed, a revamp to their social lives.
He wouldn’t tell her though, not for a long time at least. She’d throw a fit if she knew he was manipulating her.
Besides, it was her story now. It would be wrong to take it from her – it was her little mystery. Her unexpected delivery of offal.