Linda turns both plates a few degrees clockwise for one final inspection before serving: prime Scottish beef at two o’clock, seared, slow roasted to perfection, still pink and melt in the mouth tender; twelve freshly minted garden peas arranged like tiny green apostles; opposite these, buttered baby carrots, pan-fried and fanned; a light and golden Yorkshire pudding; four crisp roast potatoes; a swirl of rich, dark jus. ‘Oh Heston,’ she whispers and steadies herself against the worktop.
‘You gonna be much bloody longer?’
For a moment, she had forgotten. ‘Just a sec, Phil.’
Linda wipes a jus smear from the plate’s border, carries it to the table and places it in front of him. She sits, closes her eyes and says a private grace. Oh Lord, for what he is about to receive, make Phil truly thankful. Let him like the food, let him appreciate my work, let him… She opens her eyes and is chilled to the marrow.
Ketchup, HP sauce, English mustard, whole grain mustard, horseradish. The plate is a Pollock’s palette with condiments spooned thickly around its border. As he reaches for the salt, she catches him by the wrist. ‘Phil, really, it doesn’t need salt.’
Phil’s jaw tightens, his nostrils flare. ‘If I want salt…’ He yanks his arm free.
Linda does not watch.
Two minutes and thirty-seven seconds it takes. She counts each second as the chewing noises grow more frantic; his jaw clicks like a Geiger counter. The grunts and sucks and slurps build to a climax until finally the troughing is complete. The cutlery clatters on the plate.
‘Any more out there, Lind?’
She smiles and, without a word, moves through to the kitchen.
He calls out. ‘Bit more gravy this time, and cut us a slice of bread for moppin’ up.’
Linda cleans the blade on the electric carver, makes a rough calculation and plugs in the extension lead. She re-connects. Pausing for a moment, she sighs wistfully. What happens to these men she marries? Always at the start so attentive, thoughtful, generous. Ready with their flowers and compliments.
The carver buzzes like a baby chainsaw in her hand. It had been a gift – from her first husband. She grips tightly; there is no need for further reflection. On the carver a name is writ, and it is called Heston. And this will be His work.