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It was quite late on Christmas Eve when I realised I’d forgotten to buy sausage meat to stuff the turkey. My heart sank. I’d eleven hungry people to feed tomorrow, and I’d promised to give them a perfect old-fashioned Christmas dinner with turkey and the traditional trimmings: rich gravy, bread sauce, sage-and-onion balls, bacon rolls, chestnuts, cranberry sauce…and sausage meat stuffing. I had all these goodies ready to go, except the last. This was before the days of 24-hour shopping. What could I do?
Maybe I could just skip the sausage meat? No, I couldn’t. The omission would provoke endless carping from Uncle Zeb, our oldest family member, whose chief Christmas pleasure was criticising my festive gatherings, even while staying at my house and eating at my table. Why did I keep inviting him every year? He invited himself actually, and he lived alone, so… I suppose it was another tradition.
I pondered the problem as we all sat round the fire sipping mulled wine after supper. Uncle Zeb, true to form, spent much time complaining: the wine was too highly spiced, his bedroom was overheated, my Christmas decorations were garish, my hairstyle was unflattering… Nobody else joined in. Indeed they all went to bed early, probably to escape. By the time Zeb retired too, I’d decided what to do.
When I tiptoed into Zeb’s room I found him sleeping quietly. He was quieter still after I held a pillow over his sour old face, till even he couldn’t find breath to complain.
I spent a busy night in the kitchen, finishing before dawn with a brief car trip to the cliffs at the Headland. The waves were huge. I didn’t linger.
I told everyone Zeb had gone home early because we’d had a row. Nobody was surprised, and certainly nobody was disappointed. We enjoyed the happiest Christmas in years, with never a cross word from anyone. And I received no end of compliments about the meal, especially my home-made sausage meat. They all agreed they’d never tasted anything like it.
Jane Finnis is author of the Aurelia Marcella mysteries and A Pinch of Pure Cunning, a new collection of Roman-era short mysteries. Find out more here.