MRS WIBBSEY'S FESTIVE DIARY
I surprise them all at The Hollyhocks next door. And I actually turn up. I even put a nice dress on for them, and a bit of lipstick.
Tish Madoc opens the door and her eyebrows go up. ‘We didn’t think you would, my dear!’
‘Well, here I am,’ say I stiffly, and push a half-empty bottle of Tio Pepe into her arms.
It’s everso festive in there. Deirdre Whatsit is wearing a summer frock and everyone’s got party hats on. It’s very noisy and jolly and they’re full of talk about the pantomime and other goings-on around Hexford. I start to regret being so distant of late. I’ve been cutting myself off.
There’s a lot of talk about that curious occasion, two Christmases ago, when the whole of our village was transported to a far distant planet. And then it got brought home again at the start of the new year. People talk about it in hushed tones and eye me through the press of bodies in Deirdre’s living room. I can see them doing it. They think they’re space travelers. They know I know more about the whole business than they ever will.
See? I stand apart from everyone else. My adventures in the universe make me different to them all.
Tish Madoc brings over some nibbles from the buffet and corners me. She wants to know all about the other adventures. The ones I never talk about. She’s avid for impossible details. And I think, well I’m hanged if I’m telling you anything. Just so you can write another of one of your silly e-books. I’ve seen her sitting in the conservatory at the back of Deirdre’s. You can see right in from the back of Nest Cottage. Tish Madoc at her electronic typewriter, writing e-books and smoking e-cigarettes.
Is it her electronic typewriter I’ve been hearing, I wonder? Has it become louder, somehow? Or is it… and this seems absurd even as I think it… is it somehow creeping round my door of its own volition and trying to get in? Is her typewriter as keen as she is on getting hold of my stories of outer space?
They all wish it had been them. The villagers all saw a little bit of time and space that Christmas and, even though they were terrified and thought they’d never get home, they still want more.
But that magic has gone. Those chances have fled.
I slip out of the party at the Hollyhocks as it starts getting rowdy. Deirdre cranks up the sound on her stereo and they roll up the rug in the living room and they’re starting to dance. Jitterbugging about.
And I go home.
I go in through the back kitchen. As soon as I’m in there, clicking on the light, I know I’m not alone in Nest Cottage.
If my hair wasn’t in this bun it would all be standing on end, I can tell you.
I know what having intruders is like. I’ve had aliens and ghosts and robots trespassing in here. I keep a cricket bat under the sink, ready to wallop them. As I hug it to my chest I move carefully towards the main sitting and dining room. I can hear that queer electronical noise again.
‘Regrets, mistress,’ pipes a high, tinny voice. ‘You were not in and so I had to melt the front door lock.’
I stare and stare and still the thing doesn’t make any sense.
It’s a metal dog on the flagstones in front of the stove. Looking up at me with a single red, glowing eye.
‘Keep back,’ I brandish the cricket bat at him.
He seems to frown and take a step closer. No, not a step. He glides along the floor.
‘Mistress, violence is not necessary. I mean you no harm.’
‘What are you? Who sent you? And where do you come from?’ But even as I bark out these questions I realise I already know the answers.