He grew from an amiable toddler to a friendly teenager, despite the onerous name with which he was saddled. Moreover, his unruly bush of chestnut curls gave the lie to the inference of that name: his name was Archibald. In consequence he was always referred to, and addressed as Archie, until for the most part it was forgotten that he was also ‘bald’!
On the day that he was preparing to leave home to begin his career at University his mother planned a celebratory dinner: one that would include many of Archie’s favourite dishes. The packed suitcases were in the car. Father was waiting in the wings, car keys in his pocket, keeping within earshot close to the dining-room door. Archie was not far distant, idly scrutinising the daily paper while he waited. Only sister Dora had found a nook where she could lose herself in her book, uninterrupted.
Mother called, “A-a-archie!”
Archie cast aside his paper, appearing promptly in the kitchen doorway.
Busy with her spoon and the condiments to be added to the gravy, Mother glanced his way. “Dinner is almost ready. Please find Dora ........oh, no! A-a-a-achoo!”
Taking another deep breath she dropped the pepper pot on the floor and pushed the pan to the back of the stove, precipitately, at the same time delivering another devastating sneeze. Archie hurried forward.
“What is it, Mum? Can I ..... oh, no! A-a-a-achoo!”
He joined his mother in a chorus of indrawn breaths and explosive sneezes while fighting his handkerchief from his pocket. His mother groped her way to the sink, splashing her streaming eyes with cold water, mopping her face with the kitchen towel that hung over her shoulder. But the sneezes kept coming. She had breathed in a cloud of soft white pepper and her lungs were hard at work expelling it.
Archie had ingested a smaller amount and he managed to stifle his sneezes under a hastily arranged bandit mask of handkerchief before removing the pan from the stove and carrying it outside. The lid of the pepper pot nestled in the gravy under a spreading blanket of spice. The breeze swirled the still dry surface of the pepper, threatening the handkerchief mask with Archie keeping his hand firmly on the corner trapped by his chin.
He tipped the mess into the compost bin, rescuing the pepper pot lid, and covering the substance with a sprinkle of dry soil, before returning to the kitchen. There was still a suspension of pepper in the air; enough to tickle the nose into another “Achoo!” but the worst was now over.
Dora sauntered into the kitchen. “I thought it must be lunch time by now. What’s wrong?” looking at her mother’s tearstained face she added, “Oh, Mum! Archie’s not going away forever! He’s just going to University ...”
Her voice trailed away under Mother’s scrutiny. “Dora, didn’t I ask you to refill the salt and pepper pots?”
“But I did, Mum. I promise you ...”
Once more Mother interrupted. “Why didn’t you make sure the lids were properly replaced?”
Dora opened her mouth to protest, saw the almost empty pepper pot once more in her mother’s hand, and closed it in some confusion. Father appeared in the doorway, frowning at his wristwatch.
“Come on, Dolly. Time to get this show on the road or we’ll be late for Archie’s train.” The ambience of the kitchen reached him. He whiffled his nose and asked, “What’s up?”
Time pressed. A sauce-less lunch was hastily despatched before Archie was rushed to the train station to begin his new life. Goodbyes were cut short, tears restrained. Archie leaned from the window and promised to write. As the train began to move he grabbed Dora’s hand and gave a very uninhibited “A-a-a-a-achoo!”
Later they would laugh.
Ah roast, where is thy gravy – the pepper pot’s shared its sting!
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