‘It’s me, he says. ‘Alistair.’ He puts a box of Dairy Milk on her lap and takes off his coat. Her hand grips the box but she looks away from him. He notices how grey her hair is, how her cardigan is slipping from her shoulder. He pulls it up and straightens it. Rests his hand on her arm. She tuts.
He knows she knows him. He makes tea and serves it to her in the good china from the top shelf. She can’t reach that high now he’s taken away the stepladder, ‘for safety’. He gives her a slice of cake, shop-bought. She eats it daintily enough, all the same. They watch the television, neither of them commenting on the story or the weather. His father watches them both from his frame on the bureau, still as good looking as he was the day he left. It wasn’t Alistair’s fault, but still, she never forgave him.
‘I’ll maybe bring the girls next time,’ he says, standing in the doorway dutifully drying the dishes at the end of the afternoon. His mother is unwrapping the cellophane from her chocolates, too busy to reply. He puts the cups away and looks around for other jobs to do. The place is neat as a new pin. ‘Sally sends her best.’ His mother looks at him then, and nods. He pulls on his coat and checks his pockets, producing his car keys like a magician.
‘Right then, that’s me away,’ he says. Another film is starting on the telly.
‘Cheerio, son,’ his mother says, her eyes fixed on the screen. ‘It was nice to chat.’ She doesn’t know what else to say. As the door closes behind him, she swallows her anger down with a caramel cream.