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The cat sat rigidly upright on the speaker by the door, paws together, tail wrapped around, its long grey hair a sombre mantle, its orange eyes glaring from above its squashed in nose and discontented mouth. From the sofa, under the half-closed curtains, two identical old crones, one male, one female, both grey, glared back, their beaky noses casting shadows across their beady eyes and pursed lips.
There was the sound of a key in the lock, the clack of businessperson high heels, the thump of a briefcase on the hall table. Sue came in.
The cat inclined its head as she scratched its ear. "Did you have a good day," Sue said to the crones.
"That daughter of yours brought her friends home," the female crone said, stiff with disapproval.
"She’s allowed to," Sue said.
"One of them had a T-shirt ..." She choked. "Filth. All holes ... And a bleeding head."
"The noise they made. It’s not music. And the words ... Four letters. Obscene." The male crone frothed at the mouth.
"So we put a stop to that," the female crone said.
Sue checked the house for sounds of conversation. "Where did they go?" she asked.
"Don’t ask us."
"Anywhere, provided it’s not here."
Sue went into the kitchen. There was a note on the table.
Sue stabbed out a number on the phone.
"Is Amanda there?"
There was a scuffle, then a voice came on the line. "Hi, Mum."
"I thought you didn’t like Death Metal," Sue said.
There was a giggle. "I don’t. But they don’t, either."
"Are you planning to come back for dinner?"
"Preferably not ... If you don’t mind."
"Okay. Just so I know."
"One thing, Mum. They’re not going to wreck my birthday party, are they?"
"We’ll have to think of something," Sue said.
She put down the phone and went back to the lounge room door.
"I’m going out," she said. "There’s some of last night’s pumpkin curry in the fridge, if you want it."
"Where are you going?" the female crone demanded.
The male crone began to pull himself to his feet, propping himself on his stick. "We’ll come with you," he said.
Sue shook her head, stroked the cat again, and closed the door behind her.
* * *
Salami picked her way across Petra’s living room floor, dodging compact discs, discarded jumpers and empty coffee cups, and jumped up onto Sue’s knee.
"At least she doesn’t disapprove," Sue said, her voice almost drowned by the purring.
"If your parents don’t like it, why do they come?" Petra asked.
"They’re loving it. Glare. Grump. Grouch. Suffer. Suffer. Don’t know what the world’s coming to. The younger generation ... tut! And Amanda’s living proof."
"I thought she was looking forward to seeing them."
"She was. She even dressed up for it. The blue skirt ..." Sue brought her hand down about half way down her thigh. "... and a lacy white top. She’s all legs at the moment, but she looked good. My father called her a slut. Flaunting herself, he said. I made him apologise, but since then it’s been war."
"What’s she been doing?"
"I did a deal with her, ages ago, that she’d do most of the cooking. So she’s suddenly decided that she’s a vegetarian. So it’s eggplant parmigiana, spinach quiche, leek omelette, ratatouille — you name it." Sue laughed. "It’s actually very good. Even Michael’s prepared to eat it, and you know what little brothers are like about big sisters’ cooking. But my parents loathe it. You can see them gagging on every forkfull. And my mother keeps explaining to Amanda, oh so carefully, as if she was mentally retarded or something, how to roast a leg of lamb, and how to make a beef ragout, and how good meat is for you, and how civilisation would never have happened if we’d stayed in the trees and kept eating berries."
"Why don’t your parents cook for themselves? Or for you?"
"Because they are guests in my house, and expect to be treated as such."
"How much longer are you going to be stuck with them?"
"They say another couple of weeks." Sue grimaced. "They pretend that they came to see us, but I’ve found out that they’re having their house redecorated, and needed somewhere to stay. Mum couldn’t resist comparing their new colour scheme with my dated cliched decor."
"Can’t you offload them somewhere else?"
"I’ve been trying. It’s Amanda’s sixteenth birthday party next weekend, and they are ... not ... going ... to ... cope." Sue’s voice dragged over the last few words.
* * *
There was a light on in Amanda’s room when Sue arrived home. She put her head around the door. The cat was curled up on the bed, looking pleased with itself. Sue wondered how deep it had dug its claws in, and whether there would be demands that it be put down.
Amanda looked up from a magazine full of spunky male pop stars and smiled. "I think I’ve solved your parent problem," she said.
"I rang Dad. You know that place of his on the river?"
"Well, I told him your father was mad about fishing, and asked if they could stay there for a week or so. He wasn’t exactly keen, but when I explained about the party ..."
"And what do my parents say?"
"I oversold it a bit. Secluded country cottage by limpid stream. That sort of stuff. But I think they got the message."
"When are they going?"
"Friday. I told them it wasn’t free till then. I don’t want them going any earlier, or they might have time to get back before the party." Amanda thought for a moment. "Would they come back if they didn’t like it?"
Sue shook her head. "They’d lose face if they did. But they’ll find something to complain about. Loudly. For the next ten years."
"I think they will," Amanda said, smiling. "You see, Dad says there was a break-in a few weeks ago. They took everything. All that’s left is a bin full of sprouting potatoes and a pile of his girlfriend’s Death Metal records."
Copyright © D.W. Walker, 1994
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