“Dear, you’ve got a little something on your tie,” she said to her husband, a portly man of middling height, after ringing the doorbell.
“Oh, must’ve missed that,” he said, while she made an effort to rub it off gently.
“You’ve certainly had your share today, haven’t you?”
“Jolly good fare so far.”
She knew all too well that during the holidays, her husband never held back. As far as he was concerned, everything was for the taking – which accentuated his rather rotund appearance even more.
The sound of footsteps could be heard through the door. “Let’s not stay too long. It’s been a really long day,” she said, through a palpable sigh.
“Couldn’t agree more,” replied her husband. “Think I’ve had my fill.”
“Have you, now?” she quipped sardonically.
As the door was unlocked, the face of a pleasant-looking woman emerged.
“Ah! Honey, the Bartleys are here,” she proclaimed, her voice carrying down the hallway.
The Bartleys and the Goddards had been neighbours for as long as anyone could remember; one of the ‘old families’, as others used to say. They’d lost count of the years that had passed and as to when they had originally moved into the neighbourhood – or indeed, who had arrived first – none could remember.
One couldn’t really call them friends, but they were definitely more than acquaintances. Time and proximity to one another did that, after all. Their relationship, while amicable, was not immune to the inane rivalry that all too often plagues the residents of suburbia. It was just the way of things.
Mrs. Goddard’s famed cooking had made her a bit of a celebrity in the community and she had a reputation for putting together some of the finest spreads ever seen, especially during the holidays. Visiting the Goddards thus became customary for most of the residents – an honour they were happy to be bestowed and revelled in, much to Mrs. Bartley’s chagrin, despite the fact that she partook in the time-honoured tradition as well.
It had been a long day of uncountable visits to friends, relatives and colleagues all over town – and eating. By evening, Mr. Bartley was tugging on his waist, looking visibly discomfited.
Stepping into the house and following Mrs. Goddard to the living room, where Mr. Goddard waited for guests, Mrs. Bartley couldn’t help but think: the years have certainly been kinder to her than to me. And just like that, another tinge of envy crept up inside her. Apart from her cooking, almost everyone in the town knew the Goddards as some of the most gracious and affable people you were likely to come across. Mrs. Bartley’s daughter was a huge fan of Mrs. Goddard’s cooking and was always invited to her house for dinner whenever she dropped by to visit her parents during one of her school breaks.
Mr. Goddard was reading the newspaper when the Bartleys walked in. He set it down and rose to shake Mr. Bartley’s hand.
“Bartley, there’s a good chap! How you been? Emily, you look absolutely marvellous this evening. You know what, I’m positively famished, haven’t eaten all day, it’s been bedlam so far. Let’s get a bite, shall we…”
Ever the consummate host, Mrs. Goddard led them to the dining area, and true to form, there was absolutely no room for disappointment. The massive oak table was overflowing with an inordinate number of roasts, pies, pudding and pastries. Mr. Bartley groaned.
“Can I get you some pudding, Harold?”
Mrs. Bartley flashed a warning look at her husband, as if daring him to move an inch closer to the table. An evidently conflicted Mr. Bartley looked as if he were engaged in the greatest fight of his life.
Eventually, as is the case with the holidays, one always caves in to desire. It’s just the way of things. A sweet tooth was ever his weakness and notwithstanding his wife’s withering look, Mr. Bartley smiled at Mrs. Goddard.
“Oh go on, just a dollop then.”