Mass was over for another week. The Woods boys were starving. Violet ordered the meal to be brought to her quarters. Sunday lunch was as religious as seven thirty Mass. No menial waiter was allowed to serve this meal; it had to be brought by the head chef himself.
Succulent pink beef, roast potatoes—crispy on the outside with a hot and fluffy centre—red wine and garlic gravy made with the juices from the tender loin and infused with thick double cream. The meal could have been good, it should have been good, but hanging over them was the Sunday curse. The boys drew out the feast as long as possible, while the meat turned to cardboard in their mouths.
On getting home from Mass the whole family changed out of their Sunday best before sitting down to eat. Endless prayers were said over the tureens, while the head chef, Marcus, with eyes rolling and feet shifting, rubbed his lower back as it began to ache. He worried that the meal would cool and he’d be sent back to the kitchen with it amid a torrent of screaming abuse from the Madonna Violet.
When at last Philip, who was the star of the show when it came to holding up the proceedings, had shovelled the last Brussels sprout into his unwilling mouth, the second course was over. He screwed up his face and chewed until the food became water because he couldn’t face the thought of swallowing the foul vegetable. Violet allowed nobody to leave until every plate at that table was empty and the cutlery laid neatly to rest, side by side like a little old couple in their grave. There was no table chatter; children should be seen and not heard. Apart from polite requests for the cruet set to be passed, the meal was taken in silence. Sunday lunch was a chore for the boys and their father. Only Donald rose from the table with a joyful heart. He’d attended Mass with his wife and sons. He had smiled dutifully as he paraded her around on his arm and passed time with the wealthier parishioners. When he rose from that table, he did so a free man. Donald didn’t hold fast to much, but from day one he had steadfastly refused to go through the Sunday afternoon ritual with the rest of his family. He felt sorry for his sons but at least they were spared the worst part of all. They didn’t know what he knew, so it wasn’t so bad for them. When it came to Sunday afternoons, Donald was of the firm opinion that it was every man for himself, and he was far too concerned with getting his own backside out into the sunshine, or breeze, or even snow if that’s what the weather had in store for him. Donald found peace in his gardens. While his wife lived life in the fast lane, wired on nervous energy and flying into rages over un-Brassoed brasses, Donald breathed. He had two gardeners under him now; the place was too big for one person to cope with. He became a thinker, sitting for long periods on his bench by the water’s edge and planning his perennials and herbaceous borders. For the most part he was a content man.
Lunch finished, they would file out of the room while Marcus waited, still standing to attention, ready to call his team in to clear the table and relay for afternoon tea.
The boys would change out of the gabardine slacks they had worn for lunch, and back into their Sunday best. They would each get their emerald cushion, crafted in the finest crushed velvet with leather underside. Violet had had them hand made for a purpose. They would again march in procession with all pomp and formalities, to the church.
On a good day the whole sorry pantomime would be over in an hour but if there was an audience, Violet would wallow, dabbing at her eyes with a lace handkerchief. Once, when dignitaries from the Bishop’s party had visited, she had wilted in a half faint to the nearest bench and, when attended to, told how her heart breaks for her Lovely Angel now returned to the Lord Above. But not before she’d made the boys sing a rousing chorus of All Things Bright and Beautiful, in four-part harmony, around the graveside.
‘Philip, don’t be so tone deaf, dear,’ she hissed over the headstone. ‘Mime, dear, mime.’
Gerald Sawkins had been walking his dog through the cemetery that day and Andrew suffered weeks of torture at school. Children seemed unable to forget watching a band of little soldiers, in straw boaters and striped blazers, singing All Things Bright and Beautiful while their mother waved her walking cane like a baton.
Beginning with Simon Peter and ending in Philip, the boys were expected to come forward and tell their Lovely Angel all about the week just passed. Once, Andrew had asked what their Lovely Angel was called.
‘What’s he really called, Mummy?’ It had been puzzling him for some time. Apart from around the grave on a Sunday afternoon, the boys weren’t encouraged to talk about their Lovely Angel.
Violet had turned stricken eyes on him that day, they shone with unshed tears, but beneath the watery sheen there had been something akin to Malice. Andrew wasn’t sure what the look was, but he knew well enough when to leave it alone.
‘When the good Lord, in His infinite wisdom, decided he couldn’t bear to be without our Lovely Angel beside him, he reclaimed him quickly. We had him only a second before he was gone. He is, and always will be, our Lovely Angel, taken back to heaven to look down upon us. He is too good to have an earthbound name.’
John was dying to point out that even Jesus had an earthly name and that surely their Lovely Angel wasn’t gooder than Jesus, but he’d seen the look in his mother’s eye. He bit the words back before they came sprawling out of his mouth and got him a slap around the head. It was as well that he did hold his counsel because he would have received not only the slap but a hundred lines illustrating the correct use of the words ‘better’ and ‘good’ for his trouble.
The prayers would come next. Prayers for their Lovely Angel and prayers for the hungry in Africa, though Violet never did really approve much of Negroes and secretly felt that starvation was their punishment for having the audacity to be born coloured. But one had to be seen to be doing one’s bit and one never knew who was passing when one had their eyes shut in supplication and prayer. She was just thankful that Windermere had not been invaded by any Negroes.
They always had to sing The Old Rugged Cross before leaving, because Mother said it was such a rousing song to leave their Lovely Angel with. She said that he would surely be warm and snug in his grave, wrapped in the lyrics like a shroud. The boys didn’t like to think of their Lovely Angel lying in his grave. John was the most inquisitive of the boys. He often wondered how long it took a body to decompose. What would our Lovely Angel look like now, he wondered, if we dug him up and opened his coffin? How would he smell? They were questions that haunted him at night and he would wake from nightmares, convinced he would see the stain of earth on his hands.
The boys were all agreed that Sundays were the worst day of the week.