As it was a pleasant summer morning I was sitting in my conservatory with my morning tea when there was a loud banging at the front door. I sighed. Perhaps they would go away. The banging became more insistent so I reluctantly went inside to open the front door. A young person in a tawny-orange outfit was standing on the doorstep waving a reddish pole with which he had been banging on the door. “I’ve a message for you,” he said. “We Wands are having an open house and you are invited.”
“When?” I asked. “ Today,” he said, thrusting a white card into my hand. “It’s come as you are whenever you want,” he added. “Not in my dressing gown,” I replied. “Why not?” he said, cheekily. “We Wands won’t care …… just enjoy yourself.” And he walked off.
The Wands lived in a sprawling rustic brick house surrounded by showy plants and shrubs which were not kept in shape. The yellow and flame-coloured roses should have been cut back years ago and the red-hot pokers were sagging badly. The front door was open so I walked in. I could hear voices in the garden at the back so I made my way towards the sound through a room in which some food had already set out in covered bowls over spirit burners. A tall young man with a shock of red hair was lifting the lids on some of the pots. “Ummm, this curry is a bit tame,” he said, sticking his finger into the food, and then disappearing for a moment before returning with several jars of spice some of which he began to sprinkle liberally into the curries. “Don’t you think you might make the curry too strong?” I asked. “The label by this dish says “mild”. Suppose someone can’t eat very spicy curry? They might be ill.” “Oh, who cares?” he replied. “Mother’s borrowed some of Queenie P’s little helpers from the catering school and they never go anywhere without hospital standard first aid kits. They’ll deal with any weak digestions.” He grinned disarmingly.
Behind us a delightfully husky voice asked the Knight what he thought he was doing. “Just spicing things up, mother,” he replied. “Well, don’t,” replied the Queen. “We want our guests to enjoy themselves, not suffer. Ever since you got back from India you think you’ve become a curry expert. Well, you haven’t. Go and see what your father’s up to with the barbecue.” The Knight moved swiftly into the garden.
“I’m so glad you could come,” said the Queen, taking my hand. “I think things are all right in the kitchen – the Queen of Pentacles lent me some of her students to help, you know how I always tend to burn things, and besides it is so difficult to enjoy yourself when you are fussing over the meal – so let’s go into the garden.”
In the garden the King was busy setting up the barbecue. He was wearing one of those silly plastic aprons and was busy with spanners and screws trying to set up the cooking area. The King wrestled with the dome-shaped cooker and various other parts of the apparatus and finally stood back, satisfied. “Why does the base hang down like that?” he asked, mystified. “Excuse me, Sir,” said one of the Pentacle helpers eventually, trying to keep his face straight, “you’ve got it upside down. The bit that’s hanging down is the lid.” “Oh, confound it,” said the King, not in the least put out. “Showing off again, dear,” said the Queen. “You know you’re hopeless at anything practical.” The Pentacle helpers righted the barbecue in short order. “Where are the coals?” asked one of them. “Coals?” repeated the King and Queen. “Well, yes,” replied one of the Pentacles, “the food won’t cook itself. It’s all right,” he added, “ we brought some with us, just in case.”
The Queen led me over to some deck chairs and sank gracefully into one of them in full sun. She spread out the full skirts of her sun-flower printed dress. She motioned me into one of the chairs in the shade. “Now, where’s that son of mine?” she asked, “he should be bringing us drinks.” She called to the Page who duly came over with a tray. A couple of multi-coloured cats came over and sat by the Queen. “Oh,” I said. “When Pamela Colman Smith did your portrait, you had a black cat.” “Yes,” she replied, “that one died a long time ago, now, but not before it had misbehaved with the local ginger tom, and then some of the ginger and black kittens had even more mixed kittens, and this is the result. These are grandchildren of the black cat.”
Four women came into the garden with baskets. “How lovely to see you,” said the Queen. “We’ve invited our cousins” she said to me, “so you’ll meet some of the rest of the family today.” “We’ve brought fruit,” said one of the women, “melons and pineapples and that sort of thing.” “Well, take them to the kitchen,” said the Queen waving her hand. “I’m sure the Pentacle helpers will know what to do with them.” Various other family members arrived and there was much conversation, drinking and a little squabbling among five youngsters which the Queen dealt with by sending the Page over to quieten them down.
Finally the barbecue and everything else was ready. The King presided, waving a cooking fork around and the Pentacle helpers made sure the food actually landed on our plates. The curry was palatable despite the Knight’s ministrations until one of the uncles took a mouthful and turned bright red. Tears poured down his face. “Oh, Uncle Nine, what is it now?” asked the Queen. Uncle Nine continued to splutter until one of the Pentacles turned up. He investigated the dish. “Someone’s put a scotch bonnet in this,” he said. “It wasn’t one of us, we did as you asked and only used mild spices.”
“Where’s that lad?” asked the King, exasperated. “Always upsetting people one way or another…” But of the Knight there was no sign. “I think he went off with Six,” said one of the four women. “Six has a splendid car and I think the Knight sweet-talked him into letting him drive it.” “Hope that’s not another insurance claim,” said the King.
By this time Uncle Nine had recovered, aided by one of the Pentacle helpers. “There’s always something when I come here. Last time young Seven jabbed me in the eye and it’s still not right …… I might have known today would be no different.” He sighed in a resigned way.
As I was leaving I stuck my head into the kitchen – far cleaner that it usually was – to thank the Pentacles. “Oh,” I said, “they have already gone. I do hope they got something to eat.” “Eat?” said the Queen. “Do you think they expected to eat? I just thought they would enjoy preparing and serving the food, not eating it.” I stared reproachfully at the Queen. She did not even blush. That is the way with the Wands family.
(c) Lucy Voss