Ben popped the champagne cork to oooh’s and aaah’s from his selected gathering. His colleague Mark with his wife Julie. His long-time friends Colin and Anya. They had gathered in his kitchen-diner, designed by Ben using 3D Computer Aided Design software which itself cost a tidy sum. The celebration was a long time coming, Ben had been telling his friends that his aunt would leave him everything. She had a huge house in the country, no children, and Ben was the only child of her only sibling.

It turned out that Emily’s long departed husband, Jeremy, had left significant gambling debts. Emily had taken an interest free loan from a friend, and signed over the property as collateral. Being part of a tight-knit village community had worked well for her, they were discreet. It didn’t work so well for Ben. He was surprised to be left with a modest sum, which he’d already spent twice over on the kitchen-diner. He tried to reframe the gathering as a celebration of his dear departed aunt, rather than a celebration of newfound wealth.

It was more than I expected, she was no J K Rowling, that’s for sure. He didn’t explain the J K Rowling reference, it was just money. It was a weak reference and explaining would make it weaker. The champagne tasted warm, on checking the fridge Ben found another bottle in there. Samantha had put another one in just before the guests arrived, to cheer Ben up. He offered to open the cold one, but everyone insisted it was fine and Ben assured Samantha that she had done nothing wrong. Good intentions pave the way to hell, he kept the thought to himself, he was annoyed with Auntie Emily and needed to keep that in check. They all admired the new kitchen-diner and he introduced them to his wifi-enabled steam oven, and then explained the beige composite stone island work-surface with sunken power outlets, they needed six men to carry that in.

They chatted and moved outside for the food, Ben took the lid off his gas barbecue and showed off his chicory smoked honey-glazed suckling pig, marinated for 48 hours. Colin and Anya sheepishly explained that they had turned vegan a month ago. They thought he knew, they were sure they had told everyone about it. It’s a barbecue, you just assumed I knew? Ben kept this thought to himself too. They had some veggie-burgers in the freezer, no need to worry about the use by date, they’re just vegetables. He mumbled to himself in the kitchen, Warm champagne and veggy burgers. Thanks Emily, and thank you Sam. He sensed that his widening circle of anger indicated that the problem was him, not the others. He would think it through later.

He joined the others in the garden and unpacked the burgers. Mark announced that they couldn’t stay long, they didn’t get a baby-sitter. Julie’s mother had stepped in but she wanted to be home in time for a ballroom dancing competition on television. Ben opened the cold champagne, they all agreed it was much better. As Mark and Julie got ready to leave, Colin and Anya decided to join them. Sam helped Ben with the cleaning up and they had their usual exchange about how much cleaner a gas barbeque is than a charcoal one. Ben wanted to say something about the price of gas, but he had lost interest in the whole affair. He sat down deflated.

As the night drew in it started to rain. Samantha went up early, she was tired. Ben sat at his island worktop, with his cold champagne and watched the downpour thrashing the patio. He wondered what it would be like to be outside in the rain, the cold shower beating his naked body. Aunt Emily, what was the point of her? Her whole life amounted to a few thousand pounds which she left to her sister’s only child, who had spent it before he got it. Colin’s a vegetarian, Sam has a headache, why did Mark have to go? Julie could’ve gone, why couldn’t her mum watch the tv at their house? He finished the champagne, poured himself a whiskey, and stared at the rain in the beams of the outside lights. Would there be floods? He thought about the Australian man who had moved to Kentucky and built a replica of Noah’s Ark. Imagine inheriting that. Ben always thought he’d be good at woodwork, he enjoyed it at school but had not tried it since. He did accounts, he helped rich people avoid tax. He wasn’t rich enough himself to avoid tax. He thought about winning the lottery, or that someone else might die and leave him something. He remembered a news story about a rich woman dying and leaving her fortune to her nurse. She was in the marmalade business. How do you even make marmalade? You’d have to grow oranges, and lime, what’s the plural of lime? Not enough sun anyway. He stared at the rain; we could grow rice in this rain. He opened a beer. Rice marmalade, that could be something. People would put a dollop of rice marmalade in their rice pudding instead of jam. Does anyone eat rice pudding anymore? What do people eat for dessert? He couldn’t think straight, the bubbles had gone down too quickly, I looked in the fridge for left over suckling pig there was plenty the haunches were nice I got the recipe from an online video it looked more fun in the video it was in Kentucky too they had made a really funny joke about fried chicken which I was going to tell my friends but I couldn’t remember it maybe we should move to Kentucky or somewhere where it doesn’t rain all the time another whiskey for the road! the white noise of hypnotic hard rain isn’t so bad maybe you could hypnotise someone to stop smoking by having them listen to hard rain but what’s that got to do with Emily was it something to do with marmalade old people like marmalade or was it Noah’s Ark and rain and Emily wasn’t religious the Chinese grow a lot of rice surely rice pudding is made from a different sort of rice because Chinese people don’t eat rice pudding but they do smoke a lot or is that Russians well if the Russians are coming it won’t be long before the Nazis show up they usually do after the second whiskey it must be time for bed. Dear Auntie Emily, sorry about before. Thanks for the money. Sam did warn me to not get carried away and build up false hopes. I was angry at something that never existed, it was all in my head. Say hi to Jeremy and I’ll put a tenner on the 3.15 at Kempton for him. Amen. And Goodnight. Oops. Stairs.

24th November 2022