“This looks a lovely spot.” Celia came to a halt, shielding her eyes against the sun that was winking through the tree trunks. Obediently, Robert put down the hamper and spread the chequered blanket on the grass.
“Listen; you can hear the stream!” Celia seemed delighted by this. Robert pined for the MP3 player he’d left in the glove compartment. The car was two miles away. He may as well have something to eat before they trudged back.
Celia knelt down and opened the basket. She took out plastic plates and plastic cutlery and put them down as though laying a table. Robert looked on in consternation. We don’t need all of this, he was thinking. Eating with your hands is half the fun of a picnic.
He sat on a corner of the blanket and declined a sausage roll from the plastic box Celia thrust towards him. He opted instead for some carrot batons and a tub of hummus. Celia waved a paper napkin until he took it and balanced it on his knee.
They ate without speaking for a few minutes. The sound of babbling water and the occasional caw of unseen birds broke the silence. Robert tucked into cherry tomatoes, pickled onions, and crisps while Celia watched. She sipped from a water bottle and, he noticed, didn’t touch any of the food.
“It’s good to have some time to ourselves,” she said as Robert peeled the foil wrapper from a bar of dark chocolate. “Away from the others. Bit of peace and quiet.”
“Hmm,” said Robert, shifting uncomfortably.
“And there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you about for quite some time.”
Here it comes, he thought, the inevitable talking-to. A piece of chocolate stuck in his throat. His face and neck flushed red as he coughed, although whether this was from choking on the chocolate or from embarrassment and awkwardness, he couldn’t tell.
He accepted Celia’s water bottle and took a swig from it to clear the obstruction.
“I found something – in your room. I wasn’t snooping; you mustn’t think that. I was putting things away and I dropped some socks. They rolled under your bed and when I stooped to pick them up, I noticed something sticking out from under your mattress.”
“Mom, listen –“
“No, son. Hear me out, please. I have to say this now or I never will. I saw what you were hiding under your mattress; I wish – how I wish – I’d never seen it but that cat’s out of the bag now. I don’t know what your father’s going to think. I can well imagine how he’ll carry on. But you mustn’t feel as though I’m judging you. It’s difficult for a mother to realise that her son is a – a – I had hoped for grandchildren. That bubble’s burst now, I suppose. I don’t know how I can hold my head up high – the neighbours! What will they think of me?”
“Mom, it’s not about you –“
“Where did we fail, son? What did we do wrong?”
“Mom, you didn’t – And I could still have kids -”
Celia shook her head. The idea of bringing innocent children into such a revolting way of life was unconscionable. She reached in the sleeve of her cardigan for a tissue and dabbed at her eyes.
“Are you sure, son? It’s not just a phase?”
“I’m sure, Mom. I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.”
“Then I’m sorry.”
Celia pulled out a breadknife from the basket and lunged across the blanket, plunging the blade between her only son’s ribs.
Damn it, she thought as she wiped the knife clean with some napkins. I should have had the little sod dig his own shallow grave before I killed him. Oh well, I’ll have to call his father. Let him do the dirty work.
She packed up the picnic and left the body covered with the blanket. Back at the car, she reached into the glove compartment for her mobile phone. Robert’s MP3 player fell out. Celia picked it up. The screen lit up and a distant voice whispered through the earphones. Celia put one to her ear.
“This is Chapter Three of How to be a Better Vegan” said the audio book’s narrator. Celia sobbed. The recipe book under the bed had been bad enough.
She snarled and threw the player out of the window.
No son of hers was going to live like that!