Damn and blast, said Uncle Edgerton.
That was surprising in itself. I was at Amy’s at the time, which was the Twenty-first Century, lying on a divan and thinking about this and that. I heard a tune from Amy in the back and I padded through to tell her again how much I liked her singing. It wasn’t Amy, however, it was a crude simulacrum – P2, as I realised at once. Her P was much better than her Amy, even though her P was unaccountably black. And since it was P2 I knew straight away what to expect.
Damn and blast, said Uncle Edgerton, again.
Horse potty, I exclaimed.
Aaargh, said Aunty Sally.
For I was in no Lovecraftian combat chamber this time, confronted by zombies, but suddenly materialising in my Uncle Edgerton’s front parlour in Lewisham with Aunty Sally and young Swallow.
Glad you could drop in, old man, said Uncle Edgerton, adding in an undertone: Summoning went off unexpectedly, God damn and blast it. Have to stay for dinner now. Not a word!
And so it was, Sunday dinner in South London in 1934, not something I’d ever expected to experience. My cousin M would be envious when I told him. The meat was of good quality but overdone, as were the vegetables. No surprises there: I remembered Aunty Sally’s cooking from the 1950s. Swallow for some reason, looking surly as I remembered him, was wearing his Etonian frock coat and a great deal of starched white stuff round his neck.
Swallow’s going to be in Pop, said Aunty Sally proudly.
Not even a Pop bitch, I thought to myself. They didn’t know it, but as regards Swallow this was as good as it got.
Uncle Edgerton poured a surprisingly good claret.
Entre Deux Mers, entre deux guerres, I quipped – foolishly because of course they didn’t yet know about the second one.
Think there’s going to be another war? said Uncle Edgerton. He fixed me with his blue eyes and said sotto voce: The, er, …. Z people?
Germany, I reckon, yes…. No, not them.
Oh no, I don’t see that. I rather like the little man they’ve got in Germany. Bolshies, more like.
I knew as they didn’t that the war would come, they would lose their house to the Luftwaffe, and that Uncle Edgerton himself would not survive it. It was surprising perhaps that he was more interested in the result of the 1934 Derby than his own prospects. Probably it’s the same for us all; we’d rather not know.
Hunched over a spotted dick, Uncle Edgerton grew red in the face.
Psychic energy, he muttered. Don’t hang about, old man.
I could see that as my materialisation in their front room had been remarked it might be damaging to leave in the same sudden way, so I disposed of my own spotted dick and made some excuse.
Come again, said Aunty Sally. I thanked her and said that I certainly would.
They went back inside and I walked down the front path to the road. As I reached the pavement I could sense Uncle Edgerton’s relief as I dematerialised. I felt like a fart that has been bottled up too long for comfort.
Amy, the real Amy, looked at me with qualified approval.
You want pork dumpling?
I rubbed my stomach.
I couldn’t eat another thing, thank you, Amy, but some green tea would be nice.
As I drank it I wondered about his term for me: old man. Was it just a term of affection, or did he regard me actually as old? I had got into the habit of thinking of him, being my great uncle, as older that I was, but in lived years he was much younger. I must remember to ask him when the zombie wars break out again.