“Delicious casserole, Paula. You must give me the recipe.”
“Absolutely. I’ll email it to you.”
“Beautiful casserole! You never did send me the recipe.”
“Didn’t I? I’ll send it over tomorrow.”
“Your famous casserole again! Are you ever going to send me the recipe or will you take it to the grave with you?”
“I could have sworn I sent it, Denise. Did you check your junk folder?”
Years it had gone on. Paula served her trademark casserole at every pot-luck or celebration, and every single time she sampled it, Denise asked for the recipe. But Paula never delivered. That cow wanted all the glory, Denise surmised; she didn’t want anyone else to cook a casserole as good as her. But empty promise after empty promise had ground her down. Denise would get that recipe come hell or high water.
It’s the Christmas fete this evening. The village hall will be packed to the rafters with local merrymakers. Paula is bound to be there and so too will her casserole. And so Denise has crept into Paula’s garden and is crouched beneath the kitchen window, notebook and pen in hand.
She rises up and peers into the kitchen; there’s the old cow, humming ‘Last Christmas’ to herself, plugging in her crock pot. Denise watches as her rival moves to the refrigerator and starts rifling for the ingredients. The items she retrieves send a flutter of rage through Denise’s body.
“It can’t be,” Denise mutters. “No. No way.”
But when Paula removes cardboard sleeves and starts stabbing at cellophane packaging with a knife, Denise knows it to be true. “Microwave meals. How could she?”
She can’t contain herself. She batters on the kitchen window and Paula starts. She turns to the window with knife in hand, but her shoulders ease when she sees the familiar face. And then she notes that the face is furious, and she tenses up all over again.
Denise storms in through the back door.
“Ready meals? Your famous, delicious casserole is nothing but microwave ready meals?”
Paula shrugs. “People like it.”
“Here we all were thinking your were some sort of culinary genius. But you’re nothing more than a fraud. No wonder you wouldn’t give me the recipe.”
“I can’t believe you were spying on me,” Paula says. “That’s unacceptable. It’s downright sinister.”
“Oh, give up. What’s truly sinister is your penchant for this processed garbage.” Denise snatches up one of the discarded cardboard sleeves. “And it’s not even Waitrose. Asda. Asda’s value brand. Oh, Paula. You’ve been serving us swill all this time.”
“Hey, you said it was the most delicious casserole you’ve ever tasted. It can’t be all bad. You always were a pretentious snob.”
Denise gasps. “Just wait until Anne hears about this. And Julie and Sue and Yvonne. Everyone. I’ll tell the whole village.”
Paula’s face turns red. “If you tell people about this, I’ll tell everyone what you did to Mr Evesham.”
Denise blanches. “You wouldn’t.”
“I sure as hell would.”
The pair fall silent, staring one another out, chins raised high in defiance. But Denise caves.
“Fine,” she says. “I’ll keep your dirty secret if you’ll keep mine. I can’t have word about Mr Evesham getting out.”
Paula nods. “And while we’re on that, I never did ask – did you ever manage to get the blood stains out of your rug?”
Denise sighs. “No. But they blend in with the pattern rather well; nobody’s any the wiser.”
When it comes to village gossip, shop-bought casserole is a crime akin to murder.