After Sunday lunch we were sometimes allowed to choose dessert. But first, all the stars had to be aligned just so. The state of the bathroom was a major contributing factor. We were hopeless, we were careless, too many puddles, open toothpaste tubes, scrunched up damp towels. Some days the bathroom problems were simply insurmountable. The entire Sunday with all its hushed up quiet and boredom could become a nightmare thanks to a few stray hairs in the sink. Sometimes it was easier to just accept defeat.
Then of course, piano practise, we were hopeless, we were careless, too fast, too loud, wasting her good time and money, or suddenly brilliant, gifted, her proper little Mozarts.
Next, the setting of the table without squabbling, the heavy white linen cloth just so with straight corners, napkin rings in the correct order and the matching - what did I tell you???
And so we were keeping our breath in case of faulty oven thermostats, lumpy flour, overripe onions, wrong spice mix, all the mysterious kitchen disasters she had to face, only to feed us. Us. Who in our ungrateful selfishness spilt greasy gravy on the freshly starched white linen. And once again we were not worth it, all her sacrifices, her time and energy, for nothing.
And as she stubbed the half smoked cigarette on her plate and started to cry, we knew that all was lost. Again.
And yet, there were Sundays when we made it to dessert as a somewhat intact family and my father did his eeny meeny miny moe thing and the lucky winner would then be allowed to go down into the basement larder and choose one jar of my mother's bottled fruit: peaches, apricots, cherries with almonds, plums, pears with cinnamon sticks, applesauce with lemon drizzle.
My brother was scared of the dark basement but quite unable to admit this would run down singing and huffing while my parents smiled at each other with pride.
For maybe far too many years I was convinced that this is what happened on Sundays in all my friend's houses, that up and down the street families were steering that same treacherous course through blame and anger and fear.