Caitlin was halfway through peeling the potatoes for dinner when the phone rang. It was Uncle Philip phoning to say that Great Aunt Philomena had died. Caitlin hardly knew her. Once or twice when she was a child her parents had visited Great Aunt Philomena and Caitlin was each time ordered to “behave like a lady”. Even back then Great Aunt Philomena was as proper as one could get, and now she was dead. It was no great shakes. Caitlin went back to peeling the potatoes.
The announcement of Philomena’s death brought back some vivid memories for Caitlin. The spinster aunt would sit in a huge armchair while Caitlin’s parents sat on the sofa and made small talk. Two or three times throughout the visit, Great Aunt Philomena would rise from her chair and grandly announce, “I shall be back shortly. It’s time for a little Coca Cola.” She would depart the room only to return a few minutes later smelling of gin.
Her death was five years ago. Throughout those five years, every time Caitlin peeled potatoes for dinner she thought of Great Aunt Philomena. That phone call had associated Philomena with potato peeling. Forever, it seems. Why can’t I think of something else when I peel potatoes, thought Caitlin? The association remained. There was no escaping it. Great Aunt Philomena and potatoes were inextricably bound. It was an existential annoyance. There was only one thing for it: Caitlin would have to give up peeling potatoes.
Of course, Caitlin peeled the potatoes only to be useful and “ordinary”. She didn’t need to do the peeling. These days one of the scullery maids does it. It helps that Great Aunt Philomena left Caitlin her mansion and all her millions.