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Mary felt rather like someone for whom a marriage was being arranged by people who doubted the suitability of the match but could think of no seemly way of retiring. Her family and friends behaved like outsiders privy to a secret and dubious courtship, treating her with an arch, considered and wholly unnatural care, whispering together and falling silent when they remembered her sitting by the window and possibly listening.
Mary Marsh has lost her only child, but rather than allow her peace in which to grieve, her mother cajoles her into participating in a proper family Christmas. As the various guests arrive, Mary's sister Barbara, Barbara's children and husband, Barbara's lover, Barbara's husband's lover ("the Thrush"), Vera and Dennis the neighbors, a grown cat and a kitten, the house descends into farcical chaos.