Sarah Salway

Separate Beds

They slept in sin­gle beds. My sis­ter and I would sneak upstairs to lie on them when Granny was in the kitchen. We’d divide by gen­der. Laura would take Granny’s and I would take Granddad’s.

Put your face up to your ceil­ing and talk to me,’ my sis­ter would say.

I stared hard at the damp patch in the cor­ner. ‘What do you want me to say?’ I asked. Laura didn’t usu­al­ly let me play with her so I want­ed to get it right.

Don’t be wet, Jamie. Pretend to be him and I’ll be her.’

It’s been a hard week,’ I said, try­ing to sounds as much like my grand­fa­ther as I could.

It has,’ my sis­ter agreed. ‘And I won­der if the grand­chil­dren will be com­ing soon.’

I hope so,’ I replied. ‘I do like Jamie.’

My sis­ter said the game had to stop now. Apparently I’d spoilt it. She stomped down the stairs, one, two, three, so I could hear as she went to help Granny in the kitchen. I stayed upstairs.

If I put my fin­ger out I could feel the bumps and the weaves in the yel­low can­dlewick eider­down. I felt round one square again and again. I pulled out the draw­er of his bed­side table, before quick­ly shut­ting it. ‘I do like Jamie,’ I whis­pered.

By the time I got down­stairs, Granddad was back. He was sit­ting in his chair, doing the cross­word. When he saw me, he wig­gled one bushy eye­brow in the way that nor­mal­ly made me laugh.

Where have you been?’ My grand­moth­er asked. ‘Go and wash your hands, din­ner will be ready soon.’

I stopped gig­gling and stared at my grand­fa­ther. Go on, I willed him, go on, say it.

Wash up now, Jamie,’ my grand­moth­er said. ‘Don’t be dif­fi­cult.’

Jamie’s trou­ble is that he lives in this oth­er world,’ Laura said. ‘He thinks too high­ly of him­self.’

My grand­moth­er laughed. ‘You do talk fun­ny, Laura,’ she said. ‘Anyone would think you swal­lowed a dic­tio­nary.’

Say you like me, I willed my grand­fa­ther. He went back to his cross­word, suck­ing the end of his pen.

I’m eas­i­ly top of my English class,’ my sis­ter said.

I’m not sur­prised,’ said my grand­moth­er. ‘And you’re a very help­ful girl too, pet. There’s plen­ty that don’t both­er, but I sup­pose that’s boys for you.’ She looked over in my direc­tion.

Granddad joined me at the sink to wash his hands.

I’ve got some­thing of yours,’ I whis­pered, try­ing to wig­gle my eye­brows at him in a way I hoped he’d under­stand.

He looked sur­prised as he turned his hands under the run­ning tap. I knew they weren’t dirty, but he still said noth­ing.

Don’t use up all the water,’ my grand­moth­er cried from the oth­er room. ‘And hur­ry up because Laura’s just bring­ing the food to the table.’

I tapped the pock­et where I’d hid his post­card, but he’d already turned to join the oth­ers in the kitchen.

My grand­moth­er said that Laura should serve.

A prop­er lit­tle lady,’ Granny said.

Laura smirked. She gave my grand­fa­ther what Granny always called a ‘man’s por­tion’. I tried not to notice how lit­tle she put on my plate, but I couldn’t eat any­way. I couldn’t talk either. The post­card had grown so big that I couldn’t under­stand why no one men­tioned it.

Granddad start­ed eat­ing. ‘It’s been a hard week,’ he said.

It has,’ said my grand­moth­er and sis­ter in uni­son.

 

Happy, I think

When we look through the open win­dow, we see my father is sit­ting naked at the piano. He is singing along as his hands dance over the keys. Actually he’s not com­plete­ly naked, because he is wear­ing my mother’s hat. The paper rose I made her years ago for Mother’s Day is wob­bling as he nods his head to the music.

My moth­er puts her hand out to stop me say­ing any­thing. We drop our shop­ping bags and watch him. I try to be dis­gust­ed, to feel fear that one of my friends might see him, but I think he looks beau­ti­ful. I close my ears to my mother’s laugh­ter, know­ing that she’ll tease him lat­er over a cup of tea, and that I’ll join in.

We can’t go out for five min­utes with­out him doing some­thing extra­or­di­nary,’ she says. I nev­er know whether she’s cross or hap­py about this fact. Happy, I think.

Come’ she says now. I want to be dis­gust­ed, but it’s beau­ti­ful. She holds out her arms and I think she wants to hug me. But she shakes her head.  ‘Let’s dance,’ she says, and so we do. Right there on the lawn where every­body can see us.

~

Sarah Salway is a writer, pub­lish­er, cre­ative writ­ing tutor and the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the London School of Economics. She is the author of three nov­els, The ABCs of Love, Tell Me Everything and Getting the Picture (pub­lished by Ballantine, US) and two col­lec­tions of short sto­ries. Sarah can be found online at www.sarahsalway.net or www.speechbubblebooks.co.uk.