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.