Tuesday, 28 June 2016

My grandmother sat in a brown and gold chair smoking Woodbines..



My grandmother sat in a brown and gold chair smoking Woodbines. Slow tremulous movements. Curling smoke reaching into corners. The ashtray a boneyard of stubs. A girl, riding past the bungalow, lost control of the horse and was rocked up and down. Through the double glazing we heard gasps and shouts of panic. My grandmother couldn’t stop laughing. In fact she spent years laughing at random unfortunate things, before which she’d spent a tunnel of years crying without consolation. She liked watching the snooker. That was the only reason they bought a colour TV, my grandparents. So she could watch the snooker. Her hair was white as sea foam, like a fossil of sea foam. Yet she must have only been in her late fifties then. Sixty one when she died of “complications” following a pitiless sequence of strokes. Our bodies are double agents who betray us to death in the finish.  She was the first of the grandparents to die, and for a long time, through the portal of sleep she walked in my dreams as a blind ghost protesting that she wasn’t dead. 


She had grown up in silence. This is what dad told me. Her father inherited a sum of money, "a lot of money in them days", but then gave up his job and went on the drink. Five years later he’d lost it all.  They fell over into bare unfurnished poverty. No divorces then. Her mother, an Irish Catholic, swore never to speak to him again. Gradually, all her speech stopped, even to her five year old daughter. She would write notes, passed to her daughter, or via her daughter. "Tea on the table". "We need some more milk," “I’m off to bed”. In that cold war my grandmother lived out her moribund childhood. No brother or sister. A go-between in a mime of a marriage. Silence like deep water pressure filling each room and portal. And that silence she passed on I think, in genes or gesture, to my dad, who gave it to me.  


When I think of this story, the story of the notes, the silence, the inheritance, details are missing like in a work of fiction. I can’t ask dad about it now. I can’t ask him, for example, where his grandfather inherited the money from, where they lived, if the house still stands, if she spoke about it to dad directly or whether, as i suspect, my granddad told him. A piece of the past beyond sight of land, bodiless and adrift in the unverifiable dark. Similarly the story about my granddad docking the tail of a dog in the garage with a hammer and chisel, the dog running off yelping down the road and never been seen again. Have I remembered it right? There's no way to know, there’s no one to ask. I should have voiced all these questions when he was alive, my dad. The past, unless recorded, what is it? Tail-lights from another world, dead stars destined for myth or oblivion, or maybe just self-serving stories.

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