Keep it in the Family

The polyester nightdress was far too big for the old lady. She’d done her hair, thin and white, in the same style as she’d been doing it since the 1930’s. She hadn’t put her make-up on but the rouge was now replaced by something else.

Their house smelled of coal fires, dust, and secret cigarettes. The furniture was dark,  fashionable when it was bought in the forties. He’d been an engineer at some place on the docks. She had been a jobbing seamstress and a mother – raising…, I don’t even remember how many kids, but my grandmother was one of them. The street where they had always lived in a council house on a corner of a main road, was featureless. It was almost destroyed by a German flying bomb in World War Two (the Sequel). It would have improved the place, but then that’s an evil thing to say. I guess I’m not able to empathise what that War was really like. That, or I don’t care. I hate to think it’s the latter. The doodlebugs flew, chugging along, chased by the RAF and raining grey death down with indifferent rage on anyone. Hitler wanted to frighten the people. He did a good job. They heard this one’s engine stall, the quiet, then felt the explosion. All of them survived. Some other family didn’t.

The two of them – I called them Nan and Pop – had moved through life into their eighties via decades of stable boredom. It showed. They tolerated each others company instead of cherishing it. They hardly spoke a word between themselves whenever I saw them. I always wondered what had gone wrong. Decades of drudging poverty, I suppose; and the powerful feeling of wasted time, unfulfilled dreams, and disaffection.

But they were getting old. He was sleeping downstairs, near the fire, she still made his breakfast each morning despite starting to forget his name, and mine, from time to time. I’d catch a look on her face when I said ‘Nan, I’m Ben.’ She was upset, but angry with herself too. I guess now you’d say she had early onset Dementia, but she definitely had depression. She was old, but she wasn’t stupid. She knew how to make it right and how to stop feeling so sad.

That night she crept downstairs in the early hours, drained a small glass of whiskey, and waited out on the pavement in her nightdress. Choosing her moment, she quickly stepped out. The truck wasn’t speeding, the driver never saw her coming.


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