Memories of my grandfather
The summer came to an end, and so did my grandfather. He was old. He was sick. It was still a shock. The yawn of time opened up around me. There was no escaping it. He was gone, and he wasn’t coming back. I kept repeating that to myself, in little whimpers. My brain refused to process it. I’d never felt emotion like it, like a hammer-blow to the chest, a sickening ache. I didn’t want to feel like this. I stopped in the car park, and clutched my chest.
‘My heart hurts.’ I told my husband.
The funeral was surreal. His coffin was there. It was a plain, brown wooden box. It seemed small. He should have had a flag, like a war hero. He should have had trumpets, or flowers. They played his song, I heard his voice. I still hear it now, in my head, throaty and rasping. He was always making jokes. I went back after everyone had left, I wanted to see his coffin one last time, before it was reduced to dust and ashes. I wanted to pry it open, and see him one last time, but the lid was nailed tightly shut.
I remember going to the White Elephant, a restaurant on the Thames. Like my grandfather, it was big in the 80s. I filched smoked salmon from the buffet, and sat under the pink-clothed tables. I recall one Easter there, meeting my grandfather and his wife. They bought me a huge, white-chocolate duck from Marks & Spencer. I ran my hands over the green box in the back of the BMW, scarcely able to believe it.
I remember a trip to the zoo, and having a screaming tantrum, and dropping popcorn everywhere. I remember my grandfather laughing. He’s wearing a black turtleneck. He looks like a Jewish Steve Jobs.
I go to see Grease on stage. I’m wearing a black fur coat. I go with my grandfather backstage to meet the actor playing the lead. My grandfather seems to know everyone. My six-year- old self is appalled at how hairy the actor’s legs are.
I’m in my grandfather’s old flat. It has a sunken living room. My sister and I perch on the step. My grandfather has a bunch of egg-shaped keyrings, a souvenir from a trip abroad somewhere. The souvenirs wind up and move, trees and gorillas bob up and down. My sister and I are enthralled.
I’m older now. It’s my thirteenth birthday. I’ve misplaced my glasses and everything is a blur. My mother has spent the day snapping at me to cheer up. After lunch, we walk in Hyde Park, it’s misty. My grandfather walks with me. He tells me everything will be okay.
I’m older still, in the passenger seat of my grandfather’s ancient BMW. He swears under his breath as he drives. My teenage self is shocked by his language. In the Chinese restaurant, waiting for our order, he has a whiskey, and laments my mother’s taste in men.
‘He couldn’t fit under this table in a top hat and heels.’ He scoffs.
I don’t point out that my grandfather is not much taller.
I take my dog for a walk in Hyde Park, and testing out my new wellingtons, I slip and fall into the water. A kind Australian man rushes to my aid. I am mortified. I turn up at my grandfather’s doorstep smelling of pond. His wife seems put-out by my sudden appearance but my grandfather is warm, and welcoming. He dances with the dog.
It’s summer and there’s a heat wave. My grandfather can barely walk. He grumbles to himself.
‘Look at the state of me.’
I push him in his wheelchair. He tells people to watch out. His brain is glazed over, child-like, but every so often he comes back, and it’s him again, my grandfather.
He died two months later.