Friday, January 6

The Face

My favourite grandmother died almost two years ago, and is also one of the greatest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. I miss her terribly; my mind certain that she is dead, but my body not yet sure. My surviving grandmother—and the only surviving grandparent—is quite the opposite. Before Christmas my father was coming to pick me up and, as customary due to how close I live to my grandmother, we would stop on the way back to visit her; not because she desired our company but because her new oven was playing up. There was anything wrong with the oven, but she is incompetent and unwilling to learn anything. My father helped her choose the oven, ensuring it was exactly what she wanted. Now he found himself solely responsible for any problem she had with it, including a minor chip it had suffered during install. ‘I dunno why you got involved,’ I told him—‘Aside from the whole mum thing.’ He agreed.
I was glad to be going back to my parents’ for Christmas, although I sat there in the car with the unshakeable suspicion I had forgotten something. I could not wait to see the rest of my family. All of their presents were wrapped, tagged and sat carefully in the boot. I looked forward to being out of the city; it was nice to escape the busy streets, the clotted air, the beautiful women. That morning I had arisen early to go for a walk before breakfast, to get a coffee from my favourite shop and bid everything farewell. Now I was ready for grey days by the sea.
When I walked in we kissed each other on the cheek and I asked how she was—‘Suffering!’ she said as she closed the door behind me.
‘Aren’t we all,’ I said, and rolled a cigarette.
As I went into the garden, she—
‘The shelf’s wonky!’
‘Mum, that’s straight.’
The shelf was indeed straight but I said nothing and smiled, as my father pulled the shelf out and put it in wonky, to which she said—
‘Now it’s straight!’
‘Mum! that’s wonky!’
I looked over the fences to the other gardens laid out in rows of thin green keys. Upon thin lines barely visible in the mist hung saggy laundry, pegged sparsely to wither coldly in the weak sun. Birdsong in the air like thimbles. From inside I could hear her moaning at my father about the oven and its chip.
We sat down for a cup of tea. The television set was on, playing popular films during the day as it was the holiday and too cold to go out and play. It was not a film I expected her to enjoy, but most likely she just liked the sound in the house. She cut a sad shape in her armchair, staring at the screen. It was quite clear she had a problem with her granddaughter and her new beau—‘They’re always out shopping. They were out in I—d yesterday and today they’ve gone to L—e.’ She made an expression with her lips that she only – and regularly – used to indicate acute distaste at any given situation, whether it was being ‘overcharged’ for electricity, roadworks outside her house, or a recent influx of foreigners from a made-up country: ‘Kosnia’. ‘And all he does is follow her around, carrying her bags, all her shopping!’ She made the face again, relaxing from it only to continue her complaint.
My father was getting into the film; admittedly we had walked in at the tail-end but it was nearing the climax.
‘Good on her! Let her make him work for it.’
‘Hmph.’ The face.
We all watched the television.
‘Young love’s grand,’ she said.
She was crying. You could hear it in the crackle of her voice. Her eyes watered. She cried silently. When she cried her head remained still but all of her body moved around it. That is how my father cries; he must have learned it from her.
As she dried her eyes—‘I get very sad at this time of year.’
I looked over again, the film didn’t interest me—‘Don’t worry, Nan, summer is coming. It was the solstice two days ago. The sun is returning!’

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