As The Sky Drains
When I was younger I asked my Grandma what love was. After a moment’s thought, she said “it’s that thing that makes you feel warm at the end of a really bad day.”
I stayed with my Grandma for prolonged periods in my childhood, which I always enjoyed. She always made sure to have the food I liked in the house, even when I was all grown up.
There would invariably be a jar of crunchy peanut butter in the cupboard, that she would get down at tea time.
We would put it on toasted brown bread, with a thick spread of butter two, and then sit side by side at the table in silence, enjoying the creamy, crunchy saltiness.
She would take naps in the afternoon, as people are prone to when they reach a certain age. I thought the idea was funny and asked if I could join her one day.
I remember wriggling about and giggling a lot, as my Grandma lay there quietly with her eyes closed. I don’t know how long I stayed, but I feel I must have gotten bored and left eventually.
One evening she slapped me, quite hard. Well, hard enough for me to remember. I had been left alone in the bathroom, while the bath ran and she went downstairs to answer the phone.
I had been in high spirits and, I imagine, behaving in quite an unruly fashion. I found a tube of toothpaste and found it immensely satisfying to squirt it all on the floor.
When she returned, I was standing in the middle of the bathroom, with thick paste smeared all over the walls.
She struck me, and said firmly, “that is not how we behave.” I must have felt very bad about my behaviour, because apparently I kept saying to her, for a while afterwards, “I’m better now.”
It was an anecdote I enjoyed bringing up whenever there were people over and after we had all had a bit to drink, teasing her for being a bad Grandma.
Grandma would laugh in a shocked fashion, and say “I can’t believe you still remember that, my goodness I feel awful.”
There were many ceramic cow creamers at her house. My grandfather had been a lecturer, and one year a student had given him one as a present.
For some reason, I never found out why, my grandparents had found it charming and endeavoured to buy one any time they went somewhere new.
There were hundreds of them all over the house, taking up unexpected places on shelves and on top of dressers.
A babysitter once asked her about them, and she told him the story, laughing at the end and saying:
“It’s funny, you’re married to someone for so long, you see them go through all sorts of phases, like collecting cow creamers, then not collecting cow creamers.”
I laughed at this at the time, but that was just because the two of them were laughing.
At Christmas, we would watch The Nutcracker. Her dog, Mungo, who was always sitting on the sofa, would usually sit next to me whilst I stroked him.
“Mungo loves the ballet,” she would say with a wry smile, always stressing the word love. I giggled whenever she said this, because Mungo seemed to love everything.
She took an interest in philosophy and was never afraid to state her thoughts on any issue. When I got older I used to get quite heated in our political conversations.
I can still picture her, sitting at the end of the table, smiling and saying whenever the conversation had wound me up, “you remind me of myself when I was your age.”
When I became interested in film, she would sit and watch whichever film I had selected; together we would watch some fairly experimental stuff from Terrence Malick and Sofia Coppola.
I was usually left with the feeling that my Grandma understood them better than me as she brushed tears away from her eyes at the end.
She wrote a book when she was much older. I didn’t come to the launch party because I was working in France.
I feel guilty about that to this day; I know how much effort she had put into that book and what the launch party meant to her.
But whenever I brought it up, she would simply say that she was pleased I personally took the time to tell her that I wouldn’t be able to come, and that I had similarly important things to think about.
And when she died, I was sitting at a cafe in a small square in Paris, enjoying the shade cast by a large poplar tree and the sweet refreshing relief of a small beer.
The sun slid languidly down the sky, casting long shadows across the dust brushed cobbles as the day’s sweat cooled on my skin.
I noticed an old couple, in their eighties at least, Americans, who had taken a small table across the square from me, sitting side by side, just within earshot.
They hardly spoke to one another, aside from making general, small observations.
“It’s very hot today.”
“It was so busy in the Marie.”
“It really was.”
All the while they smiled, whether looking at each other or something else. And when the waiter came they ordered a carafe of Sancerre in flawless French.
And there they sat, not talking, taking small sips from their glasses as the sun sank further down behind the rooftops, and the sky drained away from blue, to purple, to black.