We had heard the name a few times, but had never put two and two together to make anything other than, well, to make anything. He had loved my grandma – Mum always said he’d worshipped her mother – so the idea of him even thinking about ‘moving on’ didn’t occur to any of us. Besides, if he were to ‘move on,’ what could they possibly do? I mean, Grandad was nearly eighty. Good for his age, mind, but still. There must come a time. Surely?
Then we stopped in to see him, just on the off-chance. Mum usually made sure to ring before she popped over, dragging us with her, because she said he was old and set in his ways since Grandma passed away and he wouldn’t like us turning up unannounced. But we were on our way out for the day and Mum just wanted to check that he had everything he needed before we headed off. Oh, and she wanted to pick up the road atlas she’d lent him the week before too. What he needed a map for was anybody’s guess. She had no idea. He wouldn’t want to go anywhere, after all.
So, Mum lets herself in, and we tag along. We will just say hello and then we’ll be off. He likes to see us, she reckons, although I can’t imagine why anyone would actually want to see my brother. Mum hurries through the narrow hall and into the kitchen at the back, pulling us along behind her. Grandad’s there, still in his dressing gown, making tea. Not one cup of tea, mind you, but two.
‘Oh, Dad’ says Mum. ‘We can’t stay for a cuppa. Not this morning.’ And then, head on one side, ‘I didn’t tell you we were coming, did I?’
Grandad smiles – which is odd because I’ve not really seen him do that for a while – and stirs another spoonful of sugar into the mug with the gold rim and the robin on the side.
Then, there she is. Standing in the doorway behind us. In her dressing gown.
Mum’s mouth starts up. Then stops. Then sort of dithers for a bit before finally shutting. Grandad grins, he actually grins – properly – and then passes her, the woman in the doorway in a dressing gown, the mug with the robin on the side. Mum bought him that set of garden birds mugs last Christmas, but she’s never seen him use them before. Said it was from us, but she’d chosen it and wrapped it up. I’d had to write the tag, though.
‘Love,’ says Grandad – and both my mum and the woman in the dressing gown turn towards him. ‘Love, this is Maureen. Maureen, love, this is my daughter, Susan. And this is Robbie. And Lucy.’
‘Hello, all of you.’ Her voice is friendly, and she’s smiling.
Silence. Mum can’t open her mouth. My idiot brother can though – ‘Way to go, Grandad’ – and then Mum shoves her elbow into his ribs. Grandad’s just standing there, grinning. He looks like I remember him from before, from when I was little. His eyes have gone all twinkly – I know, I know, that sounds so lame – and I realise that he’s not shaved yet this morning. He looks younger too, and taller which makes no sense at all. Mum, on the other hand, has turned the colour of her latest M&S jumper. She – Maureen – is smiling politely and sipping what must be scalding hot tea like it’s the most natural thing in the world to do – only she’s standing in my grandad’s kitchen first thing in the morning wearing a distinctly silky dressing gown and those slippers with no backs and fluffy bits over the toes.
‘Will you stay for a brew, love?’ asks Grandad, and Mum looks at him like he’s offered her a dead rat on a saucer. ‘There’s plenty in the pot. And there’s some biscuits in the tin. I think Maureen’s trying to fatten me up!’
‘No,’ squeaks my mum, then remembers herself. ‘No, thank you, Dad. P’raps not this morning.’ She’s still a funny colour and doesn’t seem to know what to do with her hands.
Maureen steps into the kitchen, places her cup on the counter – right next to Grandad’s – and puts her hand on his arm. He blushes, he actually blushes, and grins even more.
Mum bustles us out, shoving us down the hall, past the map book on the hall stand, and out of the door. She does manage a ‘nice to meet you’ over her shoulder, and a rather insincere, in my opinion, ‘another time’ through the barely-open car window.
I look out of the back window and see Grandad and – what was her name? – Maureen standing at the gate. Looks like they’re holding hands. He waves as Mum crunches the gears. They turn to walk back up the path and then – get this – he pats Maureen’s bum as she’s going in through the front door. He looks back at the street, grinning, before closing the door behind them both.
Way to go, Grandad.
Pippa has been teaching writing for more than 25 years. She has a PhD in English and has taught at colleges and universities in Canada and the USA, and at secondary school in the UK. Her short fiction has been published, most recently, in a Grindstone anthology and online in Virtual Zine.