Grandmother always hogged the bathroom.
When I woke, dying for a piss, she was there
before me. She’d take hours, as I bust my guts.
Sometimes she left the door ajar, it was gross.
The smell of old people disgusted me. Maybe if
she’d had some grandmotherly feelings, I could
have overlooked these things. Grandmother had
usurped my place at the breakfast table. I couldn’t
help thinking she was a ghastly crone. As she ate,
a hideous mole bumped up and down on her chin.
I was fascinated by the hair that sprouted from its
centre. As I chewed on my breakfast sausage, I
caught my Mother’s eyes lingering over the old
lady. It was a hostile glance. Even my mild Mother
After this, Grandmother came to stay. She wore
widow’s weeds and spoke no words. Father and
her sat with their long severe faces, corrupting
the air. The gloom even affected Mother. When
we had dinner, our cutlery clanked loudly, and I
could hear Grandmother’s false teeth chewing on
the gristle. Mother was a terrible cook. I would
quickly finish my food, and rush upstairs. Father
insisted that I ask to be excused. I said my bit
rapidly, and disappeared into my room. My head
spun with ideas for a new play. I opened my ledger
and scrawled down the words. I was safe here,
away from the horrible ghouls.
Grandfather died. I hadn’t really known him.
He was on Father’s side. We’d rarely seen him
in life. A slew of Grandfather’s belongings came
to our house. Father decided to store these things
in my attic loft. I didn’t like the idea of dead man’s
stuff haunting my room. There was a huge
collection of long-playing records from another
era. It was all serious classical music. The names
on the labels were foreign and pretentious. I
thought about smashing these records in their
dusty cream sleeves. But Father would have
bashed me, so I shut my eyes, to expunge the
ghosts. Finally I cast a white bedsheet over
Grandfather’s items. Dust soon collected. The
things, like the man, were forgotten.
We lived over the shop. Mother sold premium
balls of wool to enthusiastic old ladies. Business
was booming. I lived up many flights of stairs,
high in the attic. Our lounge was on the first level,
the kitchen inconveniently up the next staircase.
Then came my parents’ bedroom, and finally me,
perched high in my eyrie. My room overlooked the
shopkeepers’ garages and the back of the primary
school. I never played outside, having no siblings
or friends. Instead I collected books, and read. I
also wrote plays, which I performed alone, writing
my scripts in spare ledger books Mother didn’t
want. I was happy. Especially when Father was
away at work, performing some mysterious toil
that brought him very little money. At dinner he’d
chide me for eating too much. I put my head down,
forking up bird-sized morsels, feeling guilty. Mother
winked at me, then I went to my room. It was a
safe haven. Father would rarely ascend the
staircase. I liked it that way.
For a moment, let me veer off the topic of Father.
To introduce my dear Mother. Who was a big
brown marsupial of a woman. Always even-
tempered, impervious to stress. Even the
obnoxious hectoring of my Father left her
unbruised. She tried to protect me. I was the
only child. Mother was a die-hard smoker.
Father called it a toxic habit, of which she
should be heartily ashamed. This couldn’t
distract her. Mother always had a hacking
cough. She smelt like a terrible chimney.
The throat cancer came much later. For
now, she co-existed with Father and saved
me from blows. It was her special gift. Now
let me tell you something about our home.
Father had the urge to conquer every hill and
summit in our local vicinity. He’d drag us up
mountains in pouring rain, or when the sun had
crisped every bush to a brittle brown. I could
sometimes be courageous. I would even dare
to complain. This would solicit one of Father’s
most withering looks, which expressed how
profoundly disappointed he was that I was born
into this world. My Father had the skill to belittle
even the most resilient soul. It was hard to live up
to his exacting demands. Now he is dead, I wish
I’d been the son to satisfy these expectations.
But that is another story. Which I shall now tell.
Blurry vision. Shouting headache. His face
became clearer. The room I knew. I just couldn’t
place things, like I was hungover or totally
disorientated. I had no notion how I’d got here.
The last few hours were an impossible jigsaw.
Through the fog I could see the familiar face
smiling at me. The bookshelves behind his head
were laden with heavy volumes. Something I knew
lay untidily on his desk. It was a stethoscope.
The man was calling me by my name. I was
Natalie. He was Dr Strong.
It was wanton destruction. Eddie blanched,
then he began to tremble. I felt like a complete
bitch. I wouldn’t insult Eddie with banalities about
remaining firm friends. It could see he was
crushed. I’d led him by the nose and accepted
all his gentle attentions. Eddie stood and patted
his trouser pockets. He looked a hundred years
old. He cleared his throat and bid me farewell.
I would be absolutely alone now. There was still
time to recant and hug Eddie desperately.
Instead I stayed silent, and watched him
prepare to leave. Goodbye Natalie, Eddie said
simply, gently closing the door. I stood blinking
in the hallway, the gravity of my complete isolation
sinking into my soul.
It was wearing, having Eddie constantly by my
side. I felt like suggesting he return back home
for a while. That, however, would show ingratitude.
Instead I let him cook for me. Eddie prepared
simple meals which needed more seasoning.
I said nothing. There could be no question that
Eddie was head-over-heels with me. I felt so guilty.
Unforgivably, I was leading him on. I simply had
to admit that I didn’t love him. Our situation was
untenable. It must cease.
Eddie lived in a crummy boarding house in
Elephant and Castle. We could pool our resources,
he urged, and get something pretty nice together.
I wasn’t ready to move in with him. Eddie knew
about my comparative wealth. He was no
freeloader. Nevertheless things were moving too
fast. One kiss didn’t mean matrimony. I was
grateful to Eddie. I didn’t love him. Eddie grew
tetchy and morose. He promised he wanted to
help me. I knew this was true. Let’s take things
gradually, I said, lying. I couldn’t lose my only