‘Saving Grace’ Part 1 by Holly Gibson (FreeSpace #2)

13 Nov

Benzaken_Carole-Dianas_Funeral_7

Saving Grace – Part 1

by Holly Gibson

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After the funeral we all went back to Auntie Doreen’s. Granddad had lived there for as long as I could remember and Doreen had prepared a nice spread, all laid out on her best crockery. Uncle Ted sat at the end of the table next to the sausage rolls, popping them into his mouth one after another and washing them down with Granddad’s best malt whiskey.

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Auntie Gladys – Granddad’s sister – had been allowed out of the home for the afternoon. Her nurse was busy talking to Sam – they went to the same gym apparently, while Gladys sat staring into space.

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“How are you, Gladys?” I tried. No reply. “It’s me, Grace – Audrey and Eric’s girl, you remember?”

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Nothing.

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She looked right through me, then a tear rolled down her cheek. I touched her hand lightly; the skin was almost see-through and felt delicate enough to disintegrate under my touch but she clutched my hand tightly – tighter than I expected from this frail old woman and then she spoke, so softly that I could barely hear her.

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“No.”

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It seemed like she wanted to say more but couldn’t get enough breath. She slumped back into the chair, knocking the tea cup and saucer from the arm. They crashed to the floor and summoned the attention of everyone in the room and of Doreen especially.

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“What happened, what have you said?” Doreen asked. “Gladys, it’s alright,” she said, patting Gladys’s arm, and then back to me, “don’t you upset her anymore.”

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“I didn’t say anything,” I protested, “she doesn’t even know who I am.”

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“Of course she does, we all do.” Doreen said looking up at me as she knelt on the floor picking up pieces of broken china. She gave me ‘the look’, the same as Mum’s. I’d seen it many times and I’d seen it flash between the two of them before as well.

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I don’t know why Doreen had insisted Gladys come, fair enough it was her brother’s funeral but they never saw each other and I’m sure she had no idea what was going on. They’d dressed her up in her nicest frock, a string of pearls and shocking pink lipstick which I’m not convinced was actually hers – it looked a lot like the lipstick chatting up Sam in the kitchen. Gladys just sat there, staring at the fireplace.

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Mum was in the garden talking to people I didn’t recognise. She was crying again. It was always the same; you’d think she was the only one affected by anything with the way she carried on.

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When I was nine I got really sick, I was in hospital for months. Mum and Dad practically lived there. Then the doctors said I needed a transplant. Mum cried every time she looked at me, I heard my Dad talking to one of the nurses, said she was crying all the time at home too. She was so dramatic. Mum and Dad were tested, but they didn’t match. The doctors said it was unlikely that more distant relatives would match but everyone wanted to try, even Granddad. Mum was having none of it, they hadn’t spoken for years and she wasn’t happy about him helping me out. Her pride was more important than me. She’d rather me die than put aside their differences. But obviously it didn’t come to that. Sam was a match and although Auntie Doreen wasn’t too happy about it he insisted he wanted to be the one to ‘save me’ as he put it, which was a big ask considering he was only ten at the time.

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I was clearly in Doreen’s way and I didn’t want to make small talk in the garden so I wandered round the house for a bit and went to sit in Granddad’s room. It smelt funny. Like him. Old Spice and tobacco. His room was small and cluttered, there were boxes crammed under his single bed and on top of his wardrobe. I pulled a few out and opened them up. Most of the boxes were full of old photographs and letters. I found one where the writing on the back wasn’t too faded and I could make out the names Joe, George and Harry and in the corner the date – 1942. Joe was my Granddad; the photo showed him and what I guessed was his friends. It looked like they were abroad somewhere. They all looked really young. Inside his wardrobe, amongst his musty old suits, I found a shoebox which contained a small leather photo album.

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At the side of the bed were his reading glasses, a book he hadn’t finished and his comb. I remembered the first time we’d come to visit. I’d been out of hospital for a while, Sam was as well as he’d ever been but he’d only had a few needles stuck in him anyway. My hair had grown back and I had more energy. Auntie Doreen had invited us over to celebrate Sam’s birthday. Sam and I had talked on the telephone a lot after the hospital and I missed him so I was glad to be going to visit. We had KFC, it was the first time I’d had it, and then Mum sat in the kitchen with Doreen while Dad and Ted went to the pub. Me and Sam were playing hide and seek. I counted to twenty and started looking for him – it was unfair really considering I’d never been to the house before and he knew all the best hiding places. I looked behind the curtains in the lounge, under the dining table, inside the pantry and the cupboard under the stairs. He was well hidden. I crept upstairs, listening for his giggle but all I could hear was a muffled cough. The door at the top of the stairs was slightly ajar. I poked my head round and saw my Granddad sat in his chair watching the horse racing. He looked happy to see me. Said I looked well. Said he had a gift for me. I looked for Sam, he wasn’t in there.

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I sat on the bed next to my Granddad; he took the comb from his top pocket and started to comb my hair. I hated it. My hair was down to my shoulders already and was always full of knots. Mum would hold the top of my hair when she brushed them out but Granddad just slid the comb straight down, pulling and dragging at the knots while I wailed and laughed. Mum must’ve heard me as she ran up the stairs, shouting and swearing over her shoulder at Doreen who was lingering on the bottom step.

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“You bloody liar.”

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Doreen said nothing but Mum carried on.

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“You promised.”

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She rushed in, grabbed me and carried me down the stairs.

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“It didn’t really hurt,” I said, but she didn’t listen.

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Doreen was still at the foot of the stairs with Sam hiding behind her. That was the first time I saw ‘the look’ and it was the most intense I’ve ever seen. Doreen looked away first. Mum didn’t say another word, she just got our stuff and we went to the car. We had to pick Dad up from the pub, Ted stayed on though.

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We didn’t see Granddad again after that, as a family anyway. We never really saw any of them. Mum was the black sheep I suppose. She left home at 16 and then I was born, she kept me secret from them for a few years from what I’ve been told. Sam knows more than me. Sam and I wrote to each other for a couple of years after that, Mum didn’t like me phoning the house and although we didn’t live that far away from each other we weren’t at the same school so I never saw him. Then when I was fourteen I bumped into him at the bus station in town, he was with some mates and I’d been shopping with my friend Lucy. I wasn’t sure if it was him at first, he’d gotten fat but he recognised me, shouted me over and told all his friends how he’d saved my life. It was funny to see him again, remembering how lame our letters were. He gave me his phone number in case Mum didn’t have it anymore and we arranged to meet the next Saturday.

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I saw a lot of Sam that summer; we’d hang around town with his mates or go to the pictures. I always told Mum I was going out with Lucy, she’d usually come along so I wasn’t lying. We went to his house a few times too, the first time because Auntie Doreen and Uncle Ted were on a daytrip. It was weird being back in that house, nothing had changed, not even the wallpaper. We watched a video and Sam made some cocktails from his dad’s drinks cabinet – they tasted horrible. I didn’t go up to Granddad’s room that day but the next time I did.

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http://hollygibson.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/mshollygibson

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You can read Part 2, the conclusion of ‘Saving Grace’, in Holly’s last FreeSpace* on Monday 9th December.

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*FreeSpace offers 3 post slots on ArtiPeeps to any creative or group. They can be taken in a cluster or over a period of months for showcasing, projects or self expression.

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One Response to “‘Saving Grace’ Part 1 by Holly Gibson (FreeSpace #2)”

  1. hollygibson November 17, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    Reblogged this on the story so far.

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