Tag Archives: Saving Grace

‘Saving Grace’ Part 2 by Holly Gibson (FreeSpace #3)

9 Dec

Suitcase

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Saving Grace – Part 2

by Holly Gibson

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Granddad always seemed sad to me, he had a picture from his wedding day on the little shelf above his bed. I never met my grandmother; she disappeared years ago – went to buy some bread one day and never came back, vanished just like that. That was just before Mum left. Mum and Doreen argued for years, they still do now after a few drinks.

I put the boxes back under the bed and went to open the curtains. I could see from the window that Doreen had gone outside to talk to Mum, they were arguing again. I went back downstairs and into the kitchen to get another drink. Sam was still cornered and looked over at me pleading to be rescued. I ignored him, poured a large gin and went back to talk to Gladys. I had Granddad’s photo album with me; I thought it might trigger her memory.

Gladys was still slumped in her chair but somebody had given her a sherry and she was sipping it. I pulled a chair over and sat next to her. She turned to me and recognising me or so it seemed, gave me a smile and raised her glass. I opened the photo album, on the first page there was a photo of a large family. I held it in front of Gladys and asked her if she knew who they all were. She looked surprised and happy at the same time. After a while she pointed at a little girl aged around ten, “That’s me,” she said, then she pointed out her mother and father. There were eight children on the photo, four girls, three boys and a baby. Gladys wasn’t the oldest she said, pointing out Elizabeth who was three years older than she, but had died when she was twenty. Mary and Margaret, twins and the youngest of the girls, Mary died when she was just eleven and Margaret entered a convent. I couldn’t believe the change in Gladys, she was almost animated. I asked about the boys, the oldest Samuel had emigrated to Canada and they never heard from him again. William had got in trouble with the police and had ‘moved’ to Australia and Graham she said was out in the garden. I asked about Granddad, she pointed to her father. I said no, and pointed to the baby, “Your father,” she said, tracing the outline with her finger. Her smile faded and once again she glazed over. Great I thought, she thinks I’m my mother.

I left the album with Gladys and went outside to see if Dad had turned up yet. He hadn’t. Mum was talking to an old man.

“You must be Graham,” I said. Mum glared at me. “Gladys just told me.”

“No, I’m Gordon, Graham’s son,” he said.

I blushed. Mum looked smug.

“Well, I suppose that makes some sense, seeing as she told me Granddad was my dad,” I said, “she must think I’m you.” I said turning to Mum. I knew this would wind her up but the look on her face made me feel really bad. Why couldn’t I just hold my tongue for one day?

Doreen pushed past me, put her arm around Mum and led her back inside. I felt like everyone was watching me, waiting to see who I would upset next. Gordon made his excuses, said it was good to finally meet his father’s side of the family and asked me to pass on his goodbyes. He couldn’t get away quick enough.

I needed an ally so I went back into the kitchen. Sam looked relieved. I whispered in his captor’s ear, she looked embarrassed and without a word to either of us went outside and lit a cigarette.

“About bloody time,” he said, “what did you say?”

“I told her you were gay.”

Sam did not look impressed.

“Do you know all of these people?” I asked him.

“Some,” he replied, “The two blokes out on the patio were in the army with Granddad, they still drink down the club. I’ve no idea who they are.” he said nodding towards a small of group of people who were loitering near the buffet. “There was an old woman at the church who I couldn’t place but I don’t think she’s come to the house, not seen her anyway. You know Gladys, and one of Granddad’s brothers was here apparently but I can’t see him.”

“No, it was his son. I think Gladys was just confused,” I said, “he’s just left.”

“Gladys is a cracker,” he said, “told me some right stories in the church, did you know we have a great uncle who owns half of Adelaide?”

“No we don’t,” I said, “he was arrested and sent to Australia.”

“Who told you that? Your mum?” Sam asked.

“No, she never tells me anything,” I said, “I don’t know anyone here.”

“You knew Granddad,” he said, putting an arm round my shoulders.

I told him about the photos and all the junk in Granddad’s room, he said he wanted to have a look so we got some more drinks and crept upstairs.

“Do you miss him?” I asked.

“To be honest, not really,” he said, “what’s to miss, he spent most of his time in this room when I lived here and I’ve not been back as often as I should have.”

I sat on Granddad’s bed. I could see myself in the mirror on the opposite wall.

“Do you think I look like my mum?” I asked.

“Not really,” he replied, “why?”

“Gladys thought I was her earlier,” I said, “People have thought we were sisters before, but I always thought that was just because Mum had me young.”

Sam was trying to get an old suitcase down from the top of the wardrobe. I took down the photograph from the little shelf above the bed. The silver frame was tarnished and it was really dusty. I cleaned the glass and saw that the picture was yellowing and fading at the edges. Granddad looked really young; he had a lot of dark hair. Like me. My Grandmother looked so small next to him, her dress was very modest, a veil covered most of her fair hair and she had no bouquet. I showed the picture to Sam.

“My mum looks like her mum,” I said.

“I suppose,” Sam said. “Give us a hand with this case,” he said.

“I don’t look like her at all,” I said. I didn’t move from the bed.

“Gladys was probably confused,” he said, “there were a lot of people here today, a lot of names for her to remember.”

“No, she didn’t get my name wrong,” I said, “She said Granddad was my dad.”

“So, you don’t look like your mum. I don’t look like mine either,” he said.

“No, you look like your dad. I don’t,” I said, “I don’t look like either of them.”

“Look, you’re probably right,” Sam said, “Gladys is losing her marbles. Like you said, she’s confused.”

Sam had finally got the suitcase down, it was locked.

“Then how did she remember everything else?” I asked.

Sam didn’t answer me. He looked annoyed. He thumped at the top of the suitcase above the locks.

“Maybe it’s full of Granddad’s secrets,” I said, “There must be a key in here somewhere.”

Sam looked at me, “Maybe we should leave it be.”

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You can find out more about Holly and her work below: 

http://hollygibson.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/mshollygibson

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 *In case you missed Part 1 of ‘Saving Grace’ you can find it here.

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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 (encouraged) or self expression. If you’re interested in FreeSpace do get in touch via the reply box on this post or the contact form on the What’s On page. 

‘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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