[Owner of the Chinese Chippy, known as Lee - a very minor, unseen character in the ‘Sturgess Café’ story - has an assistant. An 18 year-old student, Gloria. Her granddad died when she was six. Here’s Gloria’s story]
When Grandad died, there were 32 people in our front room. I know that because it’s the highest number that I could count to back then.
Mum didn’t ever let me eat without a plate in the front room, she was so worried about crumbs. But Aunty Kellie dropped half a pie on the floor and her husband Brad, from America (that’s how everyone referred to him) trod it in.
“Christ, Brad!” said Aunty Kellie, “can’t you watch where you’re stepping?”
“Hey, take it easy will ya,” said Brad, in a high-pitched whining voice, “you dropped the Goddamn thing!”
I could see Mum waving her hands, dismissing the squashed pie as if it didn’t matter. She was trying to keep things under control.
“Tense,” that’s what I heard Dad say to his friend Michael, the one who was restoring a rusty Cortina, “everybody’s a bit strung-out today.” Michael nodded, jangling his Cortina keys in time with each nod.
The day before he died, Grandad had been arguing with the TV man.
“When I turn on Channel 4 racing,” he said, juggling an unlit roll-up in his lips, “it’s a fuzzy picture. Like being up the Brighton course during a sea fret.”
“There’s nothing wrong with it, mate,” said the TV man.
“You bloody what!” said Grandad. And so it went on, “Bloody Japanese…”
Mum told me that Grandad had cataracts. That’s why he squashed Kipper the budgie when he hopped out of his cage onto the carpet. Couldn’t see him. I was so upset because I saw Kippers crushed head attached by a sinew of bird brain to Grandad’s slippers.
A freezing mist fell as we drove to the cemetery, the chill felt worse as we were driving so slowly. Why do hearses go so slow? It’s not as if the person who’s party it is would care.
And as we walked behind the coffin, fresh and shining wood, I imagined Grandad lying in there, looking the way he used to when he stayed over at our place and couldn’t be bothered to get up before we went to school (my brother) and nursery (me). But this time he wouldn’t be snoring.
He collapsed the morning after the TV man came. Brad, from America was the only person in the house. Brad, from America saw him on the patio window. Grandad had been mowing the lawn using a big, heavy petrol mower, his pride and joy – totally against the advice of Dr Akeel.
Brad, from America called 911. Yes, he got it wrong. Tried several times before abandoning the call altogether and pulling Grandad into his car.
Grandad died on the way to hospital. The Doctor in Casualty said he might have survived if the paramedics had treated him in the garden.
That’s why things had been so tense in the house on the day of the funeral.
Brad, from America didn’t know that 999 existed. He’d only been in the country for a few days.
When they put Grandad in the ground that dull day, the sun came out. Just once. The rays through the gloom kind of cuddled me, put they’re warm ‘arms’ round me.
I’m sure that it was Grandad. His spirit shining down. Then I remembered the last time I saw him, waving good bye through the kitchen window. We didn’t speak that day.