Thursday, 11 October 2012


This story appeared first in Orbis 159 and appears to have been enjoyed by several readers, so here it is, be-blogged.

Nine Years

She was the daughter of a friend of mine, and we found ourselves standing together at a book launch in an art gallery in the currently fashionable part of town. I’d taken a cursory look at the art, and I wasn’t really interested in the book (something about Rothko?), simply biding time until my friend finished networking. We were going out for supper later.
His daughter looked as bored as I felt; somehow we’d gravitated towards the same non-place by a door marked ‘Private’.
 ‘Well,’ I said, with a sigh, as though it was the obvious thing to say. It turned out it was.
 ‘Yeah, exactly.’
Late teens, with bobbed dark hair, she wore red canvas shoes, blue jeans and a vaguely ethnic-looking scarf on top of a fibrous brown sweater.
 ‘A bit dull,’ I said.
 ‘Tedious garbage,’ she said. That seemed to deserve a response, but all I managed was ‘yep’.
For half a minute or so we stood in silence, watching proceedings.
 ‘Are you coming to supper with us?’ I asked eventually.
 ‘No. Just wanted to see Dad for five minutes.’
 ‘I saw you arrive with a big bag – have you been somewhere?’
 ‘Germany. Burying my grandmother’
 ‘I see. But your father didn’t go?’
 ‘Obviously not. He never had much time for Mum’s side of the family. Or Mum for that matter.’
 I let that pass. I didn’t like her much myself.
 ‘Was your mother upset? Were you? I mean, did you like your grandmother? Were you close?’
 ‘My mother is upset because she suddenly feels free, and she feels bad about suddenly feeling free.’
 ‘She looked after her for nine years.’
 ‘That’s a long time.’
 ‘Grandmother’s revenge.’
 ‘I don’t follow’. I grabbed a glass of Valpolicella off a passing tray, and offered it to the girl. She shook her head.
 ‘Rachel, isn’t it?’
 ‘Yeah. Anyway, the thing is, my mother spent a lot of her life trying to escape from my grandmother.’
 ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
Rachel hadn’t looked me in the eye yet. She had been looking around the room, her tone dispassionate, the story told as though with a shrug, as though it didn’t matter – just information. Now she was looking at me.
 ‘My grandmother was a bitch.’
 ‘Sorry to hear that too. That’s why you didn’t like her?’
 ‘No.’ She left it that but I was curious now.
 ‘Was it something she did or said?’
 ‘Something she said. When I was about 12. She was already ill. I’d told her that I loved going to see her. I loved that she cooked for us and gave us toys and seemed to like, you know, go out of her way to please us. She said she hated doing it. And it wasn’t what she said that made me hate her, it was that I like couldn’t think of any way of answering. What was I going to say to that? I hated her from then on. I really hated her, you know?’
 ‘I can see that, yes’
 ‘Can you? I bet you can’t. Although, actually, most of my friends have a story like this.’
 ‘Do they?’
 ‘Everyone does.’
 ‘I don’t.’
 ‘Aren’t you lucky then?’ That mild aggressiveness of youth can take you by surprise in the middle of an otherwise civilized conversation. I said I supposed I was.
 ‘Thing was, my grandfather was a mechanic on a boat…’
 ‘A naval mechanic?’
 ‘That’s what I said. He was away for months at a time, and so my grandmother made a lot of my mother. Sort of smothered her. And as soon as she could leave, my mother did, she came to England and became an artist and married Dad and everything, and so these last nine years have been like my grandmother's revenge.’
 ‘That seems a harsh way of looking at things. I mean, don’t you think your mother had a duty to your grandmother? To look after her?’
 Rachel looked at me with a curl of her lip as though she thought I was being stupid. Perhaps I was. Then her face relaxed.
 ‘They should have been my nine years’.
 And she walked away.

© copyright, Wynn Wheldon, 2012

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