It’s the deaf folk that are the worst. They either can’t, or won’t hear anything you say. The most you’ll get out of them if you try talking is …
‘I said I have to be going, Granddad. I have a plane to catch.’
‘Ha ha ha. You’re funny. You really are, Harold.’ He flung his head so far back when he laughed that I literally thought his neck’d snap and his head would go rolling across the TV lounge of Rosedale Mount (warm and welcoming home, with luxurious social spaces). Luckily, it didn’t.
‘Hamish,’ I quietly corrected. Harold was my Dad. Easy mistake. We looked like each other if you squinted.
Granddad’s teeth fell out when he laughed. I don’t mean all the way out. Just to the bottom of his mouth. But it looked weird, like one of those people with really long gums that you see on TV just before thinking ‘how do they ever want to smile that much?!’
I had no idea why he was laughing but I didn’t have to because I knew him; and I really did have to go. The plane wasn’t going to be leaving for another three hours and I was only thirty minutes away from airport, but you know what they’re like at the check-in desk. It’s, like, you can literally see the plane on the other side of the window with the steps attached and you can see people walking up the steps, but they’re all, like ‘yeah, Mr Jenkins, you’re too late. You’ll have to catch the next flight.’ Useless to argue. Especially if you’re built like a brick shithouse like what I am. If I so much as sneeze too loud their eyes snap open and you can just tell they’re seriously thinking about reaching for that button to call security.
‘You’d want to go too if you were here.’ He said once he’d finished laughing and his face had fallen back into morose.
For once I knew what he meant. Care homes aren’t bad these days if you still have something about you. But Granddad had lost it. All of it. He couldn’t walk and his marbles were all over the place. I’d just sat for two hours and listened to him repeat his usual stories and I was amazed at how much he remembered. But, frick it was scattered. Listening to him was like finding a toe growing out of your armpit. Bits of him were in Shropshire, where he grew up; pieces on Moonbase Alpha, which was his favourite show on the box; then parts of him in the Yorkshire Dales where he did his labouring; but most of him was in the twilight zone, where he lived now. His mind was proper shot.
I got up and looked around to see if one of the attendants was hovering and could distract Granddad for a bit while I slipped away. Yeah, I know; cruel. But I’d been here before. Every Sunday in fact. This could turn into the longest goodbye ever if I didn’t get a grip. But instead, surprisingly, it was him that gripped me with a claw-like hand that didn’t look like it should have been capable.
He used to be a real hard-man. I’d inherited all his size, but none of the fury he used to have. The fury he turned on my gran when he’d had a drink. Yeah, I know; that old stereotype. But it happens. And when it does, it’s always the kids that suffer too. And that meant my dad. And guess what Dad was like? Yeah, same. I’d tried to forgive him. Tried to forgive them all, but it wasn’t easy when none of them ever showed any sign of regretting the beatings that we all had to hide. Cause you never told anyone. That was the first and last rule. But then, when Gran had died, it all suddenly changed. Granddad slipped away inside himself and never came back out; so that was that.
‘Harold, Hamish, he shook his head, ‘who give a shit? Just listen.’ His eyes were sharp for once and all his attention was on my face. He pulled me towards him, so close I could smell lunch. ‘Listen,’ he insisted quietly.
This was it, I thought. He was going to apologise for all the shit he’d brought down on the family. He was finally going to come clean and admit it all. I held my breath.
‘My dad was hard to be around.’
He nodded, searching my face for a sign that I’d understood. But I didn’t. Not then. It wasn’t until I got back home a week later and saw that family photo on the wall – four generations of Jenkins, with me nothing more than a grinning toddler – that I got it. But by then the phone had rang and the news had come and, just like that, it was too late.