Pilgrims

Dear Grandma

We’re sitting in your brother’s lounge room in Wakefield. He’s perched on a wooden chest in the corner of the room, because between the four of us and his boisterous staffy Hector, there is no space left on the sofas and chairs.

We can hear Marcia bustling around the kitchen preparing dinner. It’s 11.30am.

I can’t take my eyes off Ken. You’re twins, but he’s so much taller than you. You were always tanned and sun kissed, but his face is waxen and pale.

He has a mole on his right cheek, in exactly the same place as you did. I remember I painted a portrait of you in primary school and stressed over where to draw it or how big to make it. I called it your beauty spot.

His presence is gentler than yours was, unhurried. I wonder if he has mood swings like you did? Does he hate waiting?

He stands up to scold Hector, who has plonked himself on Mum’s lap.

Then he leans on his stick and reaches towards the ground, trying to pick at a spot on the carpet. It’s just like you used to do Grandma, when you saw some fluff or crumb on the ground.

Dad is making small talk. Ken stares off in the distance when nothing is being said. I wonder what he is thinking, if he’s thinking. Does he seem nervous? You were never nervous.

His pale face splits into a smile, he chuckles, his eye twitches. It’s all familiar.

How did you become estranged from this man, Grandma?

Marcia calls us in for lunch. There’s a mammoth spread of ham, tomatoes and iceberg lettuce, all your favourites. And then pizza and pickles and chips. I find myself fussing over your brother like I used to fuss over you. You see, Ken struggles getting in and out of chairs; so I leap up and around, pouring tea and passing cakes. It feels like slipping into an old mold.

He asks for someone to please pass the biscuits and I stifle a laugh watching his eyes light up as his hand closes in on a dusted jam ring. He looks at me and shrugs with feigned guilt, and I hear you say, “Naice,” as he puts it into his mouth.

We hug them goodbye. You were never good at emotional goodbyes. They were often matter-of-fact, which I knew to be sadness or affection poorly disguised under Yorkshire stoicism. So I’m surprised when your brother wraps us all tightly in his skinny arms, making me feel suspended – just for a moment – in time.

You didn’t ask us to come and see your brother. Did you think we would, when you asked to be brought back to England?

I should tell you – we threw you into a river in the Dales, Grandma. The Dales are just as pretty as you said they were; green rolling hills, rocky escarpments, fluffy white sheep and crumbling stone villages.

You would have liked the spot we chose. Dad thought so.

We’re standing on a mossy, stone bridge that arches over the River Skirfare. The bell tower of a fifteenth century chapel is poking out of the lichen covered trees on one bank, and there’s a low-slung farmhouse on the other. Tendrils of mist and a pale blue frost linger on the hills in the distance. It’s very quiet except for the trickling of the river and the occasional mewing of a lamb.

Dad pries the lid of your box off with our room key and we all lean over the mossy stone and watch as he pours the last of you into the clear water below.

A ten pound-pom, just made the return journey and now forever floating through your beloved Yorkshire.

Much love to you Grandma, wherever you may be now,

Jess

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