Grandma’s House

by Jess Doyle

We had to get two different trains and then a bus and then we walked along a shingly beach for ages. The stones hurt my tired feet through my trainers. It was nearly dark when we got to Grandma’s house. Mum let us in without knocking and Grandma was in the kitchen. I hadn’t known about Grandma. The first time she was even mentioned was when Mum told me we were going to Grandma’s house.

She was tiny. Maybe as small as me but it was difficult to tell because she was hunched up in her rocking chair. She seemed ancient and had wisps of white hair on her head and her chin. Her eyes were sharp, though. They were small and black like a bird’s. Her dress was black too and so was the woolen shawl around her shoulders. I thought she looked like an elderly crow.

The cottage was old. The walls and floor were stone, no wallpaper and no carpet. It was colder in the cottage then it was outside. I don’t think that there was any electricity because all the light came from black candles that stood in clusters in every corner. I was hungry so Mum said she’d find some food. She could only find porridge so she made it with water and salt in the big cauldron. I’d never seen a cauldron before, it was huge and took up most of the kitchen. Mum had to use one of the candles to light a fire underneath it. I’d never had porridge with salt and I thought it tasted like the cottage smelled, a bit like the sea. I wasn’t sure I liked it, but I was hungry so I ate it anyway.

There was no bedroom, Grandma slept in the rocking chair. I slept in an armchair and Mum slept on the floor next to me. It was hard to sleep, there were no curtains and the moon was bigger and brighter then I’d ever seen it. The sea sounded angry all night and the gull’s screeches sounded like women’s screams. A big black cat jumped on me too.

Grandma stared at me a lot with her sharp, black eyes and she asked loads of questions about me and my Dad. Mum told her to stop it and she told me to go and play outside. I didn’t go far, I mostly just stared at the waves and filled my pockets with stones. I saw two other people. They were both walking their dogs. One was far away but I could tell they were tall and wearing a long, white dress. Their dog was small and white. There was something elegant, cat-like about the way they moved. I watched for a long time before I realised that the dog was actually a white fox. The other person was a portly man dressed in green. His dog was big and brown with a leering smile. I thought it might be a hyena.

When I went back inside, Mum and Grandma weren’t talking. Mum made more porridge in the cauldron but this time she’d found a jar of honey to flavour it so it was much nicer. She let me stir it. I stood on a box and used a huge ladle until Grandma laughed and mum made me stop.

The cat sat on Grandma’s lap and purred while she stroked it with withered hands. It looked enormous on her lap, I thought it might squash her. I asked the cat’s name and Grandma said ‘Morgan,’ I asked if it was a boy or a girl because I didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl’s name. My Grandma thought for a moment and said ‘Morgan used to be a girl.’

I asked ‘Does that mean it’s a boy?’

And she said ‘No.’

Mum and I sat on the kitchen floor to eat our porridge and my bum got really cold. I told Mum and Grandma that the beach was quiet except for two people walking dogs. I showed them the stones I’d collected. One had a hole through it and Mum took it away. She put it in a kitchen cupboard and didn’t say why. Grandma laughed so hard she almost choked.

‘Let her look through it,’ she said. ‘She might like the other side.’

Mum wouldn’t talk about it. She said we were going to leave in the morning. I was glad because I was bored and I missed Dad.

It was difficult to sleep again and Morgan kept jumping on me. Mum said ‘maybe she usually sleeps on the armchair.’

I said ‘Grandma says she’s not a girl.’ And mum didn’t say anything.

We left early. While mum packed our bags, she said ‘you can say goodbye to Grandma if you want. I already have.’ But I don’t think she had.

Grandma was in her rocking chair and she put a finger to her lips like she was going to tell me a secret. She winked a beady, black eye. Then she slipped something into my hand. It was the stone with the hole through it. She whispered ‘put it in your pocket and don’t let your Mum see.’

On the bus and the two trains I kept putting my hand in my pocket to touch the stone. It was smooth and I liked slipping my finger into the hole. I liked having a secret. I kept thinking about what Grandma had said: ‘Let her look through it. She might like the other side.’ I didn’t know what it meant but I knew how to find out. When Mum fell asleep on the second train, I took the stone from my pocket. I held it up to my eye. And then I saw my Mum.

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