This Means War

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Come On In! - Fic­tion Ed­i­tor, Gaynor This un­usual fam­ily story gave us lots to think about

Mum has a go at Gran­dad over the way he does things

Will Gran­dad be in one of his moods?” I asked from the back seat of the car. My dad had a late shift, so he couldn’t look af­ter me tonight. My brother had de­cided to visit a friend and Mum would soon be off ‘gal­li­vant­ing’, as my gran­dad al­ways put it. She’d joined the Army re­servists a few months ago. “Will he, Mum?”

She didn’t look round; she can’t when she’s driv­ing. “I don’t know, do I?”

When she drew up on to Gran­dad’s drive, he stood in the win­dow, push­ing the nets aside as rain streamed off the glass. While Mum re­fused to even look his way, he waved to me. They’re not talk­ing to each other since she joined up. My dad had to ring up and ar­range for me to stop the night.

“Go on, El­lie,” Mum said. “Take your bag with you.”

I grabbed my bag, the one with a few clothes and books in it, climbed out and ran down the drive, get­ting wet all the way. I ended up in Gran­dad’s porch. “Hello, Gran­dad,” I said as he opened the door. I turned to wave at Mum but she’d al­ready backed into the road. All I could see were ex­haust fumes as she sped away.

From Gran­dad’s house, a faint whiff of smoke leaked out. He must have started smok­ing a pipe again. He’s not sup­posed to do that. He has a bad ch­est. Once I stepped into the hall, I peered up at him. “Have you been smok­ing?”

“No.”

“Are you sure?” “It is my house, El­lie.” I con­sid­ered that for a mo­ment. I wouldn’t like any­body telling me what to do in my room at home, would I? “That’s true.”

“I’m glad some­body can see my way of think­ing for once. Now, why don’t you take your bag up to your room?”

Mum’s al­ways telling me to keep things clean, but Gran­dad hadn’t dusted a thing up­stairs. I ran my fin­ger down the bed­side ta­ble and heard Mum in my head, say­ing, ‘That will make you wheezy. You have to be care­ful with asthma.’ She’d have a fit if she knew Gran­dad had been smok­ing, too. They’d have fallen out all over again.

“Gran­dad,” I yelled from the land­ing, “do you have a duster?”

“Why?” he yelled back from the kitchen.

“It’s all mucky up here. It might make my asthma worse.”

“All right. All right.” He came up­stairs, hold­ing a damp cloth. “Is there any­thing else wrong?” he asked, as he started wip­ing up all the dust.

I stared about the room.

“No,

I don’t think so.”

“Good.”

He nod­ded as he worked.

“So, do you know where your mum’s off to? Did she say?”

“She doesn’t talk about it much but she did say there might be a tank this time. She said she was look­ing for­ward to it, and it’d be loads of fun.”

“War isn’t fun.” He grunted as if he thought I should have known that al­ready. I did. He’s al­ways at war with Mum over some­thing or other.

“What’s for din­ner?” I asked, as my stom­ach growled.

“I haven’t re­ally thought about it yet. Why don’t you go and have a look in the fridge-freezer and see if you can find some­thing you like?” “OK.”

His fridge-freezer is a lot like the rest of his house. The things in it are all over the place. At home, Mum ar­ranges our fridge so the meat is at the bot­tom and the veg at the top. She says it’s so we don’t get food poisoning. I did like the way Gran­dad’s fridge looked, though. He’d put a load of cream cakes right at the front.

‘Now which fridge is bet­ter?’ I thought. ‘Mum’s or Gran­dad’s?’

I knew what Mum would say. She has a go at Gran­dad some­times over the way he does things. Then again, I think when she was grow­ing up, it was the other way around. Gran­dad didn’t even want her to go out with my dad. Not that she took any no­tice. If Gran­dad caught her, she’d say, “It’s my life, I can do what I like with it.” My grandma had died by then, so it was just the two of them in the house, like it is with him and me now.

“Did you find any­thing?”

His ques­tion made me jump.

“Yes, fish fin­gers and peas. Do you have any pota­toes? You could make some mash.”

“Are you ask­ing or telling me now?”

He hates be­ing bossed about, so I said, “Do you want me to do it for you?” I’d never dare ask Mum that. She thinks I ought to do ev­ery­thing for my­self. When it comes to chores, I think I pre­fer Gran­dad’s house.

“No, I’ll do it,” he said, be­fore he gave me a smile. His moods are all hig­gledy-pig­gledy lately – just like his fridge. Mum says that he should have come with a man­ual.

He started peel­ing spuds at the sink. Af­ter he set them on to boil, he pulled the fish fin­gers out from all the ice col­lected in his freezer com­part­ment. He set them on the grill pan in zigzags, so I straight­ened them out so they stood like lit­tle orange soldiers. “Shall

I go and set the ta­ble?”

“I nor­mally eat in front of the TV, El­lie.

You know that.”

I could see why he pre­ferred it. I would, too. At the ta­ble at home, my brother al­ways tries to make me gig­gle. I find it hard to eat my veg when he’s pulling faces. ‘So is

Gran­dad’s idea bet­ter, then?’ I won­dered.

Later on, that’s what we did: we ate our din­ner off lap trays in front of his big old telly.

When we fin­ished, Gran­dad went out to wash up.

“Are you go­ing to ring Mum?” I asked when he came back in and col­lapsed back into his big saggy arm­chair.

“No. She won’t have her phone with her, will she, out there in the wilds? She’ll be out in the dark in the mid­dle of nowhere hav­ing a lovely time.” I think he was be­ing sar­cas­tic. “She just couldn’t be like ev­ery­body else, off out to a night­club, could she? Or see­ing her friends? Oh, no, not my girl.” He sighed. “What time did she say that she’d pick you up to­mor­row?”

“Seven-ish, I think.”

He started chang­ing the chan­nels with the re­mote. He whisked right past the news in a war zone and by a black-and­white film where two cow­boys stood aiming their guns at each other. Then he found a cartoon. “This will do. It’s about fairies.”

“It’s a bit young for me. Mum lets me watch loads of things.”

“You’re still only eight. So this will do, El­lie.”

I thought I’d hate those fairies but they turned out to be quite funny. Even Gran­dad chuck­led away.

I went to bed af­ter the cartoon ended. I sat read­ing a book I’d brought along un­til Gran­dad poked his head round the door. “Time to go to sleep now, love.”

Af­ter I put down my book, he flicked off the light. “You didn’t kiss me good­night, Gran­dad,” I re­minded him.

He flicked the light back on again. “Sorry, sweet­heart.” He came over to the bed, leant down and kissed my cheek. “Night, night. Sleep tight.”

“I don’t think I will sleep much tonight.”

“Is that be­cause your mum’s away play­ing soldiers?” I nod­ded.

“I think I’ll have an­other word with her to­mor­row. I don’t think she should be do­ing this, El­lie. She has you kids to think about.”

When he flicked off the light again, my head filled with all the things my mum and gran­dad did dif­fer­ently. Grown-ups can be very com­pli­cated some­times, can’t they?

I didn’t sleep at first… but then I did… and then I over­slept.

The next thing I knew, I could hear voices in the hall be­low. I blinked and pushed the du­vet aside. That’s when I heard my gran­dad snap, “Did you shoot any­body last night, Laura?”

“Oh, for God’s sake, Dad,” my mum replied.

I crept out on to the land­ing, hud­dled by the ban­is­ter and peered down. They both stood in the hall. Mum just looked or­di­nary in a coat and scarf. I’ve never seen her in her uni­form. Not once.

“Any­body else would en­cour­age me, but no, not you,” she told Gran­dad.

“You have kids, Laura. You can’t go swan­ning off for train­ing all the time. Once day you might find your­self in a proper war zone.”

My mum told me she’d never be on the front line. The same way Gran­dad al­ways tells me he doesn’t smoke a pipe… at all.

“He’s wor­ried!” I yelped from the land­ing. “I’m wor­ried, too, Mum!” I ran down the stairs. I frowned then, re­mem­ber­ing all the things I’d thought about them both the night be­fore. “Still,” I said, “I don’t think you should stop putting the meat un­der the veg, Mum, even if I pre­fer Gran­dad’s cakes.”

“What?” she said.

“And I think you should only dust as much as you want to, Gran­dad, even if it might make me wheeze.”

“What are you talk­ing about?” His brow creased up.

“Nei­ther of you is the best. You’re just dif­fer­ent, that’s all. You see, I’ve been try­ing to see things from both sides since I got here last night. That’s what you’re sup­posed to do, isn’t it?”

Gran­dad puffed out a big gust of air. “Yes, that is what you’re sup­posed to do, El­lie, but things aren’t al­ways that sim­ple. I’m never go­ing to like what your mum’s been do­ing, that’s for cer­tain.”

“Oh, I know that, Dad,” Mum cut in, her voice all sharp. “But I’m not go­ing to stop for your sake. I’m do­ing what I’m do­ing be­cause I be­lieve in free­dom.”

He winced as if he wanted to ar­gue with her over that as well. In­stead, he looked straight at me. “El­lie will do this to you one day, Laura. She’ll run off and do some­thing you re­ally, re­ally hate.”

Mum nod­ded. “Yes, I do know that, Dad. I know what I’m in for, all right.” She looked at me as if she knew for sure I’d be trou­ble one day. “We won’t solve this one.” Then she said to Gran­dad, “You know that, don’t you? So we ei­ther make up now or fall out for­ever. Which one will it be? Come here, Dad. Please.” She reached out to him and tried to give him a hug. He didn’t want to right away – but then he did. He tight­ened his arms around her and held her as if he’d never let go.

They still hadn’t agreed on any­thing, though. Well, noth­ing ex­cept the fact they still loved each other.

I don’t like my mum be­ing in the Army ei­ther. I don’t like my gran­dad sneak­ily smok­ing his pipe. I had seen both sides and made up my mind about those… but I’d never change their minds, would I?

As soon as they fin­ished hug­ging, I threw my arms first around one, then around the other. One day, I might be trou­ble… they might be, too… but I knew I’d never lose them for­ever, the way some peo­ple do when they ar­gue. They’ve al­ways shown me that it doesn’t mat­ter how much you dis­agree, you should al­ways end up hug­ging.

“No mat­ter how much I hate what you’re both do­ing,” I told them, “don’t worry. You’ll still get a hug from me.”

‘We ei­ther make up now or fall out

for­ever. Which one will it be?’

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