This Means War
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?”
“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.
I don’t think so.”
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?’