4 June 2013

His Shed.

“Where is he?” I ask my Gran, as I walk into the living room, balancing three cups of tea in two hands.
She’s knitting meticulously. Her metal needles clack together and she barely glances up as I place the cup on the pretty lace doily in the centre of the glass coffee table.
She lets out a sigh. Her eyes flick up quickly in the direction of the French windows, but she doesn’t miss a stitch.
“Down the garden…”
“Oh, okay. I’ll take it out to him then.” I say, placing my tea next to hers and gripping the handle of the third mug firmly. I hear her mutter something about me spoiling him as I tiptoe my way over the rug and step out through the sliding glass doors.
Their new house has stepping stones leading down the long stretch of grass, and I continue my tiptoeing across them, thinking how much I would have loved hopping along these twenty years ago, each one an island and the grass a deep sea.
Closer to the end of the garden, I pass the honeysuckle bush, with its arms all spindly and blowy in the breeze - as if it’s trying to tickle the daffodils two beds down. But it’s when I get nearer to the dahlias lined up in a row like short green soldiers that I spy him. Just a few wisps of white hair on a bald head, popping in and out of view inside the shed. I walk up to the door and poke my head around it to peer in. He’s bent over, fussing with something on the floor. I wonder how he’s managed it for a moment, and then I see the garden kneeler turned on its side - the perfect bench, being just that little bit higher than the chair on his right. He is picking at a muddled up bit of grey string and I see that his hairy eyebrows are knotted just as tightly in concentration.
“I've got you a tea.” I whisper, smiling in at him.
“Oooph!” He lets out a loud, dramatic gasp as he sees me, jumping a few inches on the kneeler, grinning and clasping his hand over his heart as if I’ve just killed him.
I laugh and lean over, planting a light kiss on his bristly cheek and placing his tea on the table next to a pair of garden clippers.
“Hello, love.” He says, winking at me. He shuffles and gets up off his kneeler, carefully lifting a tomato plant off the old wooden chair beside him. Taking his time, he brushes off some loose soil onto the floor and sits down himself, leaving the upside down garden kneeler for me.
I perch on the kneeler and take a deep breath. I can see why he loves it down here. It’s warm. As the sun breathes in and out from behind the odd cloud, light filters through fifteen year's worth of garden dirt smattered on the windows, leaving a gentle sepia hue all around us. The light gently brushes the old flowerpots, trinkets and rusty tools balanced on the shelves. I think to myself that it’s probably a good thing my Gran’s not allowed down here to come and wash the windows - any more light and I’d worry they might crumble.
“Here.” I say, reaching over and taking the grubby string from him. “I’ve got nails made for this job.”
I wave my pointed pink lacquered fingernails at him and begin picking at the knot in the piece of string. Admittedly, they don’t really belong in this shed. They shriek of make-up aisles in shops with artificial lighting. But I pick away at the string, listening to him explain how it’s for that honeysuckle that’s gone a bit wild, and in no time at all I’ve untangled two long bits of string, and wrapped each into two tightly coiled balls.
He leans over to show me his tomato plant, pinching the stalks gently.
“Hm. Bit stringy this year. But y’never know. They could be all right.” He says fondly, lifting up the baby leaves.
I remember us planting seeds together when I was small - tomatoes, radish, occasionally lettuce - in white, squeaky, polystyrene boxes. I recall the excitement of poking my little finger into the soil, just a few centimetres deep and popping in the seed before brushing across the soil. We’d both tap the top for luck and I’d thought it the most magical thing in the world.
“What on earth are these?” I ask him, spying a pair of dusty black leather shoes. Picking one up I dangle it in the air to inspect it carefully. They look like no one has worn them since the seventies. As I brush off the dust, a woodlouse crawls out the heel. They seem to have lost their laces a long time ago, leaving the tongue to waggle freely at me.
“They’re Uncle Les’.” He says, picking up the other shoe and turning it over, before tapping the bottom firmly. “Go on, have a guess.” he says, tapping the numerous small holes in the sole. His eyes sparkle.
“I’m… really not sure.” I say, wrinkling my nose.
“They’re his old golfing shoes. I took all the spikes out. Perfect for the garden. Well. He’s a nine and a half. So they’re a bit big… but not bad.” He says.
I giggle and tap his hand gently.
“Not bad at all.” I say. “Don’t forget your tea.”
As he reaches for his cup, I look closely at my Gramps. I remember him being so much bigger. I look into his face, at his paper-thin skin and love how his eyelashes splay out erratically along his lid. As he tells me about Uncle Les’ shoes, I watch him talk, watch how his eyebrows dance with each expression like two hairy caterpillars kissing in the middle of his forehead. Six or seven wrinkles pile up and gently nudge the wisps of his white unruly hair, that float almost above his head like they aren’t attached at all.
“Oh, thanks love.” He says, after I hand him another ball of grey string, this one too; unravelled and duly coiled. I can do things so much quicker than he can. I tuck my converse around the legs of the chair and shift a little. I’m impatient. I'm not used to sitting still for so long, and I suddenly feel warm in my leather jacket, and think perhaps we should go back inside, because Gran’s still sat in her chair, probably wondering what we’re still doing down here.
“Shall we go in?” I ask him, leaning to the left slightly to look through the window. The sun’s gone in behind the clouds. A purple haze has fallen over the house and it looks as if it might rain.
He looks up at me, his speckled brown eyes lock on mine. They always speak so much more than he ever does. I see they are the same eyes, framed by the same two hairy caterpillars, that saw me run like a lunatic around the garden, curl kitchen roll into jam jars for growing runner beans and jump like a spider over stinging nettles to pinch raspberries from next-door’s allotment.
“I’ll be in in a minute.” He says fiddling in a rusty looking tool box. “Just want to do this…”
“Okay.” I say, standing up and brushing the soil from my jeans. I hesitate. Suddenly I'm not sure I want to leave. “Don’t forget your tea.” I say, again.
He nods. And wanting to hold on to this person, this memory, this slow playing film reel from my past, I close my eyes tightly, smile at him and walk back up the garden. 


  1. That was just lovely - really vivid and a memory picture that I think we'd all like to have.

  2. I love this. It is carefully and thoughtfully created. Not withstanding that, it is accurate and written with heart and your usual warmth.

  3. The honeysuckle tickling the daffodils - I got a perfect picture with that one. And you've introduced your Gramps so well. It really was lovely to go on this visit with you through your prose.

  4. You write WELL. Keep on.