David Denny
Out past the cricket green, right at the little chapel perched amid a fork in the road, and left at the half way house; the same way we went every other Saturday as children. The same familiar undulating cables, and telegraph poles and trees, except they had grown up too since then. Before I knew what a gas tower was, the giant white mushroom, stretching up into a lagoon blue sky, brought with it a surge of excitement that we were half way there.

We parked by the narrow verge just short of the old lamp post in front of Sea-side-Grandad and Grandma’s, where we always did. No one ever used the front door, instead we would run straight down the side of the building towards the garage, along the moss mottled concrete drive, pausing only to wave to Sea-side-Grandad through the living room window. The gate into the back garden was tall and wooden and painted shining white, and it made you feel as if you were entering a secret garden; through the porch, brimming with their latest seedlings or freshly picked raspberries, black berries and apples, into the kitchen, to be greeted with smiles and hugs with biscuits still warm from the oven.

Only this time we were greeted with “Where’s your Dad?!” Grandma was uncharacteristically stern, and sitting bolt upright at the far end of the kitchen table, with hands cupping her knees. Sea-side-Grandad had been taken to hospital that morning after she had called an ambulance for some air because he couldn’t breathe. “…I’ve been trying to call your Dad all day but there’s no answer… The hospital have been calling to say we should go down there.”

Back tracking into the garden Grandma, for the first time in my life, was quite adament that I should come back in doors, and close the door behind me. Her fear surged from my stomach up towards my chest like a wave I rode down the hallway and into the living room, digging mobile phone from pocket as I went. Directory enquiries, directory enquiries. “The number for Southend Hospital please”
“...Would you like to be connected?”
“Yes please...”

“Hello, could you tell me how Richmond Denny is? He was brought in this morning”
“Can I ask who’s calling?”
“I’m his grandson”
“Okay, wait a moment please ...I’m just going to find someone...”
The soft feminine voice was replaced by that of a gentle man’s.
“Hello, can I help?”
“Yes I’m calling about Richmond Denny ..he was brought in this morning”
“He’s here but we’re waiting for his wife and son to arrive”
“I’m with my Grandma now, and we can’t get hold of my Dad, his son, so I’m going to bring her down. Can you tell me which ward he’s in and how he’s doing?”
“...Sorry, what’s your name?”
“David ...Denny”
“And can I ask how old you are?”
I was a small boy again.
”Urm… twenty nine...” But I could feel the air passing through my vocal chords as the pennies began to drop, why had he... “...thirty.”
I still wasn’t sure I had given him the right number.
The gentle man’s voice replied with an “Um” ..that lasted far too long, as if I were allowing him time to retort on a sick joke. Instead implication dawned from the absurdness of his question; and fell steeply to realisation, like a plunger into the vessel of hot blood that filled my face from the bottom up. Old enough to tell me what you need to, what you’re going to, what I don’t want you to.
“...It’s too late isn’t it”
“I’m afraid so.... Yes it is, I’m sorry.”
My lungs were deflating as I faintly heard someone whisper “shit”.
I floated past the front door, back down the hallway, through the kitchen where Julie was sitting quietly watching Grandma eat her lunch at the table. I couldn’t look either in the eye levitating through to the garden, the drive, and was fumbling with a packet of cigarettes in the car door before I could hear what the gentle voice was saying again.
“...Peter Allan...”
There was no point coming to the hospital, though we could if we wanted to, he would tell Grandma if I wanted but I didn’t know what the fuck I wanted, other than a numb longing to be twenty years into the past ...I couldn’t process his words through diminished senses.... Grandad wasn’t in a ward, he was in the chapel of rest, or the morgue, I didn’t understand, hearing drifted to and fro on waves of shock. He was sorry he’d had to tell me on the phone, I took his name, direct line and thanked him.

Legs paced, mine. I tried calling Dad’s mobile, he wouldn’t answer, he hadn’t all day. Julie was sitting cross legged on the pavement, leaning back against the garden wall… I made it into the next-door-neighbour’s drive as the other end of the line clicked open... The warm comfort in his voice melted the wall of ice holding me up. Sight blurred momentarily before disappearing completely; phone, face and hands were sodden... Facial muscles seizing into deep creases. Concrete jarred up my spine as pelvic bones landed where my legs had been.

“..it’s Grandad..” was all that would come out.

“I know” Dad said, in a voice as ruffled as I imagined his hair to be, but he only knew that his Dad had been taken to hospital... The spontaneous combustion subsided.
“No I’ve just spoken to the hospital and it’s too late to go, it’s too late”
“He’s gone?”
”Yes he’s gone I’m sorry... you need to come down”

I managed to block the dam before approaching Julie, but as with any facade it was superficial, and in vain.
“He’s dead isn’t he?”

We sat talking about Julie’s hair while Grandma finished her cheese on toast. My head raced for conversation, which came in desperate spurts. Julie stared at the floor, vacant. Two cigarette breaks later we returned to find Grandma in her coat and matching hat, holding a handbag that was nestled in her lap. She had dressed to go to the hospital... we all sat again waiting for Mum and Dad. I thought Dad should tell his Mum the news, in part because I couldn't comprehend the pain it was going to inflict after seventy years of marriage. But the silence was deafening, overwhelmingly so, and it wasn't fair.
The dam came undone again.
“I’ve just spoken to the hospital…”
Looking at me intently, her face was stark with confusion, until I couldn’t continue through clenched teeth. Her eyes moved down to watch the tears rolling off my chin and her mouth closed ever so slightly before her face relaxed as she looked down... Julie and I both stood up, walked round opposite sides of the kitchen table, leant over and put our arms round Grandma, and each other.
”Oh, well that’s good! I’m glad ...He’s not suffering anymore. You know, he always said old age was a bind, your mind wants to do things that your body won’t you see.”

Grandma took her hat and coat off, hung them back in the hallway closet and made some more tea. With the same red and green tea cosy she had knitted with a bobble on the top, and used to cover the bandages she’d wound round Sea-side-Grandad’s head, after he stood up too quickly and fell backwards off the shed, whilst trying to clear leaves from the garage gutter.

Later, after Mum and Dad had arrived, I walked round to the newsagents, and asked the man behind the counter not to deliver any more papers to 67 Woodside.

29th March 2003

Danni would just be getting to work, 15 minutes late, but then we had had such a good time at the Christmas party the night before, she would probably still be the first one in. I was sitting cross legged on the sofa with Laura, hunched over our mugs of tea that were being cradled in both hands, as if they were our tender, hungover heads. My lap started ringing so I flipped the phone over to see ‘Mum’ lit up on the display.

She only ever calls me David with a tensive tone to her already stretched vocal range.
“David” she said, but this time tension was accompanied by haste.
“I’ve got some bad news”
…My head raced - and went blank at the same time, I hadn’t begun to process the multitude of potential scenarios before she continued…
“Grandma’s dead.”
“...Dad went down there this morning and found her sitting at the kitchen table.”
“Ok ok I’m coming back, where’s Dad now?”
“Still there, he’s waiting for the doctor”
”...Ok I’m going to Leigh”
“Aren’t you going to Julie’s?”
“No I’m going to see Dad, does Julie know yet?”
“No, I was going to tell her in a bit when her care worker is there.”
“Ok, I’ll go round later tonight, I’m going to be a couple of hours, I’m round Danni’s so I’ve got to get back to Highgate for my car.”

I walked with Laura to Hornsey station, said goodbye and headed for my car, still walking at first but my pace soon quickened, until I was out of breath for running harder and faster than I had since school.

Grabbing a bag of cameras and some film I was out the front door again and driving.

The journey seemed endless and as soon as I was on the A127 I pulled over and called Dad. He answered but with vocal chords that sounded like they were being plucked, which set me off too. I was barely on the driveway before he was pulling the net away from the living room window pointing furiously towards the front door. So I walked past the living room, round to the front door, but had to take a step back as it opened, the smell wafted up my nostrils; a pungent, off cheese. I thought it would subside at first, the way odours do once you get used to them, but this one grew, and grew.
“I need to see her” I said to Dad as he led the way into the dining room. Note books and papers were arranged neatly in piles all over the dining room table, the only thing out of place was a box, with several tissues blooming from the perforated oval opening in the top, pulled free by the sodden screwed up ones randomly discarded nearby.
“You know what happens after a few days don’t you?” he replied. And I did, on paper.

I thought Grandma had died that morning you see, and in the car had imagined taking her picture from the back door looking the length of the kitchen along the table in the middle of the room with Grandma sat at the far end, the way she had been whilst we waited to go to the hospital to see Sea-side-Grandad two and a half years earlier, except this time her head would be slumped.

Outside the kitchen the cheese matured to yet another level, and as I opened the door the smell reached so far down my throat I had to suppress my chokes. I could see Dad had pulled the kitchen table to one side, and draped a pale yellow bed sheet over Grandma. There was no sign of her head, or shoulders, or legs in a seated position, in fact their was no sign of her slender frame at all. Panic, or fear, bordered on tangible, overwhelmed. I walked round to the back door staring, looking for a sign, anything that would tell me which direction she was even facing. I went out through the porch and into the back garden in a vain attempt at clearing my nasal passage before going back in. I couldn’t pull the sheet off, couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing... I walked to and fro again and again, between back door and hallway, trying desperately to decipher my Grandma sitting in a chair from what my brain screamed to be a huge pile of washing under a sheet... I don’t know how many times I paced that path before the funeral directors interrupted my confused eyes. They brought with them a folding chrome bed and laid it out in the middle of the floor. The older gentleman asked the younger if they needed the plastic sheet. The younger of the two then removed the sheet from the pile of dirty laundry, and replied that they would.

She had been facing the stove, to keep warm. Her head had slumped to the left and sunk into her chest, the torso was inflated like a beach ball and arms hung straight down each side, looking a lot longer than I remembered. The back of her frail hands rested on the floor, except now they were swollen to the size of inflated marigolds, the tips of her fingers were black, as were her eyes. Hair was patchy and coming away from her scalp in clumps, one of which was stuck to the back of the chair, fluttering in the slight breeze from the back door. The face was concave and loose and dark and I couldn’t see her mouth for an explosion of dark blood that looked like it had come from her nose... They thought she had been there since Sunday …or Monday...

”Oh, well that’s good! I’m glad ...He’s not suffering anymore. You know, he always said old age was a bind, your mind wants to do things that your body won’t you see.”

8th December 2005