I’m pleased to present a short story set in Oxford, England. All Rights Reserved.
Rain beat down on the large roof of the greenhouse where Chrissy was mourning her grandmother. The weather was typical of a March afternoon in Oxford; Hillary Term would finish soon and then tourists would begin to pepper the streets, bars and shops of Southeast England, eager to witness the blooming, pale lemon primroses and daffodils. The year promised warmer, sunnier days. Yet Chrissy doubted their arrival. The morning was still frosty, and Chrissy, like many others in Oxford, was nestled in a thick wool coat.
Today, she was watering sunflowers, roses, buttercups, daffodils and hydrogens. Her eyes ached from the weeping of the funeral and she didn’t have a tissue. Instead, she pressed her teeth against her bottom lip. It didn’t work. Approximately every three minutes, the tears began again.
Grandma. I miss watching movies, baking cakes and going for walks with you. We will never spend time together again.
Chrissy didn’t care if anyone heard her wailing, yet no one would; her family was elsewhere: in bars, in universities, in workplaces, all far from her. The only thing harder than experiencing grief is watching a loved one experience it. Funerals are never easy, yet this one had been particularly hard. Caroline’s husband—a man, a soldier, a patriarch, the head of the Wolfe family—had been unable to finish his reading during the service. For the first time in her life, Chrissy had watched her grandfather break down, his lips trembling, his eyes growing wet and red. That image will haunt me until I am no more.
Heavy rain lashed against the conservatory, like a whip made of ice. The sky, once bright and blue, had turned foggy and grey. There were no sounds of wildlife or from Chrissy’s dog, Glory. The only noises were those made by Chrissy and the rain, which was growing more volatile.
Mother nature, mother of my mother. Both are experts in aggression. The passive kind; neither nature nor my grandmother communicate directly. Every thought is wrapped in riddles and puzzles.
After wetting the soil, Chrissy moved on to the next set of plants. Hibiscus. Grandmother hated these. Once, when Chrissy’s father had bought some hibiscus for her mother, Caroline had frowned. Years had passed, but Chrissy could never forget such a judgemental expression. In her twilight years, Caroline had often remarked on her granddaughters’ weight. Chrissy’s teenage cousin, Wilfred, had developed an obsession with scales, food and exercise. For her, the simple joys of England—pudding, cake and steak—had become nasty and wrong.
‘I’m doing her a favour,’ Caroline told Wilfred’s mother. ‘No boy will ever want to marry her if she eats like that.’
Wilfred had cried throughout the funeral. Cracks had formed in her stoicism—first slowly, then suddenly.
Chrissy put the watering can down and sat on a nearby chair. In a moment of anguish, she pressed her hands against her head, closing her eyes. A pressing, ugly feeling grew within her. She was still hurt on her cousin’s behalf. Shame pulsed through her. No, she told herself. This isn’t fair. Grandma has no chance to explain herself now.
But she had years to explain herself, Chrissy replied to her own thought. And Wilfred was hardly an isolated case, either; her grandmother had earned a reputation for snark and sarcasm. Yet she was also known for helping her neighbours, taking care of local parks, and watching old movies with her grandchildren and lending them her shoulder to cry on.
Chrissy could see the pots, the plants and her own face reflected in the glass walls of the greenhouse. Rain fogged the panels. The conservatory, though vast, felt claustrophobic. Cracks of thunder erupted, but she didn’t react An old man’s tears are more frightening than any storm.
Chrissy bent down to Glory, rustling the dog’s thick fur as Glory panted. Never leave me, she thought. I hate death, I can’t stand it; people leave, and even if I have the chance to say goodbye to them, it’s not enough. There are a thousand words, emotions, pictures and ideas I will never share with my grandmother. I can’t tell my grandfather, either. In my heart, I know the truth: he’ll never feel bliss again. I wish the connection between death and mercy wasn’t so obvious.
‘We’re clueless,’ Chrissy said, turning on the nearby radio. It was tuned to a BBC station, and the notes of ‘Scarborough Fair’ filled the air. Images of her grandparents floated through Chrissy’s mind, smoke-like, while the song played. In her mind, both wore clothing appropriate for a Renaissance fair: capes of gold and crimson. They stood in an old Gothic chapel. Light shone through stained glass panels, painting the floor in rainbows. A golden cross perched high under the central arch. Chrissy’s little cousins wore white cotton dresses and held bouquets of flowers. Chrissy’s grandfather handed rosemary to his lover, telling her she’d always be ‘a true love of his.’ Chrissy’s mother blew bubbles as Wilfred tossed confetti into the air.
The smoke faded and the song finished. Yet the rain continued, frightening Glory. But Chrissy’s tears were finished, as she knew her grandparents would soon meet again. They have to, she thought. I must have faith in that.
Chrissy signed. She hoped to see new life grow.