Thursday, 7 August 2014

Mind your step

Starting at her shoulders, a deep involuntary shudder radiated through her body. She shook it off, gave a grimace, and said with a laugh “Someone just walked over my grave” before turning her attention back to the half-peeled potatoes in the sink.

Her eight-year-old granddaughter looked at her wide-eyed, her young mind whirring madly trying to work out the time warp and supernatural implications of the rosy-cheeked woman’s phrase.

It wasn’t the sort of thing she was used to hearing from her.

Nana meant security, shortbread, walking barefoot on the velvety green lawn, squealing in delighted terror at earwigs in the chrysanthemums, the soft drone of Radio 4 in the background, the scent of tea rose soap, and as many cups of tea you could handle.

What Nana was most definitely NOT about was hints of mortality and the macabre. 

The thought of her sensing someone from the future stepping on her final resting place years before she would be laid beneath the rich Sussex soil knotted Annie’s normally straight eyebrows into a question mark.

Maggie dismissed the young girl’s existential bemusement with a healthy dose of no-nonsense country practicality. Thrusting a bowl of freshly gathered green pods into the young girl’s arms, she pointed to the sunny doorstep opening onto the back garden.

“Make yourself useful and shell the peas,” she snapped, not unkindly. “And don’t eat too many before we cook them – you’ll get belly ache.”

Picking up a pod, Annie gently pressed against the seam until it opened with a satisfying soft ‘pop!’. She eased a slightly chewed index finger nail into the opening and pushed the peas into the battered saucepan set down beside her on the cool whitewashed doorstep. She popped one into her mouth and rolled its green sweetness around before crushing it with her tongue.

“Nana?”

“Yes, darlin’?”

“When you die, can you still feel things?”

The white-haired woman stopped her kitchen bustling, wiped her hands on her pinny and fixed her granddaughter with a hard stare.

“What a thing to ask!” she said. “Why in heaven’s name would you be bothering your head with such things?”

“It’s just…  …well…   …if you can feel someone walking over your grave now. Does it hurt when it actually happens after you’re dead?”

“Of course not, you silly thing. You don’t feel anything after you die. You’re just gone. Now hurry up and get those peas done or dinner will be late. You know how granddad wants his meal on the table as soon as he gets in.”

Dinner preparations were completed in companionable silence, helped by a glass of cool lemon barley water placed next to Annie as she shucked the last of the peas. She smiled thanks to her grandmother and emptied the glass in a series of gasping gulps and smack of satisfaction. Nothing  more was said of her morbid query as they all tucked heartily into the turkey and ham pie, boiled buttered potatoes and fresh peas served precisely five minutes after  her grandfather came in from the garden, washed his hand and settled into his place at the head of the table…

…but on the way home that evening, holding Granddad’s hand as they chattered and competed for who could name the most birds, trees, butterflies and flowers spotted along the way, she was extra careful where she trod when they took the short cut throughout the churchyard.

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