“She’s sitting in my chair.”
There’s no sign of Kate so I address my complaint to our daughter, Sally.
She and her daughter, Leanne, a couple of Leanne’s friends, young Sam and his girlfriend, are crowding the living room, taking up all the chairs, wearing silly, paper hats, drinking beer and cider. One girl, Cheryl, is in my chair, by the fire, facing the TV. None of them take any notice of me.
Cheryl is not to blame. Sally hasn’t told her that it’s my chair. No one has. You’d think at least one of them would realise. I might as well talk to myself. Nobody listens to me any more. Senile. That’s what they say. Only it’s not senile these days. It some fancy name. Al someone or other.
The Queen is on telly. Kate always insists we listen to what Her Majesty has to say. Respect. That’s what it is. Kate believes in respect.
This lot don’t.
“Turn that crap over, mother,” says Leanne. “Twilight is on one of the Sky channels.”
I look upon my granddaughter and my lips curl in contempt. She’ll shut up when Kate gets here. She looks like a tart, showing all that leg and cleavage. And drinking, too. Sixteen? Six-bloody-teen and knocking back the cider like it’s lemonade. Kate will deal with her: make her dress properly and stop the drinking.
They haven’t bought me anything for Christmas. They think I don’t notice. They’re wrong. I know what’s going on. They spent all their money on foreign holidays and new windows, and now they have to cut back. Cut back on my bloody present.
“Just wait ’til your mother gets down here,” I say to Sally. Kate was always better at dealing with them than me. “She’ll have plenty to say.”
I don’t know why I’m wasting my breath. They’re taking no notice of me.
Where is Kate? Not like her to miss the Queen on Christmas Day. She must unwell again.
Strange. I can’t remember speaking to her this morning. I must have done. Married for nearly half a century, and I’ve never left the bedroom without bidding her, “Morning Kate.”
Old age affects your memory. You forget these little things.
I look to the stairs hoping to see her coming down, but there’s no sign. I’ll take her a bite to eat and a glass of sherry later. Kate’s always liked her sherry.
The door opens and Ben comes in. A good lad is Ben. A better husband our Sally couldn’t have asked for. I knew his dad. We both worked for the Gas Board when we left school.
“How are you, Ben?” I ask.
“Bloody cold out there,” he says, dropping two packs of lager on the cabinet by the window.
I tut. Even he ignores me these days. Can’t remember the last time I had a decent natter with him. Or our Sally. It’s like I don’t exist.
I wander into the kitchen and study the spread on the table. Dishes full of bites and nibbles, biscuits, pies, and strange, foreign concoctions we’d never heard of in my day. What is an onion bhaji?
I notice lots of sweets for the kids. Kids! Ha! Sat there washing the booze down like sailors on shore leave. Do they still eat chocolates and toffees? Kate does. Likes the fudge. I’ll save one for her and take it up later.
Cheryl comes in and helps herself to handful of Quality Street. She shivers. Not surprised wearing so little clothing in the middle of winter. Disgusting.
“Leave the fudge,” I warn her. “I want it for Kate.”
She has a mouthful of chocolate and can’t answer me. I notice the greedy little bag has taken a fudge.
Shivering again, she goes back to the living room and takes my seat by the fire. “Your kitchen isn’t half cold,” she says to Sally
“It wouldn’t be if you dressed properly,” I shout.
“Cold?” Sally speaks as if I haven’t said a word. “Shouldn’t be. Ben, have you turned the heating down?”
In the act of pouring a can of lager into a tall glass, Ben stops and checks the thermostat on the wall. “Still on full.” He disappears into the kitchen and returns a moment later to pick up his can and glass. “Radiators are on in there, too.”
“It’s granddad,” Leanne says, giggling drunkenly.
“Granddad?” Cheryl asks.
“Take no notice, Cheryl,” Sally says. “Our Leanne’s just winding you up. Her granddad, my dad, used to live with us. You’re sitting in his favourite chair.”
At last, someone has told the little tramp.
Cheryl looks nervous. “Used to live with you?”
“He’s dead, luv.” Sally says. “Passed away on Christmas Day, two years ago. Sat right where you are, nodded off after his dinner and never woke up.”
Leanne laughs at Cheryl’s obvious fear. “He’s still with us, though, haunting the place. Specially at Christmas.”
Cheryl’s fear is nothing at the side of my fury. I scream at Sally. “What the hell are you talking about, you idiot? I’m not dead. I’m right here. Standing in front of you.”
I look up into the mirror above the fireplace. I have no reflection. An icy cold grips my heart.
I feel a presence beside me. I turn and Kate is there, reaching out her hand to me. She looks as beautiful and radiant as she did on the day I met her in 1955. Some distance behind her, a brilliant white light shines like a beacon.
“Come on, Arthur,” she says. “We’ve had our life.” She nods at Sally, Leanne, Ben and the rest of them. “It’s their turn now.”
“Kate …” It’s all I can say. “Kate …”
“I’ve been trying to get through to you for the last two years, love. Now come on. We’re together again … forever this time.”
I take her hand and together we walk off into the light.