She was old when she died, and that makes it right. Right? That’s what I kept telling myself. Old people die, it doesn’t matter how much you loved them, and how much you didn’t want them to it is just the way. I used to think that old people got really old, until eventually they shrunk back into babies and lived again. If only. Old people die. Fact. But that doesn’t make it easier, whatever anyone says.
My Nan, Hilary-Hilda Ramsbottom lived to be 75, which is fairly young for someone old. Everyone called her Hill and she was alright with that. I called her Prune, Hill, and sometimes Nan but she hated to be called Nan, Granma, Granny, anything that made her sound old. I don’t think she ever got the prune reference, you know. Wrinkled like a prune, or one of those dates that you get at Christmas.
She died on a Saturday. I don’t think it was right for people to die at the weekend. It was a strange Saturday because I knew she was ill and I knew she didn’t have long, however much she said she had years in her. The Friday before the Saturday I went to her granny flat and looked in as I always did. She was sitting in her chair, as usual, but she hadn’t done her hair and was still in her PJ’s.
“You’re here early love,” she said when I walked in. Her house was neat from when I’d been round the day before to clean. It still smelt of roast, she must have had the leftovers for lunch. Her hair looked like she had spent some time with her head in a candyfloss machine.
“What you looking at me like that for?”
“I’m not looking at you like anything,” I said.
“Oh shit,” she said. “I’ve not got my hair on.” She started to get up, but I gestured her to sit back down.
“Usual place? I’ll get it and put the tea on.”
“Whisky for me love, won’t you join?” And I did. We had a few, which was a nightmare because I had work early and serving people on reception boozey breath was frowned upon. I remember thinking that I should go home but I didn’t. I stayed all night and watched crap on TV until it was time for bed. That was my last night with her, and I wouldn’t change it. Not for anything.
The reading of the will went as could have been expected. Mum, in her tracky bottoms and hoodie. She had a cold she couldn’t shift, she wiped her nose on her sleeve. Her boyfriend Frank was in a pair of trackies too, but he’d ‘dressed them up’ with a pair of polished loafers. They were quite the match. Mum kept trying to finish the solicitor’s sentences; she kept guessing wrong. She had no shame though. She just nodded with him when he corrected her. Frank chewed loud. I tried to get him to spit the gum out before we went in there, in protest he squeezed the pack into his fat chops.
Mum wasn’t getting a penny. She flew off the handle. Saying something about being her only daughter, she should have it all… bla bla. We all knew Nan had money, money that no one spoke of and money that made mum drag herself out of franks club arms and round Hill’s house. Money mum thought was hers. She poked her long finger in my rib and put her face nose to nose with mine.
“It’s your fault you bitch,” she was spitting at me as she spoke with smokey breath. I didn’t even flinch. “You made her do this. You’ve been planning it for years, you greedy cow. No wonder you spent so much time with that mad old bitch.” I bit my lip and clenched my fists.
I could see the solicitor calling security and I was glad. I didn’t need her in my face. Frank was behind her saying something about me being a money grabbing whore. I don’t know. Security took them away, mum was screaming and frank was slipping on his over polished shoes. I said my apologies to the solicitor, thanked him for his time and got up to leave.
“Sorry Miss Bennet, I haven’t actually finished yet.”
“Oh, there’s more?” I knew Nan had money but she told me I’d never have it, she wanted me to learn how to earn money.
“Please sit back down,” he said and ruffled the papers on his desk. “Now, your late grandmother would like to leave you in charge of Bagpuss.”
“The dog, of course.” What did she think I’d do with the dopy sod. Ever since she died he had been living at my house, eating out of my bin, and humping my yucca plant. I was glad to have him. He smelt like roast lamb and mint sauce.
When I got home that night I sat down in the chair I had taken from Hill’s house and tucked myself under one of her blankets. Bagpuss came and sat on my lap. Short stocky thing. Front legs noticeably shorter than his back ones. He had brown eyebrows and a brown nose. A white chest, to match three of his socks. He had he waggiest tail I’ve ever seen and the softest ears.
I poured myself a whisky, put the glass in the air. “Cheers Hill.” I chinned that and poured another. Booze goes down easier when there’s a reason to drink. I drank to her memory and didn’t even wince at the burn.
Things were getting a bit wobbly after the third or forth, or was it the sixth. Bagpuss had tired himself out humping the plant and had taken himself off to bed.
“I’m not watching this shit,” I froze. Like when you’re scared as a kid and think if you stay really still that everything will be alright. “Change it then.” Still frozen and feeling heavy from the drink I stayed put. “Katarina, are you not listening to me? I hate that orange man, change it.”
Eyes wide, frowning, I turned my head. There she was, staring forward moaning about how she hated reality TV and men in vests. She was the same, but how she was before she was ill. Neat short hair, sitting tall, crocheting. She looked at me with her grey eyes. I had the classic face, mouth open, eyes wide and frowning.
“What?” she said. “What you looking at me like that for? Why you shaking?”
“How many of those you had love? Pour me one wont you.”
Nothing was right, nothing made sense. Only a week ago I’d heard the cannon go off at the crem to mark her death. I’d seen the curtains close on the coffin. I’d spread her ashes over my garden. I’d planted her roses.
“Those roses won’t grow, you’ve crowded them. Here, I’ll change it.” She got up and shuffled over to the remote, changed the channel and she was gone.