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HeavenGrandfatherís OrangesĖA Memoir
By Val Clark

"Come in, Dad."

The old man pushed the door closed behind him, folded himself down to my level and looked at me with grey eyes that crinkled at the edges like crunched-up paper.

"Hello, Colleen."

With a finger, I touched the hairy caterpillar that marched on the spot above his mouth.

Mummy rested her hand on my shoulder and gently squeezed it. "This is your grandfather. Say hello."

"Hello. Whatís a grandfather?"

He held my hand as we walked to the kitchen. I donít remember another man ever being in our kitchen.

"Mother will have my hide, Joyce; if she finds out Iím here."

"Iím still the black sheep, then?"

He sighed and lifted his cup. "Cheers."

Mummy stared into her cup then raised it to his. "Cheers, Dad. Thanks for coming." She took a deep breath. "I know Iíve let you and Mother down."

"Now lassie, none of this maudlin talk. Whatís done is done. The war.... Itís changed everything--you and Paddy with three children and not married, to begin with."

"Dad, please."

The man called Grandfather sighed.

"Another cuppa?"

"Thanks, Love."

Resting against the manís leg was a dark-blue bag, closed at the top with a thick, white rope. Something in the bag smelt delicious.

"Have you got a Christmas in there?"

He laughed; a deep sound that shook his thin body. "No, lassie, Christmas doesnít come in a duffel bag." He stirred the tea in his cup then gently said, "What are you teaching her, Joyce?"

"I canít, Dad. God and IÖ." She spread out her hands.

"Aye, truth is youíre in a bit of a mess, but Godís more merciful than your Mother, Love."

Mummy lit a cigarette. The end glowed brightly. Her lipstick left a red circle on the white cigarette paper; bright red like her long fingernails. Dragonís breath trickled out of her nose.

"Paddy had a bad time in the orphanage with the nuns. He wonít have any religion in the house." She nodded towards me. "That one was vaccinated with a gramophone needle. I donít want a scene."

"Peace at all cost. Thatís what we said before the war. Look where that got this country."

He ruffled my hair and pulled a huge book from his bag. Grinning, he handed it to Mummy. "I smuggled this out. Will Paddy mind?"

Mummy opened the book tenderly. It smelt old and musty, like the bottom of the airing cupboard in winter. There was a picture on the front--a man with long, blond hair. I could see why Daddy wouldnít like that book. He was always shouting at my brother, Mick, because his hair was too long.

Mummyís lips thinned as she thrust the book into my hands. "Put this in your room, but donít let Daddy see it; itís our secret."

My big brothers had secrets and if I told on them they wouldnít speak to me for ages. I couldnít bear it if Mummy wouldnít speak to me. I nodded.

I didnít like the big, nasty-smelling book and threw it under the bed. The man called Grandfather was nice, though. What could I give him in return? I would show him my dollís pram with its tin hood that kept out the rain. It was just like the ones I saw mothers pushing when we walked down the high street. I angled the pram out of my bedroom and pointed it up the hall. In the kitchen Mummy was dabbing at her face with a handkerchief.

"Aye, now that has to be the best pram Iíve ever set eyes on."

The man called Grandfather reached into his bag and took out two round Christmases and put them in my pram.

"Take these oranges for a ride, Love."

"Theyíre not oranges theyíre Christmases, arenít they, Mummy? Santa brings them once a year and puts them in our stockings."

I took the oranges for a ride around the flat. By the time I returned to the kitchen the man was standing; bag hanging from his shoulder.

He kissed Mummy on the cheek. "Goodbye, Love."

"Goodbye, Dad."

"Say goodbye, Grandpa."

"Goodbye, Grandpa."

His moustache tickled my cheeks when he bent again and kissed me, whispering, "God bless you, Colleen."

The musty gift was rediscovered years later but I couldnít read the stories about the main character, a man called Jesus. I saw that combination of letters, J-E-S-U-S, and skipped guiltily over the name, though I didnít know why. Later, like my mother, I came to believe God and I were not on speaking terms.

I was a teenager when Jesus broke the silence, becoming the most precious person in my life. My mother was in her late sixties before she too learnt to call him Friend.

I often wonder: did my grey-eyed grandfather pray for his granddaughter? I know his grey-eyed granddaughter prayed for her mother.
Val Clark is a latecomer to writing. She writes across all genres and for both the Christian and secular market. You may write to Val through the Letters page of this Magazine.