Sunday, May 05, 2013


Mrs Grayling has died, sometime in the night. She lies on the bed with her eyes half-open and her jaw slack. The sliding door to a narrow conservatory adjoining the bedroom stands open, and the garden door beyond that. A gust of fresh spring air moves through.

Her son Graham is sitting at the kitchen table with his face in his hands. He looks up as we come in and finds a tired smile.
‘She’s dead, isn’t she?’
‘Yes, I’m afraid she is.’
‘I knew it. Sorry to drag you out like this. Would you like some tea?’
He stands up, steadies himself at the table, and then starts getting things together, filling the kettle, setting out the Spode tea cups, the jug of milk, a saucer of custard creams. I ask him about his mum’s health these past few months. He says she’d been fine until just a couple of weeks ago. Ninety-three and still independent. But she’d developed a chest infection. It knocked her sideways. She’d taken to bed. The doctor wasn’t optimistic.

‘I think I need some time to myself,’ says Graham. He hesitates and stares out of the window at the garden. ‘It’s such a nice day,’ he says. ‘Mummy’s favourite time of year. Maybe what I need is a nice long walk. A nice long walk by the sea, with a cup of coffee at the end of it. Hell – a pint of beer. Why not?’
He gathers himself together again, finds a tray.
‘An odd thing to ask,’ he says. ‘But could you do me a favour and cover her face?  I said goodbye to her last night. I don’t need to see her again. Not – like that.’
‘Of course.’
‘Sorry to ask.’
‘It’s no bother.’
‘I’ll bring your tea through when it’s ready.’

There are two carers in the house. The first discovered the body; the second hurried over to give her support. They’ve come together in the sitting room, shoulder to shoulder, blowing their noses, fussing through folders, unsure what to do next. They’ve known Mrs Grayling for years. It’s a terrible shock.
When we join them in the lounge, they take a hesitant step towards us, and talk quietly, overlapping each other.
‘Is he okay?’
‘What’s he doing in there?’
‘Upset – you know.’
They blow their noses again.
‘Someone should tell his sister.’
‘He won’t.’
‘They fell out.’
‘Big time.’
‘She wasn’t – supportive.
‘You’re telling me.’
‘But she needs to know.’
‘I don’t mind telling her.’
‘She’s not on our list.’
‘I’ll ask him if he wants me to ring her. Someone’s got to.’
They stare at me. I shrug and nod. The second one goes into the kitchen.

After a little pause, the second carer comes back, followed by Graham, holding a tea tray.
‘It’s very kind of you. Really,’ says Graham. ‘But don’t worry. I’ll talk to the GP about – that aspect of things.’
He sets the tea tray down, and goes back into the kitchen.
I take a cup and look around the room.
There is a series of framed paintings on the walls. Two watercolour still life studies of the same thing – a vase of daffodils and a bottle of wine. And three collages – a duck, a chicken and a pheasant. The collages have been put together from odd scraps of hessian, cotton, velvet, silk, satin and lace, with an assortment of buttons, pieces of glass and other scavenged material. The bird pictures are so lively, if it wasn’t for the glass covering them, they’d be clattering around the room and out the window.
‘Did Mrs Grayling do these?’
‘Loads more.’
‘She was quite an artist.’
‘All up the stairs.’
‘It’s like a gallery.’
‘Always tinkering.’
‘Terrible to think she’s gone.’
‘I don’t know how he’ll cope.’
‘I don’t know what he’ll do.’
‘Or his sister.’
‘When she finds out.’

They stare at me.

We all take another sip of tea.


Sabine said...

Tea helps.

Spence Kennedy said...

Definitely. It's such a social thing. And I think it helped Graham, too - as a distraction, and as a way of doing something practical and positive in a stressful situation.

TomVee said...

I am not a tea drinker myself (not a Brit either so it's all right) but from reading your blog - and I have read all of it - I would go so far as to say that if there is any common denominator that most of your cases share, it's tea.
The great Brititsh bridge between the classes.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Tom

Thanks very much for reading the blog! I think you deserve a medal, never mind a cup of tea. Or coffee.

There are some people at work who don't drink tea or coffee. (cough*weirdos*). Mind you, I think I drink too much. My kidneys look like two tea bags...


jacksofbuxton said...

Tea and uncomfortable small talk.

I'm sure you've been down that road many times Spence.

Spence Kennedy said... yep. Ahem. Shall I put the kettle on, or...?

Ali_Q said...

Another lovely yet very sobmre story. I love how you capture the people, the descriptions and the environments.

As a slight aside, I've just finished reading Frank's Last Call, and I loved it. I thought it was really well put together, and really a great read. I have downloaded your other books too, just got to get around to them!

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks very much, Ali_Q.

Glad you liked Franks Last Call. It was my first attempt at writing a book - or at least, the first time I'd settled down to actually finish something - so I'm relieved it went off all right. The book I'm working on at the moment doesn't have an ambulance in sight - which I suppose is either a positive or a negative, depending!

Thanks again for all your support :0)

Rbecca said...

Yeah! Tea is amazing!!

Spence Kennedy said...

I'll put the kettle on...

Ann said...

It's the end of a life that often, if one thinks about such things, seems unnecessary. Of course, from nature's point of view, life must end in order to regenerate ...
But, when my mother died, it was the question in her open eyes that I noticed: it was why I closed her eyes; I couldn't answer the question, you see ...

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Ann. Sorry to hear about your mother.

I do think that death is as natural a phenomenon as life. You see it in everything, animate and inanimate, the great cosmic struggle, from galaxies on the edge of space to frogs in the pond. And I suppose it's a mark of how vital and positive the life-force is that death is often so difficult to accept. Not being at all religious, I take comfort from the thought of regeneration after death - the redistribution of your vital force, a reabsorption into the great melting pot of existence.

Thanks for your comment, Ann. Very much appreciated.