A short story – Colin Devonshire
The Good Old Days
‘Back in my day, we didn’t accept any bad language. On our black-and-white tv, they hinted at foul jokes without saying the bad words. Adults would get the point without upsetting the children,’ granddad said, before drifting off in another nap.
I loved granddad; it was always fun to be with him. He showed us paper and pen games, sometimes with one or two dice. Nothing electronic.
My brother, John, and I grinned and nodded at each other. John liked his phone games more but would always join us, laughing and fooling around.
We messed about with our granddad, he always had a joke, with no bad language! He brought us the best presents for Christmas or our birthdays.
‘God, is he sleeping again?’ mum said as she popped her head around the door. Mum didn’t like granddad, we never knew why. He wasn’t her dad, maybe that was all? Or maybe because he used to sneak us chocolate bars? We would always welcome him, my dad, too, but not mum.
Granddad stirred, ‘Whose turn is it to make the tea? Must be you,’ he waggled his finger at me.
I smiled and clicked on the kettle. I knew a goodie would be waiting as a reward.
‘Do you want a cuppa, mum?’ I called upstairs.
‘Thanks, Jonty, can I have mine up here?’
She didn’t want to sit with us; I guessed.
‘Now where was I?’ asked Granddad.
‘You were telling us about your old telly. They never swore in those days, you said.’
‘Yes, and they never showed lady’s bits, either,’ he said, we covered a snort.
John quickly covered his mobile’s screen, mine was in my pocket, I knew the topic would come up. Granddad always wanted to know what we were watching.
‘You never told us what happened to our Nan? She died before we were born, tell us about her,’ said John.
‘Oh, you would have loved her, she was the prettiest gal in her village. She was clever too, had her own business at twenty. Very few girls ran businesses in those days. Men did all the work, women ran houses. Cooking, cleaning and having children, but not your nan, she…’ he drifted into another thought. ‘Did you make me a tea yet?’
‘You drank it.’
‘Granddad, you started telling us about your tattoo, but you never finished?’ I asked.
‘This is the paratrooper’s badge,’ he explained, rubbing his forearm.
‘Were you in the paratroops?’ asked my brother.
‘Yes, I signed up when I left school.’
‘So, you jumped out of planes?’
‘Of course, we all had to.’
‘Wow, that’s exciting, can we sign up?’ John asked.
‘Don’t joke about it. You may have a war to deal with,’ Granddad said.
‘Did you go to war?’
He sighed. I noticed mum leaning at the door.
‘No, he ran away!’ she said.
‘I had my battle to deal with, back then,’ he grunted.
‘Yeah, sure, you started another family in Thailand,’ mum said.
Granddad looked down and didn’t answer. Mum snorted and retreated to the kitchen.
John and I played on our phones. John played Fortnite, and I searched Google. The war granddad spoke of must have been the Falklands War, I guessed he must have been in his early twenties. I wanted to find out more. I would find out where Thailand was later. A strange thought struck me, ‘why had we never been to grandad’s house? I mean we had been there, we had been in his living room. But, nowhere else. Why?’ I wondered. I jumped up, signalled silence to my brother, and crept out. Rifling through granddad’s jacket pockets, I found his house keys.
Quietly I closed the back door and jogged the few streets to granddad’s house.
I looked around, to see if any neighbours were watching. I slid the key into the lock, and click. I was in. Nosing in the downstairs rooms, nothing unusual. I don’t know why, but I silently went upstairs. Three bedrooms, the third was a box room, stacked high with stuff, taped and secure. The middle room boasted a double bed and not much else. The master room, granddad’s, was tidy, with a made bed, a table with a book, James Bond, old and tatty, thumbed many times. In the far corner was a wardrobe, tall doors reached the ceiling, it was the drawers low down that caught my eye.
Looked around, like all the burglars I’d seen on tv. Inside was a battered briefcase. Locked. ‘Oh, no!’ I whispered.
My hand searched my pocket, and on the keyring was a tiny key. And yes, it opened the case.
Inside were several scrapbooks. Not my grandfather’s, his father’s. The early pages boasted of a youthful boy winning races, cups, and other sporting events. A few pages on was a splash of a wedding, our granddad’s. My grandmother looked beautiful, better than I could have imagined. She died before I was born. As I flicked further, I saw a newspaper clipping of paratroopers preparing to leave for the Falklands. And there he was. Granddad is ready for war. Then there were official-looking papers. Mr J Jones is summoned to appear at Aldershot Military Court, on a charge of desertion.
There, glued to a page of the scrapbook was a section of The Pattaya Mail. Which was a picture of granddad with a young Thai lady. Getting married. What? There were more booklets, papers, bits and pieces, I couldn’t face more news.
I let my tears stream, wetting the pages as I read of Mrs A Jones found dead after committing suicide. My grandmother held a postcard with a Thai stamp, as she put her head in the gas oven. Granddad, what have you done?
The doorbell sounded along with a tap. Oh, no, I’ve been caught. In two minds, I decided to face the music; I started down the stairs. There were two people at the door.
‘Hello, can I help you?’ I asked.
‘Eh, yes, we are here to see Mr Jones. Is he here?’
The men weren’t English. Their accents were odd, they were dressed against the cold, even though it was warmish.
‘He is not here. Why do you want him?’
‘We need to see him. It’s personnel, where is he?’
‘Um, can you wait here, I’ll get him?’ I made sure the door was locked as I ran home. I looked back, the men had sat on the step.
‘Mum, two men are waiting to see granddad.’
‘Who are they? What do they want?’
‘I’ve no idea, they seem quite nice.’
‘See if your granddad is awake.’
I popped my head around the door. He was snoring peacefully.
‘Come on then,’ she said, ‘let’s see who these men are.’ Mum lead me across the road.
‘Hello, can I help you?’ said mum politely.
‘Eh, yes, but we need to talk to our father. Mr Jones.’
‘What? Your father?’
‘Yes, do you know him?’
‘Not as well as I thought. I’m his daughter-in-law.’
‘Hello sister-in-law,’ they said together. ‘It seems we are family.’
‘Jonty, wake him and bring him here, and I mean now.’
She guided the men through to the lounge, as I trotted off.
Granddad woke from a dream with a start, ‘What is it?’
‘You’d better come quick. Some men want to see you, they say they are your sons.’
He lost all colour to his cheeks; he needed to steady himself on the armchair. Off we went.
‘Hello boys,’ granddad said.
‘Hi dad, you look well,’ one of them said. ‘It’s been a while?’
‘We have a lot of catching up to do,’ said the other.
‘Should we go?’ asked mum.
‘This might take a while,’ said grandad as he pointed to the door.
I was full of questions for mum as we sat in our kitchen.
‘Not now,’ was all I got. Google searched for Thailand. After reading about the sights and nightlife, I left mum in thought and returned to granddad.
I peered through the front window. The young men opened a bottle of what looked like alcohol, anyway, it wasn’t granddad’s favourite Scotch. Three glasses were handed around and they toasted each other. I pressed my ear to the glass.
‘It’s taken a long time to catch up with you,’ said one as he poured more drinks. I noticed my granddad was the only person knocking it back.
‘Our mum worked herself into the ground when you left. She got us through school and then university. She begged you for help, but you didn’t reply.’ Both Thai men remained calm, as they poured more booze.
‘She became sick, we worked to pay the hospital bills. She hated seeing us struggle for her. So, she ended it. It has taken until now to clear our debts and earn enough to visit you. Our long-lost dad.’
‘We are here now, have you anything to say to us?’
One man walked towards the window, and I ran.
Dad came home from work, and mum and I told him what happened. I admitted to spying.
‘Leave them to their discussion. When the men go, I’ll see dad,’ he said.
It was dark and past my bedtime, ‘Dad, I’ll pop over and see if they are still there?’
The bottle was empty, granddad sat still, and the men looked like they were preparing to leave. I ran home.
‘Okay, give it an hour and I’ll find out what happened,’ said dad.
John and I were sent to bed. A short while later, sirens woke us, and police cars and an ambulance hurried past our house.
My mum was crying as we went downstairs. ‘Your grandfather died this evening,’ she said. I ran to granddad’s.
Dad caught me at the door, ‘Don’t go in.’
A policeman wanted to know what I’d seen. I told him exactly.
‘But there was no whisky bottle on the table or in the bin, no glasses on the table or in the sink,’ he said.
I pushed past him and rushed upstairs.
All the papers, the case, the lot, gone.
The policeman was on his radio, ‘Could be murder, put me through to Heathrow Airport security.’
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