Practising for Grandpa (Poetic Form: Prose)
A year after Grandpa died, my sister and I saw him standing in the basement. Truly. The southwest corner of our Ravenna Boulevard house. Right there. In the basement – there, where gleaming lumps of coal fell on to an existing deeply black heap, there, where they hurled through a narrow metal shoot with a deafening, heart-shaking clatter. At the top of the coal shoot was a square wooden plank, a makeshift door of sorts, pushed up against the wall that shut out the worst of the winter weather, stray cats, squirrels, and most of the sunlight, not that that door has anything to do with anything. Anyway … My sister and I spent an hour each morning and another each evening down in the basement practising our weekly piano lessons. The summers were okay, temperature-wise, but during the winter it was permafrost down there, and we wore our winter coats and knitted gloves with the finger bits cut off so we could feel the ivories. On top of the piano, it was an upright, I mentioned that, right?, well it was, and we used an old metal, coiled-neck lamp for light and Mother’s old kitchen timer, a white tick-tick-tick wind-up thing that ticked off the minutes, while ticking me off as well. I’d gradually move the timer forward in between fugues and sonatas, just a bit – I didn’t want to be caught out cheating time. Mother, of course, set her newer kitchen time upstairs in the kitchen to check that I wasn’t cheating. There was a dutiful exchange of glances as my timer always rang before hers, but then as I always say, if you go looking for a cheat you’ll always find one. My sister set the timer for her practise time, too, and hers always rang simultaneously with Mother’s. She was a bright, shining star of a child. The problem wasn’t my sister, nor was it the cold in the basement; I was wrapped up better than a polar bear. The problem was the neck wrenching I inflicted on myself as I’d practise Beethoven or Bach, whilst glancing over my shoulder to see if Grandpa was still watching me from the coal corner. After a while I convinced myself that he meant me no harm, maybe he was trying to persuade me not to cheat time, and I have to admit that I started practising the whole 60-minutes after I discovered Grandpa watching me. I’d say “Hi, Grandpa!” or “Bye, Grandpa!” and since he never moved and spoke to me, I was quite okay to let him stand there in the middle of the coal heap and enjoy my piano playing. Now what I didn’t know was that my sister had told Mother many months before that she didn’t like having Grandpa standing there watching her while she played the piano, and well, leapin’ Liszt, I hadn’t even mentioned Grandpa to her. At that age, which was about 12, I didn’t speak to my sister unless I had to. She was 7, and totally interfered with my journey into teen-dom. So Mother asked me if I could see anything down at the end of the basement where the coal was, and I shrugged, “I don’t know – like what? Like Grandpa, you mean?” Mother turned sort of tepid grey and grabbed the wall whilst nodding her head. Well, she couldn’t see him. My sister and I could see him though. Mother took a broom and swept every spider web and speck of dust from that corner but Grandpa was still standing there, and he continued to keep me company while I practised my piano lessons in that dreary darned basement. A few months later, my sister decided she’d had enough of him. She spun round on the piano stool and shouted at Grandpa, “GO AWAY!” And he did. Just like that. And that was the last time that I saw Grandpa. I’m kind of sorry about that, too, because just like this story it all leads up to something and then goes poof, and it’s all finished. Much like life, I reckon.