Eleven o’clock. Same time. Coffee time. Clapham.
Rosemary, Hugh and Camellia’s, daughter was sitting in her kitchen, staring resolutely into her wide, white cup.
“I want nothing more to do with them, Robert."
She pushed the biscuits towards her husband, not meeting his eye.
“But they’re your parents.”
Through the window, between gaps in the houses, he could see plane trees in the park, black and bare of leaves. Their branches were spiky and delicate against the grey, grainy sky.
“And my parents ‘in-law’. They're old. We should offer them care.”
“They have each other.”
She was snapping.
He was pleading.
“What about our children?”
Rosemary stared at him.
“What about them?”
“They need grandparents. Everyone needs grandparents.”
“Of course they don’t need grandparents.” She laughed. “Lots of people don’t have grandparents.”
He didn’t like her to laugh. It mattered.
Perhaps I should let him see, she thought. When he sees the mess in the drawing room, he'll change his mind. When the donkeys in the hall bite him . . .
. . . how old were they now? . . .
. . . when his expensive shoes had been ruined by fifteen years of urine and accumulated dung he too would want an escape.
"Of course children need grandparents! Doesn’t everyone?"
Rosemary tried not to look as she felt.
Robert kept his eyes on the view. The lawn below the chestnut tree had turned to mush. The flower borders were empty of everything except for a cluster of London-weary evergreens.
“Just let the children have grandparents Rosemary.”
She reached for the coffee pot. It was empty and she slammed it so sharply back down onto the table that its little feet drove dents into the wood. She licked her finger and rubbed at the marks, then, shoving the pot aside, settled for staring at them so she didn’t have to look anywhere else - but, every so often, her finger reached back, as if of its own accord, to have another go at smoothing them away.
“Listen, Rosemary,” said Robert, trying not to sound desperate. “This is something we must do. The children shouldn’t be separated from their grandparents and their grandparents shouldn’t be separated either from them or from any help we can give them in their old age.”
Robert was pompous when distressed.
She suddenly knew he'd planned this conversation. He must have. He was wearing a suit.
Bother, she thought, he's serious.
When her grandparents had lived at Thorncombe, there'd been a huge apple-wood fire in winter (there weren’t sheep in the drawing room then!). And the scent of it had floated up and out of the chimney. It had drifted across the roofs of the big house. It had dropped sleepily into the parkland. The shelves in her room had been filled with story books (not warble fly tracts). When it was time for bed, her grandmother read from them until her until her eyes closed.
Cows and sheep lived in the fields, not the house. There were two cats, just two - healthy and tame - not the countless, nameless, sickly ones her parents let crawl in and out of the cooking pots.
Everything her parents touched turned to mud. They'd turned Thorncombe to mud. But they existed. Whereas . . . Robert . . . his parents gone before he knew them. And his grandparents . . . never met them.
Her heart lurched. She’d always known she’d give in one day - well - that day might as well be this one; at least she’d have got it over with.
“Ok," she said. “We’ll go. We’ll go to Thorncombe.”
She didn't want to see him pleased. Not about this. So she filled the kettle.
“You can change now,” she said. "It is Saturday."
But still, she didn't look at him. "I'll make fresh coffee," she said.
Then, at last, she turned, and smiled. “And while you’re doing it, you can work out where we can buy wellington boots in Clapham.”