by Anna Nguyen
I asked my grandmother a question once. We hardly ever talked to each other but I felt particularly curious that day. She didn’t reply and kept on fiddling with the remote, flicking through the only five channels she had. I repeated my question and waited for her answer. I feigned nonchalance and flicked through the TV guide, mentioning very quietly that there was going to be another repeat of Albert Finney’s ‘Poy-rot’, her favourite adaptation. But she said nothing and burped as she adjusted her bottom in her torn floral chair and patted down her faded nightgown.
I asked her again the following day but she replied with a huff and went and sat on the toilet for forty eight minutes, hoping probably that I would not be there; like a racoon covering its eyes with its small black paws, because if the racoon couldn’t see you then perhaps, by chance, you couldn’t see the racoon. I waited outside the toilet door and listened to her wheezing and rocking on the plastic toilet seat. She tried to drive me away with the sound of running water, and half-hearted uneven grunts, but each grunt made her tired and soon she had fallen asleep. I opened the door (it didn’t have a lock) and found her drooling.
I didn’t ask her again for two weeks. She told my parents what I had done; how I had barged in on her whilst she was on the toilet doing her business; how I had jeered at her old bits and ran away giggling. They punished me with no TV. I was almost offended by my parents’ gullibility, but, fools as they were, it gave me time to plan my Trojan horse. On the last day my grandmother fed me cakes bought from the supermarket, feeding hard mini Victoria sponges and Tesco Everyday Value custard creams to an ‘ever-so clever’ parrot that had learnt to shut-up. She laid them out on her scratched plastic ware and watched me eat each one with her sagging rheumy eyes, trying to pry from me my perfectly disguised insolence. I smiled and ate them heartily because my Trojan horse was already in play.
My parents stayed in that night and I suggested we all play a game. A game? They said. Yes, a game I made up myself, I said and they praised me like foolish parents do because they had been told to do so by an early incarnation of Supernanny. We sat around a piece of cardboard I had ripped from a box I found in my grandmother’s bedroom. I copied the monopoly board and changed the street names and replaced all the cards with comfortable questions except for one, of course. I made my own dice and made sure everyone sat in their ‘proper’ places. My parents were predictable and soon lost interest, preferring the role of spectator to player. It was just me and my grandmother, and she was winning. She played the game feverishly and revelled in her successive wins. The adults seemed to make sense out of the random; they contrived a coherent set of rules and a consistent score system out of a game that I didn’t even understand. But it didn’t matter, when the dice fell and we entered the Fire Round, she was caught in my trap.
I asked her the question. She glared at me, her eyes rolling in their loose sockets. My parents were oblivious; one had gone to make tea, the other flicking through the five analogue channels, telling her to get on with it. I smiled at her and her jaw clenched. She would have gritted but her false teeth were floating in a glass of water behind her, grinning. Either way she was going to lose. The only choices she had were to lose the game or lose to me.
She faked gas, and asked my parents to help her to the toilet.
I don’t remember the question now. I should do but I don’t. She died some years back, but I do remember the slight curl of her hair around her small ears; the way her fingers jittered when she was impatient with the postman; the smell of stale homemade soap on her favourite ill-fitting dress and her sagging rheumy eyes.
Anna Nguyen is 21 years old and writes irregularly.