My grandmother, I remember, draped a fur around her shoulders long after they ceased to be fashionable, even when reclining on the sofa in her home. She delighted in making statements such as, “I have offered up my life to scotch and cigarettes, I have given both those brave substances licence to kill me yet both have failed to do so.”
At the time she said this I was twenty three and my grandmother seventy-five, and an embarrassment to her relatives and all those who sought to live moral, prayer filled lives including the tired solicitor who managed the trust fund which gloriously removed her from the need to worry about everyday concerns. She was my heroine, and as soon as I was old enough to hear, she would regale me with tales of what she called “elegant debauchery” which meant, I think, that whatever the company or its state of undress, there was always a man servant to pour the wine.
“Let them at least see what they cannot enjoy” she might say as she emptied another portion of her grandfather’s fortune down her throat. My mother, her daughter, hated her of course, and clung to more orthodox versions of sanity, but she could not avoid her mother’s company, as, it had been made clear, to absent herself from her mother’s daily life was to lose all access to her unregarded wealth.
My grandmother told me candidly that my mother was a disappointment and she looked to me to maintain the family honour and reputation for excess. “Learn about wine and the beauty of a woman” she told me. “Let nature speak to you, and music fill your soul and then write of your experiences. That is your destiny.” My father was long dead, rescued from a life he had come to find unbearable by, well, death itself I suppose. Grandmother was armed with nuances of every colour and variety and delighted in disturbing those she thought unworthy of entering her salon. “Bores darling. Unutterable bores who measure everything and understand so very little” Thus was the vast majority of mankind exiled from her regard. She drawled the word “Very” in such a manner is it sounded almost like the gurgling of the toilet emptying the lives of bores into some mysterious waste system.
Even the best of us, may find weariness curbs our ability to express our inner being, but for some reason, “Fatigue” itself seemed as reluctant to enjoy my grandmother’s company as were morals or any sense of social propriety: to my young heart she was an inspiration and a pleasure seeker “Extraordinaire,” dressed in period costume.
Her daughter had been raised to despise any manifestation of professional activity but, regardless, recoiled from the well-heeled debauchery so prized by her parent. After my father died my mother avoided any further connection with the opposite sex having, I suspect, spent the last of her optimism on that brief romance.
Events of course, may take an unexpected turn as I was to find out one afternoon when I entered the house at the precise moment my mother pushed my grandmother down the stairs exhausted, in all probability, by the unending wait for her mother to do the decent thing and expire in the customary manner.
I don’t think it was loyalty; more a question of style really, but I kept the little secret in the family and after a cursory inspection the police left us to it and a funeral was arranged. The church, which opened its doors for reasons which escape us all, was packed to the alter with every kind of lounge lizard, artists of every inspiration and a general body of people recognised by my grandmother as breathing with style if not purpose. The vicar, may his god bless him, scrapped a few facts from my grandmothers life in order to construct a eulogy, and after a service of no great length we all repaired to the Hall and a wake which unfolded without reference to manners or decency.
The next day, the loyal solicitor arrived at the Hall to read the will. My mother was disinherited without comment, and the hall and trust fund were passed to me in their entirety on the understanding that I did not tarnish the family name with respectability. I moved my quarters to the ground floor.