"Once or Twice Upon a Time" is a home for stories longer than is usual for blogposts. Some have been previously published in hardback. These are indicated (p) along with the year of publication. Word counts (2500 etc) let you estimate how long a read will take.

May 24, 2015


   (June 2015.  2,100 words.)

On his bad days her father would say things like "No home should be without a pillow fight,"  or "Bless my beautiful hide!" He was nearing eighty, so his daughter looked in on him every day, or called his mobile if she couldn't visit, in case it was another bad day.
   His son-in-law said "He should be in a home."  She said "He is in a home. It's the home he's lived in for fifty something years."
  "I meant a retirement home."
  "I know what you meant."
  It was not the first time daughter and son-in-law had rehearsed their anxieties. And with good reason. Some days he got their names, Lauren and Mark mixed up, and some days he got these names mixed up with those of their children, his grandchildren, Roger and Beatrice and " - that other one. It is three isn't it? The one with red hair. The one in the photo there - " pointing to the piano. 
  Then, "Oh, Dad!" Lauren would say, "That's Mum. That's your Dorothy. Dot, you always called her."
 "Dot?" he said. "Why that's right. Now I remember. Dot. She sewed costumes for her shows. Her - thing that sews for you - what's the word - machine, was always buzzing away. They did a song  that needed six pairs of what's its. Pantaloons. What a job. Six sets."
  "Seven, Dad," she said. " It's 'Seven Brides For Seven Brothers' Not six. She had to have a pair herself."
  "That's right, Dot. You embroidered all the knees with roses, so you did. Little Lauren helped you. She was still at school. Or was it daisies. Every one a different colour. You had a lovely - thing you sing with - voice, that's it."
  "They all had lovely voices, Dad. They were a treat to listen to."

  Their younger child, Beatrice, nine, asked "Why can't Grandpa remember Grandma?"
  "Most of the time he can. Forgetfulness happens to people as they get older, Bee."
  "I remember her," Bee said. "I loved Grandma Dot."
  "Grandpa loved your Grandma Dot.  From the day he first met her. Like he loves you and always will.  He's not always forgetful. He has good days. Lots - "
  On the good days he was brisk, seeing to his own breakfast, raking their lawn for them, calling for Bee and walking to and from school with her.  He had no tremors. He knew when he needed a haircut. He used a silver topped walking cane for style, had fallen just the once, on a bad day, out of bed, and had lain curled up on the floor till morning, until Lauren made her morning visit and helped him up. "I'm so sorry, Dot," he said. "I forgot about the lavatory."
  "It's alright Dad," Lauren said, her eyes moistening, thinking maybe that home was not so far away after all.

   It was their son Roger, nineteen, studying maths with computing at University who said "Ma - why don't you set up a monitor for him? Remember the one you had when Bee was a baby?"
   "But Grandpa's in the next street! The cord's nowhere near long enough . . . "
  Roger made the sort of noise that sons reserve for retarded mothers, and turned his eyes ceilingwards. "They link through the internet now, Ma.  You get a camera and mic.  You can call up the camera's view on your laptop any time.  Grandpa has a panic button so he can let you know he needs help. You can call his landline or mobile from your computer."
   "That sounds wonderful. But isn't it spying?  Could Grandpa turn it all off?"
   "Yes, but you could override. The panic button would wake up your laptop and set off a screamer - like a burglar alarm - to alert you or Dad. These things have come a long way since you and Dad lay rigid with terror, listening on the monitor for when baby Bee stopped, you know, breathing."
   When his mother said "Now you're being silly!" Roger gave her a long I-Know-My-Ma look.

  "Well, I don't know," her father said when they brought up the monitor idea. "I wouldn't want you to watch me getting dressed."
  "You can turn the whole lot off any time, Grandpa," said Roger. "It would reassure Mum and Dad. And you'd get help that much quicker if you needed it."
  "Sound only?" his Grandpa said. "I talk to myself you know. Folk on their own do. Old folk. Talk to themselves. A lot.  Wouldn't want that recorded."
   "Rambling with Grandpa," said Roger, making Bee giggle, and then say, "You sometimes talk to Grandma, Grandpa.  I've heard you. You tell her she has lovely hair."
    "Now, Bee," her mother said, turning, hiding tears.
   "Bee - sometimes it's as if I can see her. As if she's still with us.  Other times, well - I struggle to remember her name."  And as if in saying this he understood that the bad days could only get worse, and more frequent, the old man agreed the installation should go ahead - and with two cameras, one in his sitting room, the second in his bedroom.
   "It won't stop me calling in, you know," his daughter said.
   "I know," said her husband.  "But you'll rest easier. And so will I."

* * *

     "Roger! Grandpa's talking to himself again. I know I shouldn't but I turned the sitting room mic on." Bee was outside Roger's bedroom door.
    "Go away, Bee."  Roger was in his room, studying, his girl friend Stephanie helping.  Lauren and Mark were out, a restaurant dinner, a treat for Mark's birthday.  Left on Grandpa Watch, Roger had delegated the early evening shift to his sister. Two months since the installation and Bee was as handy with the camera controls as with her smartphone, as most nine year olds are, and reliable on a stake-out, for she loved her Grandpa.
    "Only not really to himself." said Bee.  "There's a lady."
    "No there isn't, Bee. That's silly."
    "Not silly! Grandpa's calling the lady Dot.  Like he did Grandma Dot."
   "How can it be Grandma Dot? Grandma Dot's de - I mean - he often talks to Grandma Dot like she's really there. He said so, when we were, you know, talking about the system."
    "But Grandma doesn't usually answer."
   "He must have his radio on. Or the TV. Check it out. Turn the cameras on - just for a sec. There's no lady. You'll see.  I'm busy."
    "You mean you're both in there kissing I bet."  Bee stood for a moment,  a clenched fist on each hip, elbows out, her bottom lip jutting. Then she clumped back down the stairs and into the kitchen, where her mother's laptop sat on one of the worktops.  She clambered onto a high stool and from a screen menu, clicked  Sitting Room Microphone-
   - to hear a woman's voice singing about a barnyard being busy in a regular tizzy and mother Nature lyrical with her yearly miracle because of Spring or something . . in a soft, low register so that she didn't think twice before she clicked Sitting Room Camera
   She gasped, jumped off the stool and dashed back upstairs, shrieking.
  "There is a lady, Roger!  There is! There is! Now she's singing on Mum's computer and Grandpa's sitting on his settee, watching.  The lady's got long white knickers on that reach below her knees with lots of frills all down the legs and there's flowers stitched on the knees and she'd got a funny sort of bodice with laces like shoe laces up the front and  - "
     The door flung open and Roger stepped out.  "Stop this, Bee!  You're letting your imagination - "
    " - and a straw hat with ribbons and a pink umbrella and she's got the tip of the umbrella on the floor and she's holding its handle and - and she's doing little dance steps round it and singing. And it's really funny and scary, 'cos you know that photo that Grandpa has of Grandma Dot? Well, the singing lady is just like Grandma Dot in the photo."
    She grabbed his hand trying to drag her brother down the stairs but when he wrenched his hand away and she began to sob, Stephanie, from the bedroom said, "Take it easy, Rog. Can't you see she's really upset? Go see what's what, if only to calm her down," and to the child, "Come on, Bee love. Let's see this person in pantaloons singing for your Grandpa."
   They went downstairs, Stephanie holding Bee's hand.  In the kitchen they found the laptop in sleep mode. Roger tapped a key to wake it.  The screen showed Grandpa's sitting room.  From the keyboard Roger turned the camera left and right to show as much of the room as possible.  There was no one, and only silence in the room.
   "See?" he said to Bee, "You were imagining  - "
   "Then where's Grandpa now?" said Bee.
   "How would I know?" Now Roger sounded cross. "There's plenty of other places he could be."
   "They've gone into the bedroom so they can kiss like you and Steff.  Grandpa kissed Grandma Dot a lot. And I saw them, I did. Grandpa listening and the Grandma lady singing and dancing. I saw them! You don't believe me! Turn the bedroom camera on."
   "Bee, it can't be Gran," Roger began. "You know it can't. It was Grandpa playing  a CD. Or his radio. So - end of track one. Connection lost. Let's go  - "  He tapped the keyboard. The screen-saver replaced the sitting room. "And don't you go spying on Grandpa, Bee."
     "Go back to your kissing then!" said Bee. "Just wait till Mum gets in. She'll believe me!" and as Roger and Stephanie left the kitchen she woke the computer and called up the bedroom camera.
     "See!" She pouted at the closing door. "Told you!" But the others did not come back in and she fell silent as she watched the screen.
     Grandpa lay on his bed, quite still, his eyes closed. Grandma Dot in her pantaloons lay beside him, holding him in her arms, her face very close to his, her straw hat and parasol cast aside on the floor.
    And Bee, her voice suddenly much older whispered "Do you believe me now, Roger?"
   Grandma Dot said "You always loved that song. 'Spring. Spring. Spring' with all seven of us in our pantaloons. How we larked about when I was making them.  You said you could have done with seven brides as long as they were all me.  So I came to sing it for you, one last time."
   She leaned over Grandpa and kissed his forehead.  "But it's time to go now, my darling. I've missed you so much."   Then she sat up on the edge of the bed and looked straight into the camera and said "Beatrice, always remember we both loved you very much."
  "Are you real, Gran?"
 "Let's say that you can see me, my pet. But not Roger, or your Mum and Dad - Lauren and Mark. I'm afraid they're all too old."
 "Is Grandpa dead?" Bee asked, knowing the answer.
  But Grandma Dot had gone, leaving the room to Grandpa, leaving Bee to break the news through her tears, and to begin her mourning.

* * *
  One day, some weeks after the funeral, Lauren came in from a visit to Grandpa's house which she was slowly clearing out. "Bee?," she called. "You in, love? Come and see this."  Bee came down the stairs into the hall. 
   "See what I found at Grandpa's. This little straw hat. There's a note pinned to it. 'Make sure Bee gets this'  He must have kept it all those years.   Do you want it?"
  Bee took the hat and went back upstairs. She closed her door. She perched the hat on her curls and tied the pink ribbons under her chin. She did some little dance steps round her bedroom ending at her mirror.
  "Thank you, Grandma Dot," she said. "Take care of each other. And give Grandpa a kiss from me."

* * *