My earliest memory is visiting Grandma in a terraced house in a grimy northern town. We’d enter through a glass porch, where cacti and succulents sunbathed under dusty panes, their greenery a stark contrast to the blackened stone walls. In those days there were few cars, the roads largely empty save for the odd Humber Super Snipe, Vauxhall Victor or early versions of the Mini.
We’d sit in the kitchen or lounge. “Come and sit by the stove, Martin, I’ll put the kettle on.” The front room was darkened and almost never used. A photograph of an airman, killed in the war, stood on a dark mahogany sideboard. I was told he was a great uncle but the name meant nothing. It might have been John or Jack. Or Jim even.
I was a sickly child, suffering for years from repeated episodes of nausea and vomiting. Now they call it Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome, CVS, but in those days, they didn’t know what was wrong with me.
We’d listen to the radio whilst Grandma brought us tea and biscuits. She always gave me and my brother presents suitable for children two or three years younger than us, so puzzles took minutes for us to solve, and books, an hour or so to read from cover to cover. The Monkees would be on the radio.
Cheer up sleepy Jean
Oh, what can it mean to a
Daydream believer and a
We used to laugh because Grandma’s name was Jean. I never understood what a Homecoming Queen meant, I guess it’d have different connotations now.
It was never mentioned, but upstairs lay a terrible secret. I’d seen it but once. A long metal cylinder, like a mini-submarine, standing on a sturdy metal trestle. And something I’ll never forget as long as I live, a man’s head sticking out of the end, the face white, the lips blue and the eyes closed. Grandad.
Oh, I could hide ‘neath the wings
Of the bluebird as she sings
The six-o’clock alarm would never ring
But today, Grandma was saying for me to go up and see him. She didn’t say why. I felt scared as I trod the faded carpet up the stairs and along the landing to a room at the end, a room I never went near if I could help it.
I opened the door with trembling hands, closed my eyes and went in. There was a sound like bellows. Then a whisper, “Come over here, Martin.”
I walked across the carpet with my eyes still tightly closed, afraid of what I might see.
The voice whispered again, “Open your eyes, Martin, don’t be scared.”
I did so and saw Grandad’s face, pale and drawn, and covered in lines. But beneath the bald head, his eyes were open and chartreuse green.
“Hello Grandad,” I found myself whispering back. “Why are you in that … thing?”
“Polio, son, it breathes for me, otherwise ….”
I didn’t know then what that terrible disease did, nor had I heard of an Iron Lung.
“Martin, touch my face, son.”
I stretched out a hand and touched my grandad’s cheeks, they felt rough, stubbled, and cold as death itself.
But six rings and I rise
Wipe the sleep out of my eyes
The shaving razor’s cold and it stings
Then something amazing happened. I felt a sudden warmth in his face, then in my hand and up my arm, infusing into my body, across my chest, and into my other arm, down into my legs and up into my head, my whole being filled with all-encompassing warmth. I looked down at Grandad. A smile lay on his thin blue lips but his eyes looked at me unseeing and I was frightened. I’d never seen death before, nor knew what it meant. I ran downstairs to Grandma and hugged her whilst she wiped the tears from my eyes.
But from then on, I started to feel better and the vomiting and sickness stopped soon after. I never suffered from it again. To this day I believe that Granddad gave me his energy and was able to heal me, his ultimate kindly action on this Earth.
Featured in the book, The Window Crack’d and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Horror and the Supranatural
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