Sarah loved her granddad. When he died, Sarah cried. Great, breath-sucking sobs of grief, which made her feel sick. Her mother’s attempts to calm the situation did more harm than good, since telling her daughter that granddad was very old, he’d enjoyed a full life, and we all have to go some time, hardly helped matters.
“I don’t care about any of that stuff. Granddad told me he’d live for ever, and now he’s gone. He lied to me.”
Sarah’s mother didn’t respond, since, at the age of twenty-five, her daughter was old enough to know better. This was the real world, after all, and she should have realised just how absurd the notion of immortality was. Instead, smiling a patronising smile, she left Sarah to her tears.
The bond between Sarah and her granddad had always been a strong one. She remembered how, when she was a little girl, and had upset her parents in some obscure but seemingly awful way, how granddad had taken her to one side, and whispered in her ear.
“Take no notice, Sarah. Your mum and dad love you, but they don’t know everything. They get things wrong all the time. Remember this: grown-ups are just children who’ve outgrown their clothes.”
Sarah loved the idea of her parents dressed like ten-year olds, and, from that moment on, every time she found herself in trouble, she imagined them as two, oversized, scruffy kids. It always served to take the sting out of the occasion.
To Sarah’s friends, her granddad appeared eccentric, to the point of mad.
When he used to collect her from the junior school, in his floppy, black fedora, and wraparound sunglasses, irrespective of the weather, the other children used to nudge one another, and giggle.
“Your granddad’s here, Sarah, with his daft hat and shades. Is he a bit mad, or what?”
Sarah paid no attention to them. She knew he wore his hat to keep his brain warm and his mind alive, and the sunglasses protected him from other people’s stupidity. He’d told her so, on several occasions, and she believed him completely. He also told her about bullies, and how she should always resist them.
“I’m an Anarchist, Sarah. Always have been. That doesn’t mean, as most people suppose, I’m some sort of trouble-making hooligan. It simply means I don’t like anyone telling me what to think and do. There are lots of people who like to tell others what to think and do, and they’re called bullies. Bullies are bad people. It’s up to you what you think, and how you choose to live your life. It doesn’t matter how important someone is, always question their explanations, their grasp of the facts, and their motives. Challenge authority figures wherever you find them, since they lie – and that includes challenging me. I lie, too.”
As Sarah moved into her teenage years, she realised that her granddad was a kind-of sage; a bodhisattva of sorts. She’d read about Buddhism in her secondary school’s Comparative Religion class, and, aside from deciding that original Buddhism wasn’t a religion at all, she thought its concern with ethics and everyday living was altogether more enlightening than anything else she’d studied. And there was her granddad, with his hat and sunglasses, collarless shirt and waistcoat, faded jeans and suede boots, and always with an enigmatic smile on his lips: the closest thing there was to the Buddha himself.
The attitude of her friends changed as Sarah grew older. Apparently, she was lucky to have such an unusual grandparent; one who broke the rules of whatever a grandparent was supposed to be. Although it made no difference to way she saw him, secretly it pleased her that her her school mates had come to realise just how very special her granddad was. The way he acknowledged everyone, how he sang out loud, how he all-but skipped along, rather than just walked. Almost as if, somehow, life was a bit of a jest.
By the time Sarah was in her early twenties, with university done, and a Philosophy degree under her belt, her granddad had taken to growing roses. The front and rear gardens of his quaint, picturesque cottage, were crammed with bushes of all shapes, sizes, and types. He’d visited the local garden centre one day, and bought every single rose specimen in stock. When Sarah asked him why he’d suddenly developed an interest in roses, he told her that his future was roses all the way. This seemed a peculiar thing for granddad to say, even by his own odd standards, and Sarah let the subject drop. Clearly, though, a change was in the air.
A year or so after he’d replanted his gardens, granddad stopped going out, other than to tend the various bushes. He talked to them, confided in them, and sang to them. Such sweet songs of love and life and freedom. People who walked by his house were convinced he’d become senile.
“It’s all a bit sad, really, but he’s finally lost the plot. He was always weird, though, and maybe it’s for the best.”
However, Sarah’s granddad hadn’t lost the plot. He was hatching a plan, and planting its roots in his garden.
Unusually, the funeral was followed by the immediate reading of Sarah’s granddad’s will. He’d stipulated that it was crucial this request was followed to the letter. His daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter were the only three people in attendance, as the solicitor sat behind his large wooden desk, and began to read.
“To my daughter and son-in-law, the sum of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds. I’m sorry, but it’s only money. To my granddaughter, the cottage and all its contents, provided she promises to maintain the gardens for as long as she lives.”
Sarah’s parents, who’d been half-expecting their daughter to be given control of all of her granddad’s estate, were both surprised, and – quite naturally, perhaps – relieved. They wouldn’t have described themselves as mercenary, but the bequest was welcome, even if it was ‘only money’. Sarah was delighted, since she loved the cottage, almost as much as she’d loved her granddad. For reasons which escaped her, she’d not visited the place for over a year. Without wishing to waste any more time, she set off for her new home.
On reaching the cottage, Sarah pushed open the garden gate, and approached the front door. As she did so, she was aware of faint sounds all around her; singing sounds, that soothed her sad soul. Thinking nothing of it, she entered the cottage, and looked around. It was exactly as she remembered it. As neat as her granddad had been. The furniture was simple, functional, but beautiful in a timeless kind of way. The walls were painted in light, bright colours, which somehow didn’t seem garish, and they were covered with framed paintings, prints, photographs, and one curious inspirational quotation. Landscapes and seascapes jostled with one another for space. Pictures of far-from-eminent Victorians competed with several of Sarah herself. And, above the fire-place, the words of William Blake.
“Imagination is the real and eternal world, of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow.”
Passing through the rear kitchen, all clean and tidy, she opened the back door, and gasped at the sight which greeted her. She’d never seen so many roses gathered together in one garden before, and it seemed as if they all swayed towards her, in a kind of congregational greeting. Here, too, was the gentle sound of singing. Although the front garden contained its fair share of rose bushes, this was something other, something altogether mesmerising. Sarah moved forwards, until she was surrounded by her granddad’s roses, all of them at head height – her head height, to be precise. She felt warm inside, as if she was being hugged. And then, she looked at the heads of the roses themselves; examined them closely. At the centre of each and every one, appeared the face of her granddad, his blue eyes shining, and a smile on his lips – that smile, which Sarah loved so much. And he was singing to her, such sweet songs of love and life and freedom. She realised that for as long as she lived, her granddad would always be with her – he would live, too. A kind-of immortality, then, if only between the two of them.
He hadn’t lied after all.