Granny sat down with a thump and
plonked her shopping bag on the floor.
‘I’ll take a cup of
tea, Jean, if I may.’
I saw Mum glance
briefly at the dusty mantelpiece before disappearing into the kitchen to make
the tea. Granny always noticed dust. Mum and I always laughed about it after
she’d gone. I sat, pushing my toy cars around the table, waiting for the usual
‘So, young man, what
did you do in school today?’
started with that one.
‘Erm, well we did some
number work, and I finished my reading book.’
Granny gave me a
‘You look a bit pasty,
lad. Did you run round at playtime?’
Playtime. No I hadn’t
run round. I’d sat on the side and after a bit Mrs Hawkins, the playground lady,
came over to me. She knew about Granddad ’cause I’d cried one day. I couldn’t
help it, but she was nice. I told her about fishing in the lake. On Sundays,
Granddad would call for me and off we’d go. I was allowed to carry the bait
tin, which was one of the best bits. I loved thinking about all those crawly
things inside being carried by me. Granddad always had these long wellies and I
wore my ones with ducks on, even though they were a bit babyish. Mum said we
couldn’t afford new ones, so I had to put up with it.
‘Honestly, Jean,’ I
heard Granny saying. ‘Not a word to throw at a dog, that lad.’
‘Talk to your granny,
Joe,’ said Mum.’ She’s come specially.’ Mum was always trying not to offend
Granny used to
say that Granddad hadn’t a word to throw at a dog either, and I used to imagine
people picking up words and throwing them at the horrid Alsatian next door. He
used to say that he went out fishing to give Granny a bit of peace and quiet,
but I wondered sometimes if it wasn’t the other way round. Not that we talked
that much at the lake. Granddad said it upset the fish.
As well as the
big wellies, he always wore his fishing jumper. It was knobbly brown, smelt of
pipe smoke and had holes in the elbows.
‘It’s what a good
jumper should be, lad,’ he’d say.
Mum went mad one
day when I cut holes in my jumper to wear fishing, but obviously Granny didn’t
mind. That was strange, because Granny minds about most things.
Then one Sunday
he didn’t call by to take me out. Mum cried when I asked her about it and she told
me to go upstairs and be a good boy, so I did. Later that day, Mum told me that
Granddad was very sick, so he wouldn’t be going fishing again. In fact, Mum
said, he wouldn’t be able to see me again ’cause he’d gone to heaven. I knew
about Heaven ’cause David Parker’s mum had gone there last year, but I couldn’t
bear to think that Granddad had gone and I’d never see him again. I told Mrs
Hawkins about that in the playground and she said she knew about Heaven too.
She said Granddad would be happy there.
I was glad about
that, but I didn’t think he could ever be as happy as the day he caught Captain
Blackfin. Captain Blackfin had lived in the lake for ever and all the fishermen
talked about catching him. They all knew what he looked like. He was a great
big’un with a mean-looking face, a squinty eye and black fins. I was dying to
see him. Then that particular day, Granddad said he was going to have another
go at him. He said he’d had enough of being teased by a fish.
‘That fella’s number’s
up today, Joe. You mark my words. And you, lad, can choose the bait,’ he added.
‘Reckon you can make a good job of that.’ I was so proud and I took my time
selecting exactly the right thing.
We went off to a
different part of the lake from where we usually went and sat down and waited
for ages and ages. Granddad kept muttering ‘Come on, you mean old buggar’ Mum
always told him off for saying that word in front of me, but I didn’t mind.
Then suddenly he went quiet and the muscles on his arms bulged.
‘Think I’ve got him,
lad,’ he said, frantically reeling in the line. And it was him. He was the
meanest-looking fish I’d ever seen and Granddad put him in a net and started
calling to the other men further along the bank.
They all clapped
him on the bank and said they’d buy him a pint later.
‘Nay it’s not me that’s
done it. It’s the lad here. He chose the bait.’ And they all smiled at me and
one of them gave me sixpence. I told Mrs Hawkins about Captain Blackfin and she
said she wished she’d been there to see it.
All that day,
Granddad whistled and smoked his pipe while Captain Blackfin fought and
struggled in the net. Then when it got to teatime he said, ‘Well, goodbye for
now, old fellow. See you another time.’ And he slipped the fish gently back
into the lake where it dived for the bottom.
‘That’s been the
best day of my life,’ he said.’ Bar none.’ And we set off for home.
broke into my thoughts. She and Mum were sitting drinking their tea and talking
about the neighbours. They always did this. Suddenly Granny broke off and dived
into her bag.
‘I’ve got something for
you, lad.’ she said. And to my surprise she pulled out Granddad’s bait tin.
‘I was clearing out
your granddad’s stuff and thought you might like this. You always seemed so
fond of it.’
tin. I felt tears coming into my eyes and bit my lip sharply to stop myself
crying. Granny hated people who cried. Blubbering, she called it.
‘Thanks, Granny,’ I
whispered. ‘It’s the best present I’ve ever had.’ Mum was smiling at me.
‘That’s not all either.
I was going to give that smelly old jumper of his to the rag-and-bone man, but
then I thought, no, waste not want not. So I’ve unpicked it and knit it up into
a jumper for you. Try it on, lad. Let’s see if it fits.’
And there it was,
held up in front of me. A miniature version of Granddad’s fishing jumper,
complete with a hole in one of the elbows.
This time, I did cry as I tried it
on. It still smelt of Granddad and I remembered the day we’d caught Captain
Blackfin, the best day of Granddad’s life. I knew Captain Blackfin was still in
the lake. One day I’d get him. I’d say, ‘Hello, you mean old buggar. Remember
me? Remember this jumper?’
I put my arms
around Granny and hugged her even though she wasn’t that keen on hugs.
much.’ I sniffed. ‘Mum, can I take the things to school tomorrow to show Mrs
Hawkins? She’d love to see them.’ Mum nodded. She had that look like when she’s
going to cry.
‘Well, you’re not such
a bad lad after all,’ said Granny.
She paused suddenly
in the middle of eating her Rich Tea biscuit.
mantelpiece could do with a dust.’
And Mum smiled
her secret smile at me. This had been the best day of my life. Bar none.
©2009 Christine Griffin
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