WRITTEN BY JANE CORRY, OUR NEW “DIARY OF A MODERN GRAN” COLUMNIST
Part Three: As Sally’s family makes ever more demands, it seems her husband and Patty are getting just a bit too cosy
So! Patty thought. Her new friend Hannah had a secret admirer. At least that’s what it had looked like from the way those two were talking in the tea room, heads close together. At one point, Patty had distinctly seen them brushing hands – even though Hannah was married.
Of course, if something was going on, it was obviously wrong. But in some ways, she couldn’t help feeling rather envious. Dear Fred had been very sweet in his own way. But there’d never been any passion. Although she missed him, it was rather like missing a close friend than a lover.
Patty shook herself as she walked back to her daughter’s house. What had got into her? The physical side had never been important to her before. She’d presumed it was the same for everyone else her age. Yet her new friends in the Grans R Us group (as they’d started to call themselves) still had romance in their lives. Just look at Sally and Duncan. Such a lovely man.
“Mum!” Rosie was at the front door – still in her dressing gown!
“I know you’ve been busy with little Arthur,” said Patty sternly, “but how are you going to find a new man if you don’t look after yourself?”
Rosie went beetroot red.
“Shh, Mum. Clive’s still here.”
“What?” So that’s why her daughter wasn’t dressed.
As if on cue, a gangly young man pattered downstairs, holding her sleeping grandson against his chest.
Luckily your wonderful daughter has given me a second chance
“Hiya, Patty. Look, I know what you’re thinking. But the truth is that I freaked out at the thought of fatherhood. Then I came to my senses and well, all I can say is that I’ve been an idiot. Luckily your wonderful daughter has given me a second chance.”
Gently, he bent down to place his cheek next to little Arthur’s while draping an arm around Rosie. Despite everything, Patty couldn’t help thinking that they made a perfect family picture.
Suddenly Patty knew exactly what she had to do.
“I’m very glad for you. Just give me time to find somewhere else and I’ll be out of your hair.”
Rosie grabbed her hand.
“You don’t have to do that, Mum.”
“I think I do.” Briefly she thought back to those awful five years of early marriage when she’d had to put up with her you-never-do-anything-right mother-in-law. “A couple need their own space.”
“But you’ve sold the house!”
“Then I’ll rent.” She stared longingly at little Arthur. “As long as you don’t mind me living close by.”
“Sure. Handy for babysitting, eh, Ro?”
Patty still wasn’t convinced by her daughter’s choice, to be honest. But she had to give them a chance.
Just at that moment, her phone bleeped. It was a message from Sally to the whole group. Lovely to see you all today. Look forward to the next meeting.
Suddenly, Patty had an idea. Sally ran a B & B, didn’t she?
“Of course,” said Sally, when she called to explain the situation. It just happened that the new annex for long-term lets had been finished and they hadn’t rented it out to anyone yet.
The rate was more than she’d expected but thanks to her husband’s nest egg, Patty could afford it.
“You can move in tonight if you want.”
Sally’s kind words made her feel better immediately. She was also wonderfully welcoming when Patty arrived with her large suitcase.
“Have a glass of wine with us in the kitchen before you go to bed.”
Patty bit back the tears as she sat in the rocking chair next to the Aga with one of Sally’s grandchildren on her lap.
“You know, the hardest thing was leaving little Arthur. I can’t bear not to be with him.”
“You’ll be able to see him every day, won’t you? You’re only minutes away.”
“If Clive doesn’t think I’m interfering.”
“Maybe,” said Duncan topping up her glass, “you’ll have to learn to love him, too. We’ve had to do that with some of our kids’ partners, haven’t we, Sal?”
The following morning, Patty made her way into the kitchen. Sally had invited her to join them for breakfast but the only person there was Duncan.
“Cup of tea?”
He really was an amazing husband! Fred had always expected her to make tea. He went to work; she did everything at home – an unspoken agreement she’d stuck to until the day he died.
Now and then her late husband would insinuate she had the easier side of the bargain. In fact, it wasn’t easy bringing up Rosie. She was as stubborn then as now…
“Did you sleep well?”
His kindness made her eyes well up.
“Not really. It’s rather odd being somewhere different. Please don’t get me wrong but I’ve given up everything for my daughter and now she doesn’t want me.”
“There, there. It’s all right.”
Patty felt a warm pair of arms around her. It felt so nice. So comforting.
“Morning.” Sally was at the door, a grandchild in her arms. “I see my husband is making you feel at home.”
Duncan stepped back and sat down.
“Patty was understandably a little sad.”
“So I see. I’ll leave you to do breakfast. I need to take this little one to nursery.”
Oh dear, thought Patty as Duncan made her some toast on the Aga. Talk about a rather awkward start. She did hope Sally hadn’t got the wrong idea…
It had been so helpful to talk to her first husband, Hannah mused. When she and Michael had split – after their son had gone to uni, they’d simply grown apart – they’d agreed to stay friends.
After she met Simon, their phone calls dropped off. Yet little Tom had changed everything. There was no one, Hannah now realised, who really understood what it was like to have a grandson with special needs – apart from another grandparent.
Meanwhile, Gudrun’s parents still hadn’t come to visit – something she couldn’t understand.
What does your husband think?
“Maybe they’re still coming to terms with it,” suggested Michael in the tea shop as he cradled little Tom in his arms. “What does your husband think?” He’d said the phrase in a slightly stilted manner.
“Simon’s not coping very well, to be honest.” Hannah felt bad admitting this but it was the truth. “He doesn’t really want to be involved.”
“Does he know you are here, with me?”
“No. I just thought…”
His hand reached out to touch hers. It was only brief but enough.
“I get it. Not sure my girlfriend would understand either.”
“You have a girlfriend? That’s nice.”
“She’s been around a while, actually.”
Hannah felt a strange pang. Then again, why shouldn’t Michael have a life of his own? It had been long enough.
“She has grandchildren. In fact, she’s really looking forward to meeting little Tom. Isn’t she?”
Michael addressed the last remark to their grandson who was snuggled, quite contentedly, against his chest.
Suddenly Hannah realised something. When you got divorced, you only thought of the children. Not future grandchildren.
Now she’d have to share little Tom with a complete stranger. It wasn’t a comforting thought.
“What are the doctors saying about his health?”
Her first husband’s questions brought her back to reality.
“He seems to be quite fit, although they’re monitoring him carefully. Our son is coping well but it’s our daughter-in-law I’m really worried about. She keeps bursting into tears. I do my best but…”
“It’s hard on you, too.” He patted her hand again, briefly. “Maybe Eve and I could have him for the day. We’re only an hour away.”
This was too much.
“Thanks. I’ll call you.”
Michael seemed reluctant to hand little Tom back.
“Waking up again, are you, little one?” He kissed the top of his downy head. “You’ll always have us here. Don’t worry.”
Did the “us” refer to them, or to Michael and this Eve woman? And why couldn’t Simon be as understanding? Maybe she’d call Sally and run it past her. Her friend was so good at giving advice.
The following week, Simon was away on business. In a way, Hannah was relieved.
“Don’t talk to me about husbands,” groaned Sally when she called in for coffee. “Duncan keeps complaining that I don’t have time for him any more. But it’s hard to fit him in. There are so many people to look after.”
Hannah looked around her friend’s kitchen. One of her grandchildren was crawling straight for the dog bowl until Sally scooped him up at the last minute. Another was banging impatiently in his high chair. Two more were playing outside; Sally kept glancing through the window to check they were all right.
And the latest arrival was on her friend’s hip, yelling for some reason.
“As for Patty, she’s driving me mad. You know she used to be a PA ? Well she’s come up with all these helpful suggestions for the business. She’s in Duncan’s office right now. Talk about being a busybody. But he thinks she’s marvellous. In fact…”
Then Sally went quiet and made it clear that she needed to get supper on. So Hannah had gone home, dropping in on little Tom on the way.
Just as well. Gudrun looked as though she was at the end of her tether.
“Thank you so much for helping.” She gulped back more tears. Hannah gave her daughter-in-law a big cuddle.
“Everything will be all right. Now, have you rung that number for the support group the doctor gave you?”
“I do not want people to think I cannot cope.”
Hannah thought of the grans’ group.
“It’s not a matter of not coping. It’s finding others in the same boat. Let me hold little Tom and you can call.”
Afterwards, Gudrun looked brighter.
“I speak to a nice mother who has a Downs child too. We will meet up for coffee next week.”
“That’s brilliant. Well done!”
Hannah returned home feeling brighter. Then she saw Simon’s car in the drive. Odd. He wasn’t due back for another two days.
“Hi.” He met her at the door. Not for the first time, Hannah wondered how this younger, good-looking man had seen anything in her.
Until her new grandson had been born, she’d considered herself to be so lucky. She and Simon had the same interests – walking, sailing, tennis – and the same sense of humour. Then of course there was that intense physical closeness which she’d never, to be honest, experienced with Michael. But his coolness after Tom’s birth had changed all that.
“I need to tell you about something.”
Hannah felt her chest somersault.
I’m afraid I haven’t been entirely honest with you…
He looked away.
“I’m afraid I haven’t been entirely honest with you.”
She and Simon had always vowed to be completely faithful to each other. Surely…
“I had a little brother who was Downs Syndrome.”
He looked at her with pain in his eyes.
“I only saw him once. Then my parents put him in a home.”
Michael’s parents had died young, years before they’d met.
“Is he still there?”
“That’s just it. I don’t know. No one in the family seems to have any idea.”
“So that’s why you can’t cope with little Tom.” Hannah put her arms around him. “You should have told me.”
He was crying now.
“I felt too scared. My parents would never talk about my brother. But he hung over us like an unspoken taboo.”
“Then we’ll find him together.”
“Oh, Hannah, thank you. I’m sorry I haven’t supported you over little Tom. But I will try from now on. I promise.”
That night, it was as though they’d started all over again.
Hannah woke feeling warm and happy. Simon’s side of the bed was empty.
The door opened and he came in with a cup of tea on a tray. His face was cold.
“I brought your phone up. It bleeped with a text. I thought it might be urgent.”
Silently he handed it over.
So good to see you again. When shall we meet up next? Love Michael x
Thank goodness for the GransRUs group, Sally mused. Mind you, she could do without Patty. Frankly, she’d had enough of that woman. Duncan kept going on about how how “organised” she was. He never praised her like that.
Meanwhile, she was beginning to feel like the old woman in the shoe. Her children’s demands were never-ending!
Can you have Issie for me, Mum? Can you pick up Billy as a favour, Mum? Sorry Mum, but I’ve got a doctor’s appointment. Could you have the twins for the day?
Then there were all the B & B guests. It was tough enough without another woman trying to take over her house. Not only had she helped Duncan with the paperwork for the business, but she’d also reorganised her cutlery drawer!
Duncan was nowhere to be seen.
“He’s in the office,” announced Patty as though she was his wife and not her!
“I’m going out,” said Sally, walking in. “Your supper is in the Aga –”
Duncan was hastily stuffing his mobile into his pocket, a guilty look on his face.
“Who were you talking to?”
“Just business. What time do you think you be back?”
“I don’t know. It’s our Grans’ meeting.”
“You’re not babysitting, then?”
It was true that she’d been doing exactly that for the last few nights, leaving Duncan and Patty at home together.
I’m just being silly. Aren’t I?
At the group, Patty spent the whole time telling everyone who would listen about seeing Hannah with a man who wasn’t her husband in a tea shop.
“I don’t think you should spread rumours,” Sally hissed. “Besides…”
She stopped just as Hannah came in. Her friend looked dreadful.
“Everything all right?” she asked, taking her to one side.
“Not really. Little Tom is fine but Simon isn’t talking to me. Tell you later.”
Oh dear. Had Patty seen something of significance after all in that tea shop?
“How’s your dad doing?” asked one of the other “girls”.
“Quite well, thanks. He’s moved into one of those retirement homes on the harbour – oh, darn it! I promised to go and hang his curtains. I’ll be back in a jiff.”
“Don’t worry. Take your time.”
That was the wonderful thing about this group, Sally told herself. They were all in it to help each other. Apart from Patty…
When she got there, Dad was in front of the telly, all the curtains up.
“All sorted now,” he beamed. “I’ve met this lovely lady at a tea dance. She came round this afternoon to help.”
That should have been her, lending a hand, Sally thought guiltily. Not some stranger. She stayed to have a cup of coffee, and then flew back to the group.
Instantly she could see from the tight faces that something had happened.
“You’ve no right to jump to conclusions,” Hannah was saying furiously. “I was actually meeting my first husband to talk about our grandson.”
“I think we should go now, Patty,” said Sally coolly.
On the way home, Patty wittered on.
“I don’t see why she took offence.”
I don’t appreciate the way you’ve poked your nose into our family business either
“I do.” Sally had had enough now. “In fact, I’m sorry to say this but I don’t appreciate the way you’ve poked your nose into our family business either. I’d rather you left, if you don’t mind. You can have a week’s notice to find somewhere.”
Duncan was furious when she told him the next morning.
“How could you be so unkind?”
“She’s impossible. All the girls say so.”
“Maybe they should put themselves in her shoes. It can’t be easy on her own.”
Why was he standing up for Patty like that? A picture of the two of them, heads together, came back into her mind. Before the last grandchild was born, Sally would never have doubted Duncan. Now she didn’t know what to think.
Next day, while Patty was ringing round rental agencies, Rosie called to ask if she could look after Arthur.
“Is it working out all right at your friend’s B & B?” she’d asked.
“Absolutely.” Patty was too proud to admit the truth. “I’ll take him for a walk.”
What a relief to feel the sea air on her face. It was lovely, too, to have time with her grandson. Funny how you could talk to babies as if they could understand.
“Perhaps,” she told little Arthur, “I haven’t been as diplomatic as I could have been. Your grandad used to say that. Oh, oh. Looks like Hannah ahead.”
Yet instead of avoiding them, her new enemy was heading straight for them.
“I’m so glad to see someone! Tom’s just started to make this really odd noise. I’m really out of practice at this sort of thing. What do you think?”
I think we need to get him to a doctor quickly
The small bundle in the pram was gasping. His chest sounded really crackly.
“I think we need to get him to a doctor quickly. My daughter had pneumonia at that age.” Patty laid a gentle hand on Hannah’s arm. “I don’t want to worry you but better safe than sorry.”
Hannah looked helpless.
“I was going to help poor Sally.”
“What do you mean?”
“Haven’t you heard? She forgot to pick up one of her grandchildren. And now he’s gone missing.”