WRITTEN BY VI WILLIAMSON
Ninety-four she may be, but I soon discovered she’s a force to be reckoned with
“Clara, can you go to the garden centre with Aunt Rose?”
“Aunt Rose? She must be ancient by now.”
I groan at teenage memories of my great-aunt. Darling, must you dye your hair so dark? It makes you look like a funeral director.
Aunt Rose: a neat, fast-witted, pint-sized package of forthright opinions.
“Can’t she go another day, with you?”
“No.” Mum scowls in a way that always makes me feel guilty. “She won’t take any looking after. It’s just after she broke her ankle last year on the ice, she’s not been so good on her pins.”
“No problem.” I wince. “I suppose.” That’s the trouble with moving back home after university: you have to remember to please your parents again; make compromises. “But it’s the last thing I need, driving an old biddy about.”
“Oh, she won’t let you drive.” Mum laughs. “You’ll see.”
“Whoa, Aunt Rose!” I cry at the first junction. “The lights are amber – we’d better slow down.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, darling,” she trills, pressing the accelerator. “Lots of time to get through… Idiot!” She taps her temple at a driver with the temerity to hoot at her eye-wateringly sharp swing into the garden centre.
I emerge from the car feeling less than steady while Aunt Rose limps off at full lick towards the spring plant avenues.
“Find a trolley, would you, darling?”
Aunt Rose’s special plant is elusive…
“I’ll go and ask,” I say. “You sit here.” After half an hour I’ve realised she is less confident on legs than in a car.
I address the staff member’s broad green-shirted back. He turns and I am looking into the deepest blue eyes I ever saw. He smiles; my stomach disappears along with any horticultural knowledge.
“Err – I’m looking for…”
“Perhaps it’ll come back to you as we walk.”
He leads the way; brushes my arm; we both give a little breathy laugh…
“Oh, Grant – good, you’re here.”
Aunt Rose is beside me. Naturally she didn’t stay put. Her bright gaze takes in my blush; our body language.
“I see you’ve met my great-niece…”
“Easy on the eye, isn’t he?” she says on the way home. “In my day, we’d have called him a bit of a dish.”
I laugh and cling tighter to my seatbelt.
“Aunt Rose rang to see if you’d help her dig in some of her new shrubs,” Mum says on Saturday. “I said your dad would go but she wanted you.” She smiles. “I think you made quite an impression.”
“OK.” It’s not like I have anything else to do. I’ve yet to build up a social life back home. It would actually be fun to spend time with my wacky great-aunt.
Grant opens the door. We both do a double-take.
“Who is it?” Aunt Rose appears. I relay Mum’s message; she looks confused.
“Oh, dear. I do get muddled.” She is wringing her hands distractedly in a decidedly un-Aunt-Rose way. “But you’ll stay for tea now you’re here, darling?”
“Of course.” What’s with the weird old lady act?
“Perhaps you two could lay the table,” she says, turning to the kitchen, suddenly her commanding self.
“So… do you come here often?” I quip as we lay Aunt Rose’s conservatory table.
“Yeah, sometimes. I’m doing my post-grad thesis on the ATA. Did you know she flew Spitfires in the war?”
“I remember some family story.”
“By all accounts she was a bit of a daredevil.”
“Was? Have you ever been in a car with her?”
“No, but I can imagine. She’s some character.”
“Everything alright, darlings?”
Behind Grant’s back Aunt Rose is winking and making go-for-it gestures.
I grin. “She certainly is.”