Here’s a short excerpt from my novel, ‘Homeward Bound’. It’s a story of family, ambition and ageing and recent Amazon reviews include, ‘Such a lovely book, highly recommend,’ ‘An excellent read concerning family, music and memory,’ and, ‘This book is brilliant and is well worth the journey.’ I didn’t write or pay for any of them, promise!!
Seventy-one year-old George is alone in the car with his teenage granddaughter Tara, while her parents have left them gone to inspect a retirement home for him as they think he’s not safe living on his own. George is not happy with the idea and is looking for support. But Tara has her own problems with them. . . . Now read on!
George watched until they were out of sight. “This is nice. Just like the old days, don’t you think?” There was no response from the back seat, so he kept going. “I’m sorry I’m not much company at the moment.” He hadn’t felt much like talking to anyone since the funeral.
Tara said nothing and kept reading. When she was younger and they were together for weekend visits or day trips, she’d always had an opinion and never shied from letting everyone hear it. How George missed those days.
“Come on, then. Tell me my future.” He twisted the rear-view mirror so he could see his granddaughter better without having to turn round. Her eyes fixed on her magazine, he analysed her. Elfin-like, auburn hair, newly cropped, she looked so grown up and not the grandchild he remembered playing in the garden, being pushed on the swings, building sandcastles on the beach, skimming pebbles across the sea, being treated to sweets and ice cream despite Bridget’s protests about healthy eating. “November 30th. St. Andrew’s Day. Sagittarius.”
Tara closed Teen Tips and slapped her hand on the cover. It was a gesture George recognised from when Bridget was a teenager and about to sound off. Like mother, like daughter.
“You’ve got to tell them.” She was looking straight into his reflection.
“Tell them what?”
“That your mum only buys Rich Tea biscuits and I like chocolate Hobnobs?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Or the only music I hear is on some local radio station, twittering away in the kitchen. And all there is to read is the free bloody Basingstoke Tribune and your mother’s gardening magazine.”
Tara tutted and repeated, “You know.”
“No. Tell me.”
“That you don’t want to move into one of these homes.”
“I should think that’s bleedin’ obvious, pardon my French.”
“Why? What’s wrong with them?”
“You’ve not been inside.”
“But if you’re living on your own, what will you do with yourself?”
“Things I still want to do.” George caught her expression of surprise. “Don’t pull that face. I may be old, but I haven’t given up just yet. Despite your mother saying I’ve retired. The fires still burn, you know. And don’t ask me what. You’ll know when I’ve done them.”
“So you’ve got to tell them.”
George folded his arms to show he was taking no notice. “Did you read that sign outside the last place?”
“You saw that it was sponsored by funeral directors and an estate agent.”
Tara nodded again.
“One to get shot of the body and another to sell off the house. What did your mother say about that?”
“I don’t think she saw it.”
“I don’t suppose your father missed it.” George grunted. “And do you know what passes as entertainment in there? I’ll tell you. Watching school Christmas pantomimes. I saw the evidence hanging in a corridor. Had ten years of them when your mother was a child. The memory still gives me nightmares. I’d rather die than spend the rest of what’s left of my life watching someone else’s little darlings.”
Tara shook her head. “Gramps. Tell. Them.”
“I can’t.” He was having second thoughts on missing hearing his granddaughter voicing her opinions.
What could he answer? That he was scared they were right, that he needed to be cared for, that he really wasn’t safe to be left on his own? Or maybe this was a sign that his time was done. That he’d have to face up to the reality. That what he hadn’t achieved he was never going to achieve. “You tell them for me.”
“Yes. They’ll listen to you.”
“Oh, no.” Tara shook her head decisively. “It’s not for me. Only you can speak for yourself.”
“You can help.”
Tara shook her head again. “I can’t. I really can’t.” She opened Teen Tips and resumed reading.
George twisted the mirror back round and stared out the front of the car. It was starting to drizzle. She was right of course. How could he expect an eighteen-year-old to argue the case for a seventy-nine-year-old? The fact that he was asking for her help almost proved the case for the prosecution. He couldn’t cope with the real world anymore.
They sat in silence for a while, Tara flicking through her magazine, George staring through the windscreen that was beginning to steam up.
“What are you reading?”
Tara reached forward and showed him the magazine, twisting it as she handed it to him so as to reveal only the opposite page to the one she’d been looking at. ‘Vegan needn’t mean unhealthy,’ the headline read. “You’re not one of those, are you?” He looked worried.
“Why shouldn’t I be? Lots of people are. It is the twenty-first century.”
“It’s not natural. We’re meant to eat meat.”
“I don’t think it’s natural to keep animals cooped up in tiny spaces, now you’re asking.”
“Well I just don’t like fads. Never have. Never will.” He turned the page over impatiently. There, in bold, was a different heading: ‘Should I have sex with my boyfriend?’ Tara stretched to reclaim the magazine but he shifted it just too far from her. He’d read the first line, ‘My boyfriend and I have been going out together for almost nine months and have only reached third base’, before she was able to snatch it back.
“Thanks,” she said as she turned it over again and clasped it in her lap.
“Can anyone read that?”
“When I was a boy, I was reading about fighter pilots, not that kind of stuff.”
“It’s different today.”
“And at your age it was National Service, not ‘third base’.”
“Did you talk to your parents about, you know what?”
“Certainly not. Do you?”
She took a deep breath, then shuffled across the car seat and leaned forward. George turned and they were almost nose-to- nose. “If you won’t talk to my parents about you, will you talk to them about me?”
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