You could never get Grams out of her easy chair. She seemed to cleave to it like a limpet. She even had a chamber pot poorly secreted between it and the scullery wall beside the fire: almost on the hearth. No chance of her getting a chill – chilblains maybe. It must have been that which smelled like a stagnant rock pool.
Her face was dark and wrinkled and her chins stacked like little tyres above one of a series of floral scarves which were clandestinely replaced when they faded beyond recognition.
“Wot ye staring at?” she croaked with a lilt, pinning me with glassy eyes better suited to a fish. “You’re thinkin’ o’ writin’ another o’ those darn stories, arn’ you? Better not be about me, or I’ll get out o’ dis chair an–”
Big Cousin Paula stepped in. “That’ll be something to write about. The paparazzi will flood the place when you part company with that extra appendix of yours.”
Grams glared, her bulky form shifting slightly beneath a dress and cardigan which my imagination visualized housing a trapeze act and lion tamers. “He’s thinkin’ images. I knows it.”
Paula rolled her eyes. “Will you stop that? Where do you borrow that ridiculous accent from? You may be swarthy, but you haven’t been out of Derry since … oh … your birth?”
I often wondered what filled the shelves behind her permanent residence. Of course we could see the tacky John Bull Cups with their red noses and black hats; the dusty boxes; empty snuff packets and dirty hankies … but the bottom corner was always dark and indistinct.
Sometimes, when she’d forgotten to draw the curtains of the window behind her and there was a flash of lightning, a transient sliver of light illuminated what looked like a big old rock with a broad black oilskin coat draped over it.
I returned from a reverie to meet a cold glare from those dead eyes. “Here’s sixpence,” she growled, pushing a clammy coin into my hand, “go buy yisself a personality.”
Before I flushed and fled from Gram’s domineering presence, forgetting my DVD, I saw Paula mustering the filthiest look I had ever seen and hefting it at Grams, who merely returned that greasy grin of hers: showing a set of teeth which would make a ghoul retch.
Paula followed me out of the room we knew as the scullery, the door slamming behind through no action of hers. She was my father’s mother, but Grams gave me the creeps. How did she move so fast when we couldn’t see her?
Grams held the door closed until she was sure they were not coming back. A measure of her thick black tail retracted from the inner-side of the door and returned to its haven behind the seat: the shadows of the shelving. She breathed a sigh of contentment as she languorously wrapped the full length around the small boulder she had brought from the sea. Her clothing parted and she pulled a bottle of perfumed essence from the recess beside the stone. She sighed as she oiled down her still smooth body, keeping it moist against the ravages of dry land.
Gramps had been a fisherman. His spot had been about five miles off Glengad, near the underwater caves. He’d been a handsome man. She eyed the cover of the abandoned DVD and uttered a low chuckle. A cartoon girl with a scaly tale grinned inanely at her.
“Mermaids,” she snorted, remembering her long exodus from the Saragossa. “Stupid, flighty creatures. If you want a proper kelpie, there’s none as passionate as we Conger Women.” She finished her lubrication and fixed her clothes, lifting a bit of snuff from a packet and sprinkling it over herself to disguise the lipid stains and sour odour. Her frown softened into a smile as she remembered Gramp’s expression on finding her snagged in his net. “Unless it’s the Donegal fishermen themselves,” she supplemented, and settled back in the chair to reminisce on past passion; tail anchoring her in place.