MY DAUGHTER is sitting in the conservatory looking over my mother’s shoulder. My mother, who has come to visit along with my sister, sits beside my daughter on the sofa, reading.
“What a wonderful book,” my mother says, lowering her book for the second time and looking at me over her reading glasses.
“You know,” she continues, “it might actually be the perfect novel. Gripping, perceptive and deeply humane, just like it says on the cover.
“There, look,” she says, pointing at the inside jacket-cover, “‘gripping, perceptive and deeply humane.” Proper story-telling — I mean honestly, what more do you want?”
“Nothing,” I say miserably, sitting opposite, two chapters into Philip Roth and hating every second of him, “I want nothing more.”
“You can read it after I’m done with it,” she says, quickly adding, “though I might not have it finished by the time I leave.”
“You’re here for four days,” I say, “you’re bound to have finished it in that time. I mean look at it, it’s hardly War and Peace, Mum.”
“I’ll send it on to you by post if I haven’t,” she says, all uppity, putting the slim volume aside. Her iPad, in it’s distinctive red cover, slips out of the book onto the sofa. My daughter picks it up.
I return with great reluctance to Roth.
“It’s changed my life that thing, and not for the better,” my mother says quietly.
“Really, Granny?” my daughter says, tapping away on the iPad.
“What’s changed your life?” I ask, setting Roth aside, glad of any distraction.
“Oh nothing,” she says evasively, picking up her newspaper, “I know, let’s all do the “i” crossword, I mean god knows we all need something to stop our brains going to sponge.”
“Chocolate squares, Granny,” my daughter whispers.
“Blasted chocolate squares,” my mother says under her breath.
“What chocolate squares?” I interrupt, “what on earth are you talking about?”
“The first crossword clue,” my mother announces with great authority to the room, “is dog-iron. Seven letters.”
“What the hell is a dog-iron?” my sister says, coming round from her snooze.
“I think it’s to do with a fire,” I say, “like a poker or tongs or something.”
My daughter mutters something about jelly.
“Seven letters,” my mother says loudly, cutting across her, “come on someone,” she says pointing at me, “I mean you should know, what with all your country-living and rubbing sticks together.”
“Give us another clue,” my sister says.
“Currently,” my mother says, “and it’s three words — the first word has two letters and it begins with “i”, the second has three and the third has six.”
“Currently,” I say, “presently... at the present moment... now...”
“Honestly,” my mother says, “you have no regard for the number of letters or the beginning letter.”
Then, very quietly she says something to my daughter. I catch the word bombs.
“Bombs?” I say, “what the hell have bombs got to do with currently? And anyway, that’s not three words, that’s one.”
“Currently,” my mother says, musingly, “currently... and it’s three words: two letters, three letters, six letters... let’s have a think. Ah, got it: in the moment.”
“Nice one Granny,” my daughter says, raising her hand, “you’ve cleared the jelly! High five.”
“I’ve been dying to get past that level,” my mother says, high-fiving her.
“What are you talking about?” I say, “neither of you are making any sense.”
“Oh for god’s sake,” my sister says to me, “how dim are you? They’re playing Candy Crush. I mean, “clear the jelly?”
“Are you still playing Candy Crush?” I ask my mother, incredulously.
“Well there’s no need to look at me like that,” she says defensively.
“You told me you were over Candy crush,” I say, “I mean you even told me some story about a politician who got caught playing Candy crush at a meeting in the House of Commons. You were outraged.”
“That is entirely different,” she says hotly, “he was supposed to be discussing pension reforms. Now, clue number three: leader, eight letters.”
“I thought you were reading,” I say.
“You’re going to put this in your column,” she says, “I can feel it.”
“Give me your book and I won’t,” I say.
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