One day my granddaughter said something harmless, with all the candour of girls her age, but it tickled me funny – though I couldn’t tell you why.
“Granddad, why do our Saturday mornings always go missing?”
I mused on that innocent question for a moment, putting down the broadsheet and staring her straight in the eyes.
“They don’t go missing, Katy,” I muttered, full of my usual tact. “You’ve just had it. Waking up, breakfast, bath – ALL this morning.”
She bit her lip, went back to fiddling with her Barbie, and I thought the matter had dropped. I was wrong.
“No, but that wasn’t THE morning, just stuff that I do every morning. The morning went missin’, while we moved along, and now it’s afternoon, granddad. Don’t it feel . . . funny?”
I sighed, accustomed to her strange speech and children’s bona fide logic.
“I do feel funny,” I admitted, and her blue eyes momentarily lit up. “Always do after one of Mrs Jackson’s lunches.”
Mrs Jackson was our housekeeper – a silent, sullen type who looked at Katy like an elephant does a mouse. She was also an ‘interesting’ cook, creating concoctions that always ended up looking like moss scraped from a stone.
“Don’t joke, grandpa,” replied Katy, pouting. “This is serious stuff. Don’t you like philos…philosphying with me?”
“The word is philosophising, Katy,” I retorted. “And I do . . . just not when it’s nap time.”
Katy groaned throwing her hands up in the air like she was a marionette being pulled from above.
“It’s always nap time for old people. Does the energy of life go down the drain when you get old?”
I chuckled knowingly.
“Something like that, yes. Now leave grandpa be. He needs his rest.”
Usually she would sulkily agree, going off to play with dolls, cards and her myriad of other toys – including the dreaded, terror-inducing Nintendo Wii – but this time something held her back. She really was agitated.
“But you still ain’t answered about why Saturday mornings go missin’.”
I decided truthfulness would be the quickest way to satisfy her.
“I honestly don’t know.”
Her lips curled into a pantomime grin and she tossed her brown hair – a trait inherited from her headstrong mother.
“Think I might have a motion.”
“Notion, Katy,” I corrected.
“I ‘fink I might have a motion notion,” she said, giggling as she leapt to her feet. “Granddad doesn’t know ‘cos he’s all old and slow, but us children see everything, outside and in.”
I frowned – outside and in? That was odd, even by her standards. What was the girl jabbering about? I scratched my ear, wishing all the more for my nap, and having more than half an inkling for a sherry, but I decided to humour her – at least for the moment.
“Katy, old granddad doesn’t understand what you’re saying.”
“Of course not!”
“Well then, can you explain?”
She nodded, but instead went to the window, which overlooked my gloriously messy garden.
“Come over here and look outta’ the window, grandpa!”
I felt a curious weight behind those words and something in me hesitated; the armchair held a ‘normal’ charm, the newspaper promising mundane stories from good old Blighty, but the window and Katy’s quiet silhouette made my old bones twinge – with what, excitement? Trepidation?
“Maybe later,” I muttered, playing for time.
But she wasn’t giving me any.
The girl whispered it innocently enough, but her voice was laced with suppressed excitement – and a growing impatience that I shouldn’t ruin what she wanted to show me by being ‘grumpy.’ Suddenly I felt guilty, that I shouldn’t be crushing her imagination but encouraging it, so putting on my best – albeit tired – grin, I compromised, looking out of the window from my chair.
“Nice afternoon. Sun’s a little hazy, mind.”
Katy turned, wearing an expression that I commonly labelled as ‘huffy’.
“You can’t see from up there. Not prop’ly anyway! Come on, grandpa. Up!”
Defeated, I got ready to will my bones up from the chair, grimacing in advance of the creaking, cracking sensation that always accompanied me moving. Once upon a time I had been a county runner, dashing to victory in the four-hundred metres. Now I couldn’t even walk to the co-op without running out of breath. Old age was unfair – it constantly mocked your youth.
“I’m coming, just give me a minute.”
I grabbed the sides of the chair and lifted my bony frame. Crack, crunch, and I was up, fighting against momentary light-headedness.
“I’m bonier than ever and I feel like I weigh a ton,” I muttered.
Katy giggled before returning her attention to the garden.
“Come on,” she said, sounding almost like my dear, departed wife.
The sun’s hazy glow came in at an angle, highlighting her pretty face with a golden sheen. A couple of pigeons flew past and a breeze rustled the tangled bushes pressing in on the house.
“What am I looking for?” I asked, putting a calloused hand on her shoulder. “Is the missing morning out here somewhere?”
She didn’t answer, just stared, like one of those lions in nature programmes that surveys the plains from the safety of the shade. I looked with her too for a moment, but was decidedly underwhelmed by my garden. A draught came from the patio door, tickling the lightshade.
“You’re not close ‘nuff, grandpa,” said Katy after a pause. “Can’t see the whole garden from there.”
“Yes, yes,” I said impatiently, almost pressing my nose against the glass. “What’s this got to do with your ‘missing morning’?”
Katy closed her eyes and I caught a sliver of the peace that descends on all children when they are asleep – completely cut off from worry, no future doubts to cloud their dreams.
“Just listen, granddad,” she whispered. And then completely changing the subject, added; “Have you ever seen dawn?” She pronounced the word as ‘downe’ but my usual indulgent smile was wiped at her next words. “I ‘fink I have.”
I stared at her, incredulous.
She shrugged, seemingly uncomfortable with my question. Her eyes re-opened.
“I asked mummy about the missing morning as well,” she said. “She didn’t know either. I’ve been ‘finking forever about it. ‘Fink I know now.” Her eyes twinkled as she stared at me. “You have to do what Katy says . . . promise, grandpa?”
Something in my stomach dropped like a stone, but I nodded dumbly, casting a quick, longing look at my armchair.
“I promise, girl.”
“Then shut your eyes and listen.”
I did as I was told, straining my ears. I heard the clock ticking and the fridge humming in the nearby kitchen, groaning as if in pain. An odd floorboard creaked, a distant car roared past, angrily making its way to some unknown destination, and there was the distinctive – worrying – sound of my bones cracking as I struggled to straighten my back. I rolled my tongue around my mouth, and that made a sound too.
“Don’t listen to those sounds, grandpa,” said Katy, breaking into my thoughts. “They’re all ‘uman sounds. We don’t want that. Erm . . . try the wind first. Think of ‘outside’.”
I felt slightly peeved at her condescending, patient tone, but let it go. The rebel part of me wanted to disobey her, the ‘old’ part of me wanted to quit and sit down, but a larger, more mysterious part whispered for me to try, that it might JUST be worth the effort. So I did, closing my ears with an effort to the noisy, brash sounds of civilisation. It wasn’t easy – the clock was relentless, the cars angry charlatans, outraged at being ignored, and the fridge was a humming monstrosity, but gradually they faded. I felt ‘addled’, my knees shaking a bit, but then the sound of wind rummaging amongst bushes rushed in, and I couldn’t help but smile.
“There it is,” I muttered.
“Shh!” Katy was quick to rebuke – as if she expected it from her blundering granddad. “Listen.”
She no longer sounded like an energetic eight year old, but like a woman, and – strangely – as if she was speaking from out in the garden. Her voice reminded me of wet earth, a smell I had loved since a child – though the intoxicating aromas of coffee and petrol had replaced it over the years. I longed to open my eyes, to make sure she was still standing there with me, but my conscience warned against it, informing my instinct that to do so would be to break the delicate, satin-like atmosphere of expectancy. Because I was expectant…of something, but the revelation was yet far away, clothed in patience and – I guessed – imagination.
So I listened on to the wind as it rose and fell, but never ceased. Always on the move, it was a constant, reassuring presence, yet mischievous, pulling the daisies this way and that, and disorganising weed, leaf and branch. An image of a smiling, young face parading in the skies came to mind, diving when it felt like ‘naturalising’ a neat, kept garden, uncaring of consequences – because it answered to no-one. It rejoiced in mayhem, but was ever playful, willing to dance with those who showed respect and ignoring those who didn’t.
The gust outside suddenly buffeted the window, banging with invisible hands, and I took a step backwards, almost opening my eyes. But then Katy started to hum – in tune with the breeze! Icicles of expectation trickled down my back and try as I might I couldn’t figure out how she was doing it, but she interwove her simple song with the roaring wind. There was unity, harmony, and I felt years melt away from me as I stood there and listened to such innocent sweetness.
But then reality reared its ugly head. What was I doing? Why was my imagination being stoked like a dying bonfire? And was it really Katy I heard, or just the wind making coincidentally human noises as it moved around the house? I couldn’t decide; my mind was in a whirl and I felt my knees buckle.
“Hmmm…hmmm,” said Katy, oblivious to my discomfort.
I felt an impossible wind on my skin and something opened – ripped – in my head. Was I having a stroke? A blood clot causing a fit? Was I dying? My body felt numb, like it wasn’t there, and my head floated by itself in a black void. Only sound remained, with Katy’s breezy humming filling me with wonder and a welcome inner peace.
‘What now?’ I thought.
“Now we look into the garden, grandpa,” replied Katy. “See the dawn maybe, ‘cos we always forget on a Saturday. I ‘fink time is funny, doesn’t run how we ‘fink it does.”
‘What does she mean?’
“I bet it goes real quick for you, granddad. But I reckon I find it’s ‘never-ending’. Why are all the cars in a rush? What they rushin’ towards?” She giggled, and I pictured her flinging up her arms in exasperation. “They don’t know. Nobody knows…and it makes us forget.”
She sounded more and more like a sage old woman, her voice earthy, the tone trumpeting like a hundred people talking at once. The ripping in my head intensified, a searing headache overcoming all other feeling, but there was something in it that delighted my tired old soul, a glowing cocoon of safety – and freedom!
“I’m…I’m not sure I want to forget,” I muttered, struggling for the right words. “Not sure what I mean. Oh dear, I feel funny . . . must’ve had a stroke.”
‘That’s it, I’m done for. I’ve fallen down after banging my head on the windowsill and am having some kind of embolism.’
“It’s ok to open your eyes now, grandpa. Every ‘fing has stopped.”
Katy’s words confused me, but I dared to have a peek, though I still felt like a disembodied head, floating in an abyss. I readied myself for the afterlife, hoping all my years of buying ‘The Daily Mail’ hadn’t counted against me, that my sweet tooth wouldn’t cause St Peter to frown. But when I opened my eyes I saw nothing.
No, that was a lie. There was an orange haze directly in front, tilted upwards so I had to crane my neck. It was a mere splash of colour – like an artist’s ‘daub’ – but it filled me with a peace so profound that tears rose unchecked in my eyes. That deep orange, tinged with fiery red, promised much, delivered plenty, and couldn’t disappoint. It was the sunrise, where dawn’s eerie light exploded into a new day, covering even the darkest beetle with gorgeous, generous warmth. I waited, entranced, basking in the increasing heat, feeling like I was being cleansed by each ray of golden light that appeared. The sun finally reared its head, peeping over a horizon that until now had remained hidden, and the glow spread outwards along it, creating a rich bar of throbbing energy. Clouds formed, fluffy cumulus that moved swiftly away – replaced by others knitted tightly together. The sun’s rays breathed through them like light through a prism; the tears in my eyes fell.
‘Rainbows…rainbows without the rain beforehand!’
“Who says rainbows need rain? That’s silly adult talk.”
I looked around. Katy was leaning on the windowsill, smiling to herself. Her feet barely touched my old rug – so worn down by civilisation, so bereft of life – but when I turned further I was alarmed to see that my living room was gone. It was if we occupied a pocket of reality in a sea of possibilities; there were no ‘corners’ or the usual restraints of my house. We were free to WATCH.
“Where’s my house gone?” I asked before I could stop myself.
Instantly, I felt foolish, as if the words were blasphemous, but Katy just shrugged.
“Time’s stopped the ‘ouse,” she replied. “When time stops, every ‘fing goes.”
I nodded outside at the spectacular sunrise.
“What about that? It hasn’t stopped the sunrise.”
I thought I had her − that she wouldn’t have an answer and this charade would end. I’d wake up after nodding off, irritable, stiff, and with Katy playing with her dolls. I’d shrug, mutter to myself about ‘senility’, and go on with my life.
Katy giggled, turning her gaze on me.
For a moment I thought I saw something shining in her eyes – movement independent of her surroundings, something deeply embedded – but then it faded as her smile slipped.
“You’re missing the sunrise, grandpa. Don’t miss the morning again.”
Feeling like a scolded child I turned back to the window. The sun was now three-quarters above the horizon, its colour lightening to pale orange, and the scene held more definition. The far end of my garden was now visible, the low red-brick wall framing the sunrise through its open gate. The gate had been locked for years, but today – for some reason – it was gone, only its rusty hinges remaining. And where the road outside should have been was instead just the sun.
“Well, I’ll be damned . . .”
A vague memory of a recent documentary came to mind. It was about ancient Egypt and its mysterious pharaoh Akhenaten. Amidst the droning narration and excited scientists, a single image had drawn – and held – my attention. It was a hieroglyph depicting two mountains, with the sun rising between them. Brilliant rays fanned out from this solar deity, bathing the waiting pharaoh below, and in the centre of the sun was a huge, lidless eye.
That image was mirrored now, in my very garden, and the parallel made me shudder inside. Yet there was something deific about the sun, and for the first time in my life I felt a part of me tapping into an archaic belief – what the ancient civilisations had felt when staring at the wondrous star for the first time.
It truly looked down, not just on me but on the entire world. It was omniscient, omnipresent, a giant persona that heightened colour and affected EVERYTHING. It dictated the seasons, touched the flowers, and warmed the soul. And I had never seen it rise.
‘Why not? I’m seventy-two and have never seen the sun rise. What a crotchety old man I am!’
“Don’t worry, it’s not just you bein’ silly, granddad.”
Katy’s voice was forgiving, filling me with some of the sun’s warmth, and I sighed. I no longer felt like a detached head, and I knew my hands grasped the windowsill, blue veins pronounced as I clung on to the only piece of my ‘normal surroundings’ still remaining.
The sun moved higher, though only when I dared to look away into the slowly materialising garden. When I glanced back, there it was − an inch or two higher, slightly yellower in colour, but always casting its rays on something new.
“This can’t be my garden . . . surely?”
It was and it wasn’t. The layout was the same. A stone path led away from the patio, circling left towards my pond, and then further towards the back gate. A tall fence bordered that side, and a large gorse bush protected the other side, whilst my piteous allotment filled the remaining room to the pond’s right. Two rows of flowers created a border around the whole garden, and a small summer table was propped against the wall to the left of the gate. Each of these landmarks was in place, but everything was so DIFFERENT. The tweaks were in the details.
To begin with I just focused on the bits of garden materialising away from the back gate. The perimeter was first, but my broken brick wall was now a strong, smooth white – almost like marble. Tufts of grass grew on its top like tinsel, regularly punctuated by daisies that bobbed in the wind, bending inwards towards the lawn they coveted so much. The cobweb-ridden summer table was no longer propped against the wall, but set out with four chairs, all brand new. A red and gold parasol was fastened to its centre. I got the impression that I had just missed people sitting around it, perhaps talking or playing cards. Either way it felt ‘recently vacated’.
“You’re startin’ to see, grandpa. That’s good.”
In from the wall, the rows of flowers melted into view, but they were happy, dancing, not like the tired ones I rarely watered. And there was far more variety, colour upon colour, and some plants that I just knew were very rare indeed. On their storks were aphids and ladybirds, marching up and down on secret errands, with bees wobbling to and fro, guarding the travelling armies. Each insect drew me in, their colour magnified, the sound of their feet on the leaves a peaceful ‘crunch’. A dazzling harlequin beetle clambered over the soil below, looking enviously up through its mandibles at the party above. I could feel its gaze, sense its affinity with its surroundings – earth, worms, the best places to burrow to create some shade.
‘Why would I want to burrow? The sun is glorious!”
The beetle wandered away, indifferent to my feelings, and a brace of earwigs took its place, with a woodlouse trailing behind. I laughed at the thought that the earwigs were running from the harmless louse, but then saw the fallen tomato they were heading towards, dropped from a plentiful plant – where had that come from?
My allotment was full to bursting with ripe vegetables, and the smell was, well…divine! Tomatoes, bean sprouts, potatoes, it was all crammed together, and yet in neat rows easy to negotiate. A small tray full of seeds lay nearby, glistening in the sunlight, and I felt like going out and planting them. No, not just planting them, but tilling the soil to create more room. An almost uncontrollable urge to get on all fours and smell the ground assailed me, and I shut my eyes, whistling softly to myself.
A strange image entered my head. It was a bird’s eye view of our town, sometime early in the morning, only it was blurred. Everything was still – TOO still – and there wasn’t a breath of wind. The clock tower’s hands weren’t moving, there were no birds in the sky or people on the streets. The scene was holding its breath, waiting for something to pass.
And pass it did.
An indistinct shape appeared on the horizon, or rather it was the horizon made manifest, oozing from nothingness into an indistinct shape. The vision’s haziness shrouded details, and a part of me was thankful as the overarching presence floated through town, its huge shadow subtle…yet monstrous. I tried to focus but it was impossible. Everything was fleeting, giving me a mere taster of something unspoken and wondrous, but hiding the details from my silly, blundering humanity. Thoughts failed me, but instinct warned that some deity had passed as time stood still.
I was back staring out of the window, the image gone utterly from my head. Katy was looking at me, her little eyebrow cocked.
“Visions, stills, pictures of will,” she sung. “Ain’t time a pain, giving no time for games.”
Her voice was full of nature, low and melodious, and it swept me back outside, dragging my gaze to the pond. It glistened, TRULY glistened, like someone had unravelled a roll of cling-film over it, and the water was clean, empty of weeds and slime. Large white lilies bobbed on the surface, spinning in slow, dramatic circles, and pond skaters used them as couches, taking a well-earned rest before dancing miraculously away across the surface. I even spotted one or two carp, their bulging eyes looking in my direction, mouths twisted into knowing smiles.
The pond was apart from the rest of the garden and yet seamlessly blended in – a section of an infinite, effortless whole.
My mind almost cracked apart then. I felt my skull struggling to keep inside my head, such was the raw intensity of nature around me. Knowledge of my surroundings, of the sunrise, of time stopped to allow Nature to build, came running like an express train through my consciousness. I thanked and cursed Katy in equal measure for opening the door, suggesting to her worn old grandpa that there was something beyond the normal. And now that I knew, I didn’t know what to do with it.
“Take a break, granddad,” said Katy suddenly. “Don’t ‘fink too much. Not the way of things.”
I let out a deep breath and obliged, closing my eyes to the maelstrom. Everything quietened; I heard my own breathing, but the wind whistled outside, reminding me that my garden was still out there – would ALWAYS be out there. I tried to take stock but my old mind was too befuddled to put events in co-ordination. All I knew was that I was living in darkness, had been for years, and now that the curtain had been momentarily lifted by my extraordinary granddaughter, I was embarrassed – and a little angry that I had denied myself such splendour.
“Don’t be too hard on yer’self granddad,” whispered Katy. “It’s not all your fault.”
She drew out the word ‘all’, injecting a playful streak into the admonition, and I smiled.
“What a wonderful granddaughter I have,” I muttered, finally finding my voice.
“I’m everyone’s granddaughter,” she replied mysteriously.
I opened my mouth but the words stuck in my throat. In their place came a familiar, overwhelming feeling. Something was coming . . . something VAST.
“Blow me,” I said.
My vision revisited me and I felt the looming shadow crossing the garden, again invisible – or rather ‘translucent’ because it wanted to be. That awesome aura of deity went with it and the wind was silent as it passed, holding its breath with me and Katy, showing deference to something otherworldly. The birds too ceased their singing and this new quiet unnerved me. I had an urge to shout – like a child afraid of the dark – but I didn’t.
Instead, I waited for further instruction.
Katy, perhaps sensing my unease, shuffled towards me. I heard her socked feet scraping across the carpet. But she didn’t immediately say anything, and I dared not open my eyes, so we waited together, grandparent and child − though our roles were now reversed.
“It’s, sorry, HE is always outta’ reach, eh grandpa?”
I knew she was referring to the vague presence that had just passed through, but I daren’t talk about it. The subject seemed sacrosanct. So instead I asked a pitiful question, my voice smaller than a mouse’s.
“Can I open my eyes yet?”
There was a pregnant silence, and then Katy giggled.
“If you wanna’.”
I thought maybe the dream was over, that time had ticked on again, but when I looked back out into the garden, the wonder was still there. Only this time it had transformed into something else – something supernatural.
I could see the wind. It had body, shape, and not just from leaves forming into streaks and whirlwinds. There was something intelligent about its movement, the way it dived, leaving trailing fingers on hedges, kissing flower-tops with its gentle lips. It was undoubtedly ‘humanoid’ in shape, with a face that swam in and out of focus, smiling one minute, howling the next, but ever on the edge of my vision. A direct look yielded no rewards, but the mixture of glimpse and imagination paid great dividends, and each near look made my heart leap.
But that wasn’t the best of it – that came from the garden itself. A filter seemed to drop before my eyes, casting everything in a hazy cadence, but also painting every detail with astonishing clarity. And now the garden was full to bursting…with creatures.
All their bodies were translucent, like jellyfish, but seemed woven from silk, delicate, beautiful, powerful. Strange, unknown colours rippled down their spines, across their hands, anywhere that moved, and I found it incredibly tough to focus on them. I was reminded of a program on the deep seas I had watched, with fish that used internal lighting down in the depths. What was it called? Bio-luminescence? This was similar yet more spectacular – and effortless.
They were playing with the garden, interacting with the flora and fauna, but I somehow knew that they were usually invisible to US. I was being given a glimpse of the forbidden, the forgotten, and how every cog of the natural and supernatural worked. These creatures, these fairies, were joyously oblivious to me, focused on their own particular, mischievous goals. One flicked at a clump of posies, sending the odd petal to the ground, and its expression changed from one of delight to sadness as the flower shed itself. Three more blew on a lazy bee, sending it around in a circle, laughing as it grew more agitated; a small being danced behind a red admiral, mirroring the butterfly’s wings with her own; a brace of podgy, cat-faced things hopped across the pond, using the lilies as stepping stones. All was a scene of celebration.
“Ain’t it incredible, grandpa?” whispered Katy. “Wish you could be part of it?”
I couldn’t answer, just watch like a toddler staring at a Punch and Judy show. If this was a hallucination then it was a mind-bending, joyously visceral one. If it wasn’t…well, I didn’t want to entertain what that would do to my outlook on life. And lurking at the back of my mind was that grand presence that had swept through town – what was it?
Something happened then that terrified me. I moved forward. Or rather my consciousness did, pulling from my body like a snake shedding its skin. I soared through the garden, darting here and there, smelling the magenta roses, tasting the earth, but always moving forward because that was how nature worked.
Time stopped but Nature moved INFINITELY forward.
I halted, low to the ground, watching the grass for signs of movement. I suddenly felt hungry. Maybe there was something lurking beneath my feet that could be eaten. I felt Katy beside me but didn’t look at her; she was just a comforting presence, akin to me. An overwhelming urge to stretch took hold of me, so I flapped my wings, revelling in the breeze that tickled the feathers. Feathers? Wings? Something didn’t seem right here but I couldn’t concentrate long enough to figure it out. And besides, I didn’t really care. All I wanted was to find a juicy, glistening worm in the grass.
On a whim I looked up, back at that monstrous structure at the end of the garden. There was movement inside – two figures, lifeless and dull. A word came to mind −’humans’. Yes, that was right; they were humans, one old, the other a girl.
The wind laughed at them and I opened my beak, joining it in mocking song.
Darkness, and then a colossal shape glided past. I felt it smiling at me, and then I was awake, staring out of the window. Katy was beside me, humming to herself but staring knowingly at me.
“You ok, grandpa?” she asked.
I took a deep breath, trying to remember, but it was like trying to grasp smoke. Something was there though. I felt ‘changed’.
“I’m fine, Katy. Come on, let’s go and have a sit down.”
I made to move but instinct bid me look at the pond.
“What pretty birds,” giggled Katy.
Side by side were two dazzling robins, singing together as if their lives depended on it, breasts the colour of the rising sun.