Saturday, 8 March 2014

Family ties

Billy stood looking out of the window. His three grand children had arrived as they did every Saturday morning. Mary jumped out of the front of the car and carefully pushed the door closed. Martin, the children’s father, was busy trying to release James from his child seat as Mary stood patiently waiting at the side of the car. Martin bent, kissed his children and then jumped back into the car and drove off.  

Mary turned and seeing her grandpa grabbed James’ hand and ran up the path.

‘Grandpa. Can we go to the beach?’ Mary shouted as she let go of the James and swung her arms around her grandpa’s neck.

Soon Billy was crushed under two small children both trying to give him a hug.

‘Of course we can, but how about some pancakes first?’ Billy called.

‘Yeh,’ the children chorused, climbing off their grandpa and rushing into the kitchen.

The children loved grandpa’s pancakes and especially when he had their favourite toppings. Mary always had maple syrup on hers, but James preferred beef paste.

‘You’re silly.’ Mary said to her brother. ‘Pancakes should be sweet.’

‘Not silly. You silly,’ James said and his eyes started to fill with tears.

‘Now Now. You can have what you want on your pancakes. There are no rules when you are here. You mother always had maple syrup.’

‘Really, Mary stared at her grandpa. ‘But Daddy says we have to eat properly.’

‘And we will but first we can have our little treat.’


The beach was less busy than usual. Billy laid out a towel for the children to sit on and unpacked their buckets and spades.

‘Can we go for a swim grandpa?’ Mary said pointing at the calm sea.

‘Not today sweetheart. It’s too cold and James wouldn’t like it.’

‘That’s because James is a baby.’

‘Am not a baby.’

‘Of course you’re not a baby James.’ Billy said pulling the boy into a bear hug. ‘I’m sorry Mary but I have to look after you both so we have to do things together.’

‘Not fair.’ Mary folded her arms and dumped herself down on the sand.

‘Why don’t we build a castle? And when we’ve finished Mary can be the princess.’

The children started filling their buckets with sand and building a pile for Billy to work on. It reminded Billy of the time when Sarah had been small and they had gone to the beach together. It always seemed to help them forget. Sarah’s mother had died when she was six and Billy had been left to bring Sarah up on his own. He knew that he hadn’t always been there, he had needed to work and so a string of neighbours had been used to care for Sarah.

He wasn’t going to miss out on his grandkids growing up the way he had his own child. The three of them worked on the castle for over an hour. James section was just a pile of sand clumsily patted down, Mary’s was a collection of smaller castles tipped out using the mould of her bucket and Billy has built a moat round everything.

‘Now we need a few finishing touches.’ Billy said opening his holdall. He gave each child a small flag to put on their ramparts and he started to dig his moat in the direction of the sea. Within a few minutes the sea was running down the channel and filing the moat.

‘Am I the princess now?’ Mary asked.

‘Yes you are my sweetheart. Shall we get you a dress on the way back?’

‘Yes please.’

‘Me princess too?’ James called.

‘You will be a handsome prince,’ Billy laughed


That evening the children had been bathed and changed into pyjamas. The three of them sat together on the sofa looking at old photos.

‘That’s your grandma and me on the beach where we were today,’ Billy said.

‘Who’s the little girl?’ Mary asked.

‘That’s Sarah. I mean your mother.’

‘Can we see some more?’

‘Of course,’ Billy said as he heard a car horn in the street. ‘That’ll be Daddy, wait here.’

He opened the door and headed out. ‘Evening Martin.’

‘Billy.’ Martin nodded. ‘Are the children ready?’

‘I got them ready for bed. I thought they could stay another night.’

‘Billy. Why didn’t you ring? I could have saved a trip.’

‘I thought you might like to stay too. We could head over to the beach tomorrow. Mary wants to swim and I can’t watch James and swim with Mary.’

‘You know how busy I am. I don’t have time for days off and messing about on beaches. Can you just fetch the children? I need to go now.’ Martin turned and got back into the car.


Billy knew why Martin was working so hard. He had done the same thing. He needed to make Martin realise what he was missing. The following weekend the children arrived as usual and Martin drove off without even a wave or a nod. Mary was very excited that she would be able to wear her princess dress and they even took it to the beach so she could be a princess next to her castle. James has a foam sword and shield and was practicing defending the castle when he smacked Mary in the face. No real damage was done but by the time her father picked her up a bruise was starting to appear.

‘What have you done to her?’ Martin shouted as he carefully touched Mary’s face.

‘It is okay Daddy. James was defending the castle. It was an accident.’

‘If you can’t be trusted to look after two small children maybe they are better staying at home.’

‘Come on Martin. It was an accident. I’m sure you had lots when you were a child. I know Sarah did.’

‘Well we can’t ask her, can we?’ Martin strapped the children into the car and drove off.


The following Saturday there was no sign of Martin at the usual time. Billy waited nearly an hour, staring out of the lounge window. Eventually he picked up the ‘phone and called Martin.

‘Martin Sommerfield.’

‘Martin, its Billy. I was worried something had happened.’

‘No everything’s fine.’

‘But where are the children.’

‘I told you last week if you can’t look after them I will leave them with Mrs Jones next door.’

‘Martin. It was an accident.’

‘Billy, I’m working I need to go.’


For the next three weekends Billy sat looking out of his window but the car never pulled up and the children never jumped out. The fourth weekend was the anniversary of his wife’s death and knowing the children wouldn’t turn up he headed to the grave yard with a large bunch of daffodils.

‘I don’t know what to do,’ Billy sighed as he knelt at his wife’s grave tidying away dead leaves flowers. ‘He is making all the mistakes I made.’

He unwrapped the daffodils and placed half the flowers in the tub on top of the grave. He levered himself up and picking up the cellophane and the remaining flowers started to head up the hill. He bundled the packaging into a ball and threw it into the bin, as he heard a voice the other side of the large oak tree. Normally he would have moved away, not wanting to intrude, but he needed to get to the other side of the tree. Billy slowly walked towards the tree keeping it between himself and the talker.

‘Why does he have to interfere? They always come back so excited. I can’t settle them down and they think every day is a beach day. I don’t want to stop him seeing them but he undermines me.’

‘Martin.’ Billy said as he emerged from behind the tree.

‘What now. Can’t I even talk to my wife without you butting in.’ Martin stood up from where he had been kneeling.

‘I didn’t know you would be here. I bought her some flowers.’ Billy placed the flowers on the grave and turned to walk away.

‘Billy. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted. Can we talk?’

Billy sat on the bench next to Sarah’s grave, Martin sat next to him.

‘I know what you are going through you know.’ Billy said.

‘How can you?’

‘Because it happened to me. When I lost Evie I lost everything. I was so wound up in my own grief that I left Sarah to cope on her own. I threw myself into my work and left Sarah with anyone who would look after her.’ Billy stopped to blow his nose, and wipe his eyes. ‘I couldn’t believe it that Sarah turned out so great. When you got married and had the kids I was so proud.’

‘So you know I need to work. I need to provide for my children. When they come back from you it takes me a week to calm them down.’

‘Saturday’s are all I live for now. I don’t want to lose that. Please let me help.’

‘It is easier to know that you are there.’ Martin said.

‘Maybe I can help out some more, in the week?’ Billy smiled.

‘It would help, but I’m not sure I could cope with them being that excited all the time.’

‘If I get to see them more it will be less of an adventure. We could talk about what you want me to do with them. I could help with home work.’

‘It would be a help but I’m not so sure.’

‘The most important thing is that you get to spend time with your children. Why don’t we start by spending the day together and then we can see where we go from there.’

‘Billy I’ve explained this to you before. I need to work.’

‘No Martin, you need to look after your children. I know you don’t need the money and if you’re short I can help.’

‘We’ll see.’

‘Whatever you say goes. Those children mean the world to me and anything I can do to help them I will.’

‘Mary has been going on about some old photos you had of Sarah. She wants to see some more.’

‘Then let’s get the kids and head back to mine for pancakes and photos.’

‘Okay but there is one thing I need you to do for me.’

‘Anything. Name it.’

‘Can I have beef paste on my pancakes?’

No comments:

Post a Comment

Cover campaign