Becca lifted her grandad’s arm up carefully and ran the soapy sponge under it to his armpit. He sat silently on the plank-like bench in the centre of the bath she had slotted in for him. He hated being bathed. The subject used to cause so many arguments at the start- to the point where Becca would storm out of the bungalow and have to sit in her car for ten minutes to cool off before going back in to finish her duties. She used to give in when he would tell her he could clean himself. For the first month, she had let him. The names he had called her back then had hurt. They were out of anger; anger that was a part of his disorder. And she knew it wasn’t aimed at her. It was at his illness; at his own incapability. She knew that, but it didn’t make the words hurt any less. He used to say that she enjoyed seeing him like this. Weak and vulnerable. That she was just like her mother and ‘that arsehole she married’. Then when Becca had realised he wasn’t cleaning himself properly and not changing his underwear, she had to make the decision to bathe him herself.
“You’re practically going mouldy,” Becca had said, a joke that held some truth.
“Yeah, well, thought you’d be happy. You want me to rot, don’t you? Your mother did,” he had spat back.
“I’m not my mum,” Becca had said in a small voice, a lump lodged in her throat.
These days were different. Her grandad sat patiently, his head bent forwards, allowing her to manoeuvring him like a puppet as she scrubbed him down. He kept his underwear on, and she would pass him the soap for him to clean that area himself. They had both agreed on that.
“At least let me keep a little bit of my dignity,” he had grumbled.
As she washed him, she checked his body over for any suspicious marks. She didn’t really know what she was expecting to find. Bite marks? Two little puncture wounds like in the movies? But Gabriel has said he had healed her grandad when he had fallen, so maybe he had healed his bites, too? Had he healed his defence wounds? Hid the evidence?
He had fed her grandad his blood. She felt sick and suddenly light headed. She sat down on the edge of the bath and tried to control her breathing.
After a moment, her grandad lifted up the soap, and when she didn’t retrieve it from over his shoulder, he turned.
“Grandad,” she started, pushing past the swelling in her throat. “Did Gabriel ever… did he ever hurt you?”
His big eyebrows furrowed. “Why are you asking me that?” He turned more so he could look her in the eyes. “Did he hurt you? Because if he did, I swear-”
“No, no,” she rushed to quickly calm him. “He hasn’t hurt me.”
But he had. He’d lied to her. But then again, the truth wasn’t exactly welcomed.
Her grandad nodded. “He’s a good man, that one. I can see why you like him.”
She gulped. He’s not a man at all.
Becca finished bathing him in silence, the two of them dancing the same dance they always did in perfect synchronicity like they shared one mind. It wasn’t until he was all dry, dressed and sat in his chair when she broke the news.
“Grandad, Gabriel will no longer be your night-time carer.” She was sat on the wooden dining chair beside him. She watched him process the news.
He blinked and frowned and looked up to her. “What? Why?”
She tried to think of an excuse that wouldn’t lead to any more questions. “He found another job.”
His brows furrowed, unconvinced. “And he didn’t tell me?”
“Maybe he did tell you and you forgot?” She instantly hated herself. I’m gaslighting my own grandad. Smooth, Becca.
He nodded. “Yes. Probably.” He was silent for a moment. “Does that mean he won’t be coming here anymore?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“That’s a real shame.” His eyes bugged. “Does that mean no more scones?”
Becca laughed. “I’m sure I can get you some scones.”
“Perhaps you and Kathy could bake some together? You two used to love baking.”
Becca’s blood ran cold. He hadn’t spoken her name to her in over a year. They had promised each other not to. She was the root of all their arguments, of all the early tension between them.
“We never baked together,” Becca replied coolly.
“Sure you did.” He smiled. She could see the child-like joy sparkle in his cloudy eyes and it was like a stab to the heart. “The two of you were always in the kitchen together.”
“Mum wasn’t a baker,” she said. And you weren’t around to witness even if she was. He had probably watched something on TV where a mother and daughter would bake cookies and laugh and throw flour at each other and then share them with their big, happy family. But that wasn’t their family.
“When is Kathy coming to visit?” he asked, the dopey smile still filling his face.
The knife twisted deeper into her heart. “She’s not, grandad.”
“It would be nice to see her.”
No, it wouldn’t.
“Could you tell her to pop up sometime?”
Becca inhaled a shaky breath. Tears burned the backs of her eyes. She squeezed them shut and one escaped, rolling down the side of her nose.
“She’s dead, grandad. She’s not coming.”
He looked at her a moment and his smile fell. He sank into his chair. “Ah, that’s right.”
No, it wasn’t. But Becca had also made a promise to herself, that if her mum ever came back up in conversation, she was going to lie. Her mum being dead was a lot easier to say than the truth. She didn’t want to explain their sordid family history to her grandad that was only going to forget and ask again.
Her granddad didn’t need to be reminded that he hadn’t been a good dad to her mother. He didn’t need to remember how he refused to go to her wedding because his illness made him hate Becca’s dad for no real reason. He didn’t need to remember that, even after he was diagnosed with a personality disorder and was given the right medication, Becca’s mum still refused to let him back into her life.
He didn’t need to know that there was an empty chasm between Becca and her mum ever since Becca had reached out to him behind her back and moved into the same village to take care of him now that he was old and alone.
No, it was better for everyone if Kathy was thought to be dead.