Sunday, May 07, 2006

power cut

Grandmother lit one candle from another. The flames winked and cast a glow in her sitting-room, but they seemed very dim and yellow compared to the homely light of before. She lit another candle and carried it out into the narrow hall. She moved some ornaments and set it down on a shelf opposite the clock. Finally she went back down the step to the kitchen (it was growing darker all the time), and lit another candle to take upstairs.

The steady tocking of the hall clock seemed louder. I sat by the fire but we were going to let it go out. We decided to have an early night because of the strike. I gathered up my marbles thinking they could easily get lost under the couch. One by one I dropped them into the net bag. Then I prodded the ends through the clip and pulled on it to make sure it was fast on the teeth. If you didn’t do that it could sometimes slip through the clip and that made all the marbles roll out. Then I slid the cover over the clip, gave it another pull for luck and put it away in the toy-box. Then I opened my big book from the library. Kriemhild’s warriors were setting off for Hungary. Though he said nothing on this particular page, my eye kept sliding back to Hagen’s fierce, forked beard. It was nearly too dark to read, and his beard had lost its red colour, but I still found him interesting to look at.

Grandmother tidied the crocheted shawl and went back into the kitchen. She didn’t have to watch the milk because she had a glass disk that she put in the pan. When the milk boiled this stopped it boiling over. The glass disk clunked up and down and this sound told you when the milk was ready. I heard her moving around in the shadows and then the chink of cups. For a moment I envisaged the Sweet Tin on top of the kitchen cupboard; this was the most interesting thing in the kitchen, and at the moment it contained liquorice sweets.

She came carrying the tray with the cups of coffee and garibaldi biscuits. She came up the step very carefully and set the tray down on the low table. She settled down on the sofa and I scrambled up beside her. “What a nuisance!” she was saying. “I do wish those dratted men would leave us alone.” I couldn’t understand it either. I imagined them rushing around the country plunging it into darkness. “They must be very greedy,” I said. I imagined them swooping like Kriemhild’s warriors, silently riding up and down the National Grid and extinguishing it with their swirling cloaks.

The coffee was piping hot but I sipped it so it didn't get a skin on it. Then I was allowed another biscuit. Grandmother didn’t have to worry about crumbs because the Garibaldi biscuit was chewy and nothing broke off except the part that was in your mouth. “You can have your bath tomorrow,” she was saying. “Just brush your teeth tonight.” At Grandmother’s you didn’t have a tube of toothpaste. She had something in a tin called Dentifrice and you scrubbed it with the brush until it went foamy.

I asked if I could have a liquorice sweet before I went to bed. Grandmother thought it over and said it was better not, because we hadn’t had proper dinner. “Just one,” I said. “You can have two tomorrow,” she said, “and I’ll read you a story before we go up.” She brought the candle nearer now we had finished our coffee. I snuggled up beside her and she read me an adventure of Anders and Marta. Then we went up to bed. Grandmother blew out the candles one by one. She brought the last one into my room and set it down on the writing-desk while she tucked me in. Then she kissed me goodnight and went along the landing carrying the candle.

It was completely black outside. There were some spats of rain on the glass. The gulls were crying and squabbling. I thought tomorrow I would play with the cigarette machine. It was a wooden bird. You pushed the bird on a pivot and it reached into a little drawer and pulled out a cigarette in its beak. The drawer had places for six cigarettes but now grandmother only had two left and they were very squashed from the number of times the bird had held them in his beak.

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