My mother used to spend much of her time visiting the old people in our village, the ones no one else seemed to bother with. She’d pack a basketful of baking, wait for us to get in from school, then off we’d go to visit Grandma This or Grandad That.
Grandad Greaves was our favourite. He lived on the edge of the village, next to the farm where a turkey, feathered like an African chief, seemed to spend all its time doing a war-dance in the farmyard.
Grandad Greaves would be waiting for us in his kitchen, the white-washed stone walls like a lot of banked-up floury loaves and the black range reaching almost to the ceiling. The table would be laid for tea with (if they were in season) a plate of home-grown raspberries at each setting, smothered in sterilized milk, which our mother had insisted beforehand we drink without complaint. Outside the hens stepped as cautiously on the cobbles as if they were hot coals and watched us warily through the open doorway with their head on one side.
Then, while my mother cleaned the kitchen and my sisters explored the old-fashioned garden, I’d read Grandad Greaves’ books. Here I first set eyes on The Complete Works of Shakespeare, scrutinising The Tempest with as much urgency as if I had to perform it, though that was two decades away, and I’d only just learned to read.
There was also the works of Byron, illustrated. One picture, Manfred on The Jungfrau, filled me with dread. I’d look at it again and again, not from schadenfreude but to try to discover why it affected me so much. I think it was because even then I knew what falling would come to mean for me.
Years later, two weeks before it happened, I dreamt in almost complete detail of the fall which would kill my mother. But I thought it was just a dream. As on previous occasions, it was only with hindsight, when it was too late, that I realised I’d seen the future.
But this implies that life is pre-ordained; that certain things are destined to happen. And I cannot believe it. I believe existence to be random to the point of pointlessness. Still, I’ve pondered often on the premonition of my mother’s death and the particular dream-smile she gave me, which it took me months to interpret as the smile of goodbye.