'I'll go and make us all some tea,' said Rosie.
'I'll come give you a hand.'
'No, you stay here with Granny, Pat. She loves meeting new people and she would like to talk to you, I'm sure.'
'I would indeed,' said Granny. 'So you come over here and sit down on the window seat where I can see you. You must be an American?'
'Yes, ma'am, I'm from Minnesota.'
'What is Minnesota, a city or a state?'
'It's a northern state in the Midwest. It's mostly agricultural, but there's some industry as well. Minneapolis-Saint Paul, where half the population lives, is a big conurbation, and Mrs Denham, do you know the USA?'
'I'm very sad to say I've never been there and I won't be going now. They wouldn't let me on a plane in case I died on them. It's my heart, you see.'
'Oh, my dear, there's no need to be sorry! I've had a long and active life and always been a busy little bee. It's my turn to put my feet up now, and most would say a good thing, too.'
She twinkled merrily at me. 'So, America is it like on television, like in all the films? Does everybody have a gun? Do you have a gun yourself and did you bring it with you? Do you have it on you now? May I see it, may I check it out is that what you American people say?'
'Ma'am, I never owned a gun. I never wanted one.'
'Oh,' said Granny. 'What a disappointment.'
I almost apologised before I realised she was kidding me.
She said she'd heard of Minnesota. She remembered now. The teacher showed them on the map when she was just a little kid in elementary school. Hiawatha came from Minnesota, didn't he? She knew some of the poem.
She was beyond delighted when I said I knew it, too.
When Rosie came in with the tea stuff, we were getting nicely reacquainted with Hiawatha's childhood, reciting line for line; 'From the full moon fell Nokomis '
'Fell the beautiful Nokomis '
'Patrick, what on earth is going on?' Rosie stared at us like we were crazy. 'What are you two doing casting spells?'
'We're reciting poetry, my darling,' Granny said. We're resoiting powetry that's how it came out. 'Pat, I don't recall the next bit. Maybe you can help me?'
'She a wife but not a mother.'
'Yes, that's right,' said Granny and she beamed at me.
I felt like I was home.
But why did Rosie look so sad? Why did her eyes cloud over? Oh, shoot I probably imagined that.
'She likes you,' I told Pat while Granny Ca.s.sie had a doze and we washed up in Mum's new kitchen. I don't know why my mother has a dishwasher. All her precious china is always washed by hand. 'She thinks you're virry noice.'
'That's good to know. I'd hate to get on Granny's bad side.' Pat grinned at me. 'Virry noice yeah, that's exactly how she speaks. But I can't place her accent. It's not at all like yours.'
'Granny is a Brummie.'
'What's a Brummie?'
'A Midlander from Brummagem. I mean Birmingham. It's a big industrial city in the heart of England.'
'How did Granny Ca.s.s fetch up in Dorset?'
'She met my grandfather while she was a land girl during the last war. They were very different. He was posh and she was working cla.s.s. Grandad loved the countryside and she came from a city. He was a farmer's son but she had never seen a cow and she was terrified of horses.'
'But they still fell in love.'
'They did and stayed in love. When Grandad died, poor Granny cried for weeks. She never came to terms with being widowed. She still remembers how it feels to be in love.'
When Dad and Mom came home, I swear the temperature dropped down by ten, fifteen degrees. There were stilted British introductions h.e.l.lo, h.e.l.lo, h.e.l.lo. Then we all ate dinner spaghetti bolognaise. I guess most everybody in the world must eat spaghetti bolognaise, even if they live in seaside cottages with roses round the door?
Dad was courteous, shook me by the hand, said he hoped we'd had a pleasant journey and how did I like Dorset? But he said it in a most reserved and very British kind of way. It didn't sound as if he meant a word.
Mom was just reserved.
But Granny made me feel like I was welcome. 'Come on, Pat, dig in,' she said when Rosie brought dessert a dish of raspberries from the garden and a jug of yellow cream. 'I like to see a man with appet.i.te.'
Oi loike ter see a man with appetoite.
I loved her accent.
After we had coffee, Granny said she'd like to go to bed. So Rosie's mother helped her up the stairs. Dad said he was going to his office. He had some work to do.
'Poor Granny never moans about her aches and pains,' said Rosie as we cleared the dinner stuff away. 'But she gets so bored and so frustrated.'
'What does she do all day?'
'She reads a bit not books, just magazines. She's fond of crossword puzzles. She listens to the radio. Dad bought her a laptop a few years ago. She absolutely loved it. She emailed all her friends well, all three of them who weren't afraid of new technology and she surfed the net. But she finds it really hard to use a keyboard now.'
'Why don't you get speech recognition software speech-to-text?'
'We tried it and she hated it. She said you had to talk so flipping slowly, like someone off the BBC Home Service Radio 4 to you and me for it to understand you.'
'The older stuff was hard to use. You had to say the words one at a time, make sure you kept them nice and separate, or your computer wouldn't understand you.'
'Yes, that's what she found.'
'But SRS is getting better. Nowadays the user can talk normally, can run the words together. If you have an accent, chances are you'll still be understood. If Granny used the new continuous speech recognition software, I figure they'd get on. Maybe I could but she's very elderly ...'
'Maybe you could what?'
'I could enrol her in a research study?' The more I thought about it, the more I thought that this might be a plan. 'She could be very useful. It's hard to keep a senior in a study. Seniors tend to get fed up or they get sick or ...'
'I didn't like to say so, but yeah, seniors die.'
'Pat, I think you're brilliant!' Rosie dumped the crockery on the counter then hugged me round the neck. 'Granny Ca.s.s loves to be doing things. She's been busy all her life, and she finds it so annoying being so disabled.'
'Let's enrol her on a study, then and better yet, make her a pin-up.'
'Yeah, why not? She could be a centrefold in Senior Computing Times and a great big inspiration to old ladies everywhere. There'll be lines around the block to ask her out on dates.'
'You are an idiot, you know.'
'I thought I was a Neolithic throwback?'
'Yes, that too.'
'Rosie, don't be silly,' Granny said as I did bedtime duty Friday evening, giving Mum a break. 'I'm ninety, don't forget. I'm no use to anybody now.'
'So you don't want to help?'
'I'm sure this man can't need my help.'
'You like him, Granny. You told me he was nice.'
'I think he's very nice.'
'If you think he's nice, why won't you help him?'
'But does he really want me to what was it enrol in a study, is that what you said?'
'You'd be an enormous help to him.' I crossed my fingers. 'Granny, there's no reason older people should be cut off from everything. All they need is someone of their own age to encourage them to use computers, to use the World Wide Web and that's what Pat wants you to do.'
'Well, if I'd be helping Pat?'
'Yes, you would, and he'd be very grateful.'
'He's very handsome, isn't he?'
'I think so.'
'I always like a tall, dark man.'
'He looks a bit like Grandad, doesn't he?'
'Yes, just a bit. Granny, you've gone very pink. I think you've taken quite a shine to Pat.'
'Oh, go on with you. I'm well past all that kind of thing.'
We stayed three days. Rosie had appointments, meetings in the coming week, so this was all the time she had to spare. But it was time enough for me to be under the microscope, to make me feel I was some kind of parasitic bug.
Yeah, Rosie's granny was a charmer. But Rosie's parents were a different story and I found it hard to talk to them. I did not speak their language. I did not know what to say.
So when Rosie's father talked, I listened. I tried to ask appropriate questions, tried to show an interest in his work. But he is an accountant and so it wasn't easy, in fact it was real hard.
I also tried to talk to Rosie's mother. But it was a total waste of time. She didn't want to talk to me. 'I love your roses, Mrs Denham,' I began on Sunday morning as Rosie, Mom and I ate breakfast in the sunny garden.
'Do you, Mr Riley?'
'They have a great perfume.'
'Most roses do.'
'What's this pink one called?'
'He was a French explorer, wasn't he, claimed Canada for France? He mapped the gulf of the St Lawrence and he found a cure for scurvy?'
'Did he really?'
'He also took a cargo of what he believed had to be gold and diamonds back to France. But turned out he found quartz and iron pyrites.'
'My goodness, Mr Riley, you're a mine of information. I know Jacques Cartier only as a rose.' Then Mrs Denham got up from the table. 'If you'll both excuse me, I have lots of things to do.'
'Sorry,' Rosie mouthed at me as Mom went in the kitchen door.
'It's not okay.' Rosie grabbed a flower, started pulling it to bits and dropped the shredded petals on the gra.s.s. 'She's being very mean. She's never chatty, but she's so rude, so horrible to you.'
'It's no big deal, and anyway I kind of understand. You're her daughter. I'm a big bad wolf, a married man who's trying to corrupt your innocence.'
'Ha fat chance of that with Mum around.'
Yeah, fat chance indeed. Mrs Denham put me in a bedroom as far away from Rosie's as she could. I guess she figured if there was any sneaking down the landing in the night, she could rush out her bedroom door then whack me with a baseball bat. Or cricket bat in this part of the world.
As if I would abuse her hospitality my mother raised me better.
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