Tiring of the 80s playlist I’d felt enthusiastic about when putting it on “Twisted Sister” are the final straw and I switch to something called “Jazz in the background” which seems to fit the mood for a Saturday evening dinner.
Daisy, the Labrador, sidles out of the kitchen and curls up next to my daughter on the sofa.
“Daisy doesn’t like jazz,” she calls out, “Just like granny didn’t.”
In my memory, Margaret is asleep, her pale drawn face reflected in the mirror.
She is curled, her head below the pillow, fetal. Waiting to return in the way that she arrived.
The room smells of lilacs and soup, the walls bare like a hospital, the decorating only just finished before she arrived.
On the far wall, there is a black wrought iron fireplace, the chimney long since blocked, a spray of teasels and amaranth in the hearth, gathering dust.
On the mantlepiece, there is a wooden train in bright colours, its carriages carved into the shape of letters that spell “TOM”, with its cord hanging loosely down waiting to be played with, as it has waited for twenty years.
When time feels as if it is standing still it is really running out.
Our children slept together in this room before they exchanged constant companionship for privacy.
I would read the same story every night to my son as he fell asleep, or hold my baby daughter in my arms while I listened to “Dark Horse” by Amanda Marshall and wept at my good fortune.
In the corner by the window is the linen cupboard we bought from IKEA that arrived without the right fixings and that I spent a day cursing and swearing at while I tried in vain to put it together, surrendering to it the shreds of my masculinity.
On top of the cupboard is a TV playing constant loops of the same programmes for Margaret as she looks without watching.
“This film is very long,” she says staring at the TV which has long since moved from the film to Attenborough and then the highlights of the cricket she used to love but now has no time for.
The view through the big sash window is the best in the house, looking down into the garden through the branches of the willow where Margaret used to sit with my daughter, swinging her gently in the shade while my son daubed paint onto paper, his tongue sticking from the side of his mouth in concentration.
Once, when she was very small, my daughter saw a hot air balloon through this window flying low on a still autumn evening, the reflection of the golden light making it look like a sun with a basket hanging beneath.
“What colour is it?” I said to her.
“Lellow”, she said.
It’s still the only version of the word in my head even if it rarely comes out of my mouth.
An adult now, each morning she comes into the room and writes on the small blackboard a message for her grandmother and tells her about the weather.
“It’s windy today, granny,” she says.
“It’s very hot today, granny,” she says.
“Autumn has arrived this morning, granny,” she says.
“Mmmm,” says Margaret as she stares through the window searching for the weather.
This room is the chronology of a family.
Once, as I tried to find the motor racing for her on the TV, a sport she had, until now, always hated, she said to my daughter,
“Can you hear jazz?”
“I can hear jazz. Can’t you hear the jazz?”
“No granny, there’s no jazz playing.”
“I can definitely hear jazz.”
“Do you like jazz?” my daughter asked
“No, I don’t,” she replied, with indignant wide-eyed certainty.
Back in the kitchen, scraping my fish slices under the hot golden potatoes fresh from the oven, the Shelly Berg Trio are careering their way through “All The Things You Are” and I’m left with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude at the way music keeps the past alive.