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Sport 40: 2012



The late summer afternoon quivers and sighs under the weight of another Russian heat wave. Even though we fear the lightning, we long for the relief a thunderstorm brings. Marshflies swoop down in deadly attacks on the gathering under the giant cembra pine. Gran has outdone herself. The berries we’ve gathered have been turned into blueberry pie and a sponge cake filled with raspberries and vanilla custard, flanked by a plate of soft buns fragrant with cardamom. Grandpa is still in his pyjama pants, cranky as an old goat. He’s page 101 been caught in flagrante, breaking into Gran’s storage to get hold of the vodka and gin. Later we hear him shout orders in his sleep. He utters unintelligible words in a voice that is bullying and harsh, yet there’s an unmistakable undercurrent of anxiety, even fear. As a child, I thought he was in great pain, perhaps possessed by evil spirits. I couldn’t understand the closed faces of the women huddling around Gran in the kitchen, why no one ventured to help him.

As soon as Grandpa is safely tucked away in his bed the coffee is replaced by red wine. Our spirits lift as the wine seeps into our veins. Our bad conscience has us competing to cheer up Gran—we’re only here for a month of the year, two at most. The rest of the time she’s on her own, miles and miles away from neighbours, locked away in a marriage with this man and his war demons. Gran tells us about the latest trip back from Spain. How she and Grandpa kept a spanner handy, in case they got attacked at traffic lights. ‘Never had this problem during Franco. Things were better then,’ Gran says, which draws a host of protests, mainly from the women. ‘It’s true,’ my uncle says, drawing on his pipe until it rattles. ‘Can’t deny he kept law and order.’ No one wants to discuss politics now that we’re rid of Grandpa. My auntie’s Swedish husband tells a joke that’s lost on the crowd. It doesn’t matter, he is splitting his sides with laughter while I translate. Then, without a warning, he throws himself back against the chair, tipping it over and somersaulting into the delphiniums.