My grandfather lied to my grandmother. I guess it runs in the family.
We are, all of us, habitual liers. It’s not because we actually want to deceive one another, but mostly because we want to protect our nearest and dearest from the painful truth. My mum, God bless her, didn’t tell my dad that she was suffering from skin cancer whilst she was pregnant with me, because she knew how desperately he longed for a child. The doctors had told her that it was either chemotherapy to save her, or have the baby. She chose the baby, waited until after I was born and then embarked on her too-late treatment, which she took in secret whilst he was away on the oil rigs. The thing is, he would much rather have had her alive than be left on his own at the age of 28 with a 2 month old daughter and no wife. I don’t take it personally. Why would I? He had no idea how to look after me and was forced to rely on my aunty for childcare whilst he was working away. She hated him for it, resented me and was only looking after me out of a sense of duty to a dead sister who she knew had been adopted. My mum didn’t know about that. Yes, you guessed it, my aunty kept it secret because she wanted to save her sister from pain.
On Tuesday, she asked me the most peculiar question. “Lily, do you know who I am?”
Of course, I gave the obvious answer. “You’re Aunty Jean, my mum’s sister.”
“In a manner of speaking,” she had said. “You know me as Aunty Jean, but I’m not actually your aunty.”
To be honest with you, I felt a little bit relieved that there was at las tsome honesty going on. She had kept many secrets over the years, but had never failed to hide the fact that having to look after me had ruined her life, or what she had imagined her life would be. Widowed at a very young age (a car accident perhaps, if the stories could be believed), she had intended to make something of herself, have a career, be an independent woman – and then I had been foisted off on her. Dreams ended.
“Oh?” I had said mildly, hoping that she would leave it there.
It wasn’t to be.
“I’m actually your grandmother.”
Oh. Oh damnation. I didn’t need to know this, the sheer seeming impossibility of it all tying knots in my thoughts.
“Yes,” she continued, taking my silence as a yearning to hear more. “The way Herb – your grandfather – defrosted the refrigerator used to drive me mad. He’d just turn it off, leave the door open and leave me to deal with the food. Who defrosts a refrigerator without running the food stocks down first? God, it was infuriating!”
“So I hit him over the head with the griddle pan. Damn well killed him I did. Of course, the police turned up eventually, but I really, really didn’t want to go to jail so I ‘became’ your Aunty Jean. We let it be known that ‘Granny’ had run away with the family savings and… voila! Here I am.”
I should mention, we were in the kitchen at the time, and she was at the stove, frying steaks. On the griddle.
But then, we are all of us habitual liers. Go figure.