I must have been about ten when I realised there was something odd about my Gran. Up until then she was simply my cuddly Gran with a roly-poly smile and waddly walk.
We lived in a seaside town. Summer was the best time of year. Not just because of the weather, but because there was an endless supply of holiday children to make friends with. And if a new friend turned out not so nice after all, it didn’t matter because they’d be gone soon enough.
When Gran wasn’t at home, you could find her on the pier, feeding the seagulls. She would make up little bags of stale bread to distribute to the holiday children who always seemed to think feeding seagulls was a good game. We local kids knew better. Seagulls were nothing but greedy, smelly, noisy birds who’d peck your hand and draw blood if you weren't careful.
Gran’s house and garden was open to all the neighbourhood children and she always invited the holiday children too. Summertime at her cottage was brilliant. There’d be kids swarming everywhere and with so many new faces I could never keep track of them. Sometimes when a mum or dad came to collect a holiday child it would turn out they weren’t even there. I couldn’t tell you how many children must have visited her over the years. It was a place everyone loved to come and play because she had a massive garden with loads to do and she served endless supplies of lemon squash and home-made cake.
I was lucky because Gran allowed me to help her bake the cakes. None of the other children were allowed anywhere near her kitchen.
Most mornings during the summer holidays, I would walk round to Gran’s cottage after breakfast. She always kept her backdoor open. I only had to lift the latch on the side gate and walk around the back.
The backdoor opened into a small utility area and I would shout, ‘it’s only Karen!’
I had learnt to shout out to Gran before I went into the kitchen because once, when I didn’t, I gave her a huge fright and she got angry with me for startling her. She had just come out of the walk-in larder and I had never seen her so mad before – her eyes rolled in their sockets so that I could only see the whites.
She slammed and locked the larder door. ‘Karen, you must never, ever just walk in without warning. What if I’d been holding a hot kettle – or a bowl of cake mixture? Well, I might have dropped it! Now you just promise me you’ll always call out to me first, you understand?’
‘Yes, Gran. I’m sorry I frightened you.’
She took one look at my contrite expression and straight away went back to her sunny self.
‘Just so long as you understand, poppet. Never walk in without warning.’
And she hugged me so that I was crushed against her pillowy bosom. She kissed my cheek and nibbled my ear until it almost hurt before she pushed me away with a chuckle.
Gran was a farmer’s daughter and the walk-in larder was where she hung rabbits and game birds that she turned into delicious pies, casseroles and stuff she called ‘terrines’ which I thought looked horrible. The locked larder was strictly off limits and I had never set foot inside it. Not that I wanted to. All the really interesting stuff was in her pantry. I loved the pantry. It smelled of cinnamon, vanilla and honey. All Gran’s baking ingredients were in the pantry and every Saturday I would trot in and out, fetching and carrying the ingredients that she needed to make her magical cakes. Mounds of flour, butter and sugar were weighed by nothing more complicated than Gran’s practised eye. I was in charge of the eggs. I had to break them into a bowl without getting any shell in it and ‘beat them like Old Mother Hubbard’ until they were frothy. Once Gran poured the mixture into the cake tins she would give me the bowl to lick.
By ten o’clock we’d hear children arriving. It always coincided with the first batch of cake to come out of the oven. Gran would go out into the garden and warn them that the cake had to cool down first, so they might as well find a little job to do. The jobs were easy and fun, especially when you knew the reward was freshly baked cake. Soon there’d be kids all over the garden, picking flowers, or weeding or planting seeds in Gran’s vegetable patch, or feeding the rabbits and chickens in the pens at the end of the garden. She had even a hung a tyre from the oak tree, so we could play on that too.
When I started hearing the rumours I knew they were rubbish. Just stupid kids’ talk, you know? But they made me notice oddities I’d never questioned before, like how Gran would lick a child’s grazed knee before applying Savlon; stuff like that. There was only one way to lay my doubts to rest. I would have to investigate.
It took over a week to find where she kept the larder door key and several days more to find my courage.
While Gran was busy digging up potatoes in the vegetable patch I unlocked the door. A putrid smell slammed me back. Racks of rabbits and pheasants hung from the ceiling. I gagged, gulped a breath and walked in. Beyond the game, right at the back, larger bundles hung from hooks.
The rumours weren’t rubbish after all.
About the author
Susan A. Eames left England over twenty five years ago to explore the world and dive its oceans. She has had travel articles and short fiction published on three continents. After several fascinating years living in Fiji she has relocated to West Cork in Ireland .
Susan blogs at: http://susan-a-eamestravelfictionandphotos.blogspot.ie