Mrs Crawford had always been a great believer in the power of prayer, but she knew that things had gone too far for that. Gingerly, she pushed back the covers on her side of the bed and let her feet search for her slippers. She knew that it was important to keep warm when you were suffering from shock, especially at her age.
She had known there was something wrong as soon as she woke. Of the two of them, he had been the early riser. It was his stretching and yawning that always woke her. She often chided him, laughing that she wouldn’t have minded another undisturbed half an hour in bed, but they both knew she didn’t mean it. He would answer her by bending over and kissing her cheek. This morning it had been the silence that roused her.
Resting on the side of the bed for a moment she waited for the pounding of her heart to subside. Then, screwing up her courage, she rose and walked round to Freddie’s side of the bed. There was no room for doubt. He must have gone in the small hours as rigor mortis was already setting in. She laid her head beside his on the pillow and let a long sob rack her body. She let her tears run freely down her cheeks as she gently kissed the top of his head.
“Oh, Freddy, my darling, darling boy. How shall I manage without you?” It wasn’t even as if he had been ill. Like her, he was a good age, but there had been no particular slowing down, no warning signs. Only last night she had pointed out to him that his favourite telly programme was on this afternoon and she knew he was looking forward to watching it with her. This recollection caused her another paroxysm of sobbing. After a while she carefully arranged the covers round him and smoothed his pillow.
She dressed carefully, choosing a black skirt and jumper. There was no-one to see it, but it seemed appropriate. That was when the realisation hit her that she should think about notifying her family and that she would have to arrange for some kind of funeral. She went down to the kitchen and put the kettle on. It seemed so empty without his cheerful presence. They always started the day with two slices of toast and marmalade each, although she had been careful just to give him a scrape of butter on his since they had been warned that he needed to watch his weight. She couldn’t face it today, but conscious that she should eat something, she buttered and slowly ate a piece of bread.
It was so long since she had spoken to her daughter that she had to look up the number. It seemed to go on ringing forever, then her daughter’s voice cut in. “Tamsin and Jeremy are unable to talk to you at the moment, but please leave us a message. Thank you.” Mrs Crawford replaced the phone. She was certainly not going to leave a message. After all, when had Tamsin last bothered with either of them? Months ago. When she had lived at home she and Freddy had been so close—well, they all had been—but now she had this posh new life they were just an encumbrance, or that was how it felt.
She couldn’t remember if Tom was away or not. He was always having to go over to America on business. His job was something she found quite impenetrable, to do with computers. But she knew that he would want to know. And he would care. Yes, Tom would certainly grieve. He had always been such a good son.
She had his mobile number. That also asked her to leave a message. But this time she did.
Trying, unsuccessfully, not to cry, she told him what had happened. “I know that you loved him as much as he loved you, son,” she finished, “I’d like you to see him before…” and here it was all too much for her and she put the phone down quickly.
Then she slowly climbed the stairs again and went and lay down beside him, looking into his dear face.
Several hours later she was woken by gentle hands shaking her. “Hi, Mum,” said Tom. He put his arms round her and held her close. “You’re cold,” he said, “I’ve got the boys with me and we’ve lit the sitting room fire. You must come down and get warm. Is it alright if the boys come up and see….?”
She nodded. Of course her grandsons would want to say goodbye. She had expected that.
Tom led her into the sitting room and sat her by the fire. Mark and Andrew came and put their arms round her and she could see that Mark, the younger, had been crying. Tom said: “I’ll just go up with the boys Mum, and then we’ll do all the necessary. We did a bit while you were asleep.”
When they came back downstairs Mark came and gave her another hug. “He looks so peaceful, Gran.”
Then they got out her boots and warm coat and scarf, because although the evenings were drawing out again and it was still quite light, it was very cold. Mark held her arm as they went into the garden and she was startled to realise that he was taller than her now.
They had got everything ready under the forsythia tree. She always kept the old recliner there in the summer for him. It was definitely his favourite spot in their small garden.
Tom and Andrew carried him down between them. Mark took the blanket off the recliner and tucked it gently round him. They kept the ceremony short, and then they went back into the house, because Mrs Crawford was shivering.
“We’ll stay with you for a bit, Gran,” said Mark. “It’s his favourite programme on in a minute, isn’t it?” She squeezed his hand and nodded. “There’s some cake in the tin, and make some more tea for us, Tom, there’s a love.”
He did. And then the four of them settled down together to watch “One man and his Dog.” And to remember, with a little laughter and yet more tears, how Freddy had always barked at the television as he watched the competitors go through their paces.