Jess shifted in her seat and leaned in towards Alice.
‘You can tell me anything, Nana, you know that. I promise not to tell a soul.’
‘I know that, Jessica,’ replied Alice, ‘and I’m sorry it’s you who will have to carry the burden of that secret… well, there are quite a few secrets if I’m honest.’
‘I can handle it, Nana. It can’t be that bad.’
Alice pushed herself back onto the cushions.
‘You’d be surprised at the things that have happened to me, the things I’ve done. I have not led an ordinary life by any standards, Jessica. I’ve had to learn to live with things I still regret and things that I’d do again tomorrow if I had to.’
Jess took hold of Alice’s hand again as she continued.
‘You know, I’m really glad I don’t believe in St Peter, Heaven and Hell, all that malarkey because I would be judged harshly.’
‘Well, you know I don’t believe in all that angelic choir stuff myself, Nana,’ Jessica replied. ‘But I do think there’s something; that spark of life, soul, whatever you want to call it, has to go somewhere. I was reading an article about Quantum Physics the other day and the writer said that they’re on the verge of proving that alternative universes actually exist. There could be millions of them, and that’s where you pass to when you leave this place. There’s also an argument for thousands of dimensions which we could pass through. That’s why some people think they’ve seen ghosts, it’s just a tear in the dimensional wall.’
‘That sounds all right,’ said Alice brightly. ‘But I don’t want to spend the next million years passing through dimensions, universes etc, looking like this.’
‘Oh, Nana, you do make me laugh sometimes.’
‘Good,’ said Alice. ‘Now tell me the real reason you were crying. You had been crying last Sunday too. You can’t fool me with your forced smile. Your eyes give you away, even without the puffiness. I can always tell when you’re unhappy so, come on, out with it.’
Jess let go of Alice’s hand and held hers together as if in prayer.
‘Me and Calvin, we’ve just, well, we’ve got a few issues to sort out. We’re having a lot of fights lately.’
Alice looked hard at her.
‘Fights? Fight’s as in violence? Or is it this American term that’s corrupted our wonderful language. Fights as in arguments?’
Jess hesitated a second too long.
‘Get rid of him, Jess. Don’t tell me it’s a one-off incident. Because they don’t exist. A one-off incident leads to two, three, then it’s a weekly occurrence, then a nightly one. I know you love the man but believe me, for the sake of your own sanity and for the safety of any children to come, get out now. He’s never going to change.’
Jess pulled a face.
‘It’s not like that, really, Nana. He just likes to be the man of the house.’
‘Abject nonsense,’ spat Alice. ‘I’ve met these men, Jessica, I know how they operate. They’re a type, and sadly, you, my dear, just like me, are attracted to them.’
‘You mean you had an abusive relationship? Not that ours is,’ she added hurriedly. He’s really not that bad.’
She looked away and tried to move the subject matter on.
‘You were the lucky one in respect, Nana, Great Grandad was the love of your life, wasn’t he? Everyone in the family talks about how you could never take another man after he died fighting in the war. You’ve spent a lifetime alone, mourning him. He must have been some kind of man. You never seem to talk about him. Does it still hurt too much?’
‘He was a special kind of man all right,’ replied Alice. ‘And yes, I remember the hurt as though it was yesterday, but it’s not the heartache sort of hurt you’re thinking of. I was glad when he was gone. Ecstatic in fact.’
‘But Gran said—’
‘What would my daughter know? She was only a toddler when he disappeared out of her life. She only has made-up memories about him. She’s never seen a picture of him. I wiped him from their lives, and mine.’
Jess tipped her head to one side and said quietly.
‘All right, Nana, I’m intrigued. I’d like to hear your story, but only if you’re sure it won’t upset you too much.’
‘I won’t be upset or overly emotional about any of it,’ replied Alice. I’ve lived with it all for eighty years. It’s high time I got it off my chest. Now, do you want to record this, or will you rely on your memory, there’s a lot of it and you might wish I’d kept some of it to myself.’
Jess tried to make light of Alice’s chilling words.
‘Careful, Nana, I might turn it into a novel.’
‘I hope you do,’ said Alice. ‘I won’t be here to read it. Just make sure you protect yourself, change the names and the locations. You should get away with it then. As I said, our family knows nothing of it, they’ll think you just have a very vivid imagination, and even if one or two of them does make a connection, they’ll think that you thought the worst of me too. It’s how they are.’
Jess got up and picked the tray from the table.
‘A good story is always better with a cup of tea,’ she said.