I thought the view would be better. If I strain my neck I can see the dais at the front, draped in garlands of roses. Everything’s a bit blurred, even with my glasses. Not that I mind terribly. I don’t mean to make a fuss. I know she and Walter have so many friends. But I would have loved a good view of my granddaughter’s big day.
They decided against a church. Bit funny, but it’s what lots of the young people do these days, I suppose. I thought the field was a bad idea but it looks a treat. Clusters of apple trees sending out their syrupy scent; cornflowers in the fields; hedgerows teeming with bees and drowsy butterflies.
Darling Sophie, never a smarter little girl. Six years old, nestled between my wife and me, begging to hear the same old stories of her brave grandaddy marching off to war, eyes widening as I took down my box of medals – even a Victoria Cross, won in the fields of Normandy, winking in the firelight. How proud she was.
Sophie, ten, excited and squealing in the war museum, pulling on our hands as we hurried along in her wake, pointing out the famous planes, asking me to tell her about each one.
Sophie, 13, tear-stained between her parents, breaking free to hold my hand as my wife, my muse’s coffin was lowered into the earth.
Then Sophie, older, rolling her tea cup around the saucer in my small sitting room. Telling me, half-smiling, shaking her head, how I live in the past. Later, as the visits peeled off, rolling her eyes with exasperation, with anger. I’ve heard that story before, not again. Grandad, please, not this time, I’ve seen the medals a million times. Then later, with embarrassment, with pity. That’s always the end.
The wedding guests are all fanning themselves. This heat can’t be healthy. I wish I could take off my jacket, it feels like it’s glued to me. And there’s a funny smell in the air. No one else seems to have noticed. Must be the sun. My wife always said the hot weather didn’t agree with me. She was right. I’m exhausted even though it’s barely midday. And that smell is becoming stronger. A nasty, grubby smell. Stagnant sweat. Is it me? Wearing this damn uniform on a day like this. I give myself a sniff. No, it’s coming from everywhere.
And there’s something else too. A harsh tang, dark and primitive, stalking through the cornflowers. A scent that clung to us all those years ago like a shadow, a reeking second skin.
I’m still sitting on a bench with a plastic cup of water that reflects the faded red of my jacket when the couple come past followed by a cheering throng showering them with petals. I get shakily to my feet and cheer along, beaming at my Soph, who runs past smiling and laughing with her new husband to the waiting car with its trailing tin cans. Of course she doesn’t see. Just a shrivelled little man in an oversized uniform, a few tarnished medals glinting dully on his chest.