A Modern Midnight Conversation

A Midnight Modern Conversation, William Hogarth, c. 1730

This weekend I went to visit my grandma.

At first she gave me something to eat. It was bread and cheese with some tomatoes and cucumber. I was very happy.

“Eat, that you don’t starve, boy!” she said, watching me eat.

“Oh yes!”

“I just don’t want you to starve on me.”

She asked me if I had had any problems getting here. Yes, my train was delayed so I had to go over a different route, but nothing serious.

“That’s good,” she said. “And which bus station did you arrive at? The one at the school or the one at the lake?”

“This time I arrived at the one at the lake, because I had to go a different route because my train was delayed, but usually I arrive at the school.”

“It’s confusing because when your mother comes, she always arrives at the bus stop at the lake. But you say you arrive at the school?”

“Yes, usually.”

“Oh, does the bus stop there?”


“That’s very handy.”

Later we ring my mother. When she tries to hang up she presses the green button instead of the red one. I tell her she needs to press the red button to hang up.

“Yes, it was lit up though, so I just pressed it.”

She laughs. “One day I’ll learn.”

I ask if I can go shopping for her. She says she would be very grateful, because she finds it hard coming back up the hill with the shopping bags now.

“I have to tell you a story about that actually. The other day I was outside the supermarket with my bags and a woman in a car drove up, asking if she could give me a lift home.

“I looked at her and felt a bit you know, who are you, because I didn’t know her from Adam. She looked a bit bohemian. But then I thought, what can go wrong. On the way back she told me she knew me from church. I’d never seen her before. Anyway, she dropped me off here and so I was spared the walk.”

“There you are Gran, you’re like the Godmother around here, people just know you.”

“It was strange because of course I wouldn’t normally do that.”

The phone rings and I put on my coat to go to shopping.

When I come back grandma ends her conversation and hangs up. I put down the shopping bags and walk over to the phone. “That was a neighbour,” she says, “it rarely takes less than half an hour with her.” The call time is counting on the screen. I press the red button.

She asks if it is cold outside. I say it is quite cold.

“It’s not as cold as it was,” she says. “A few days ago we had ice on the roads. I was walking back from the bakery and I almost couldn’t get up the hill, it was so slippery.”

“You could have done with someone to drive you back that time, too, couldn’t you?” I laugh.

“Yes, granddad’s missing. At the top and at the bottom and in every way, he’s missing.”

In the evening I do some work at the dining room table. Through the door into the kitchen I can hear grandma organising her pills for next week.

“Oh, you’ve messed that up haven’t you,” she says. “Yes, you’ve made a hash of that. Hm.”

A little while later she goes to bed. She says she is glad I am here because it means she feels safer at night.

I wonder if it upsets her that people go through life getting better at things until they get to the end, when then they have to get worse again.

At around twelve she comes out of her room and looks down the corridor at me, sitting in the dining room at the table. She is in her nightgown and very small. She squints and holds her hand up against the light. “Are you still up?” she asks.

“Yes,” I answer.

She smiles and says, “Wow, my boy.”

She goes back into her room.

In the morning I say goodbye. She says I’m a lovely chap and that it’s not long until Christmas now when she’ll see me again.

I wave as I’m walking away until I can’t see her anymore. I get on the bus at the school and sit down. I hold my bag on my lap and wonder what she’s doing.


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