It started with a library book
She remembered the day he had taken her to the library, her tiny hand clutched in his spidery calloused one, yellowing and speckled with liver spots. She remembered how sunny and how crisp everything seemed - the colours, the shapes, the smells. Particularly the smells.
The day itself had its own perfume; freshly cut grass, the warm, musty smell of books as he held open the door for her, mingling with the librarian’s Chanel No.5 and the sour sweet odour of breath laced with whisky.
She never understood why mum wouldn’t have him in the house and how she would have to sneak off to the grim, grey stack of council flats in the estate to see him, taking her book and the few quid she had saved from her pocket money.
She remembered the never-white sheets hanging out to dry along the open corridor to his front door; the clink of glass as he got up to let her in; the sincere gratitude on his lined face when she opened her palm to show him the collection of shiny coins she had brought.
They would sit together for hours, travelling all over the world with Rudyard Kipling and Roald Dahl and Louis De Berniers, meeting all kinds of people and having the wildest adventures - all from the threadbare armchair of scratchy green tartan in grandad’s cramped flat.
Grandad said all you needed in the world was something good to read and a place to read it and you were the richest man in the world. That and a decent scotch, of course.
When he began to nod off she would take the glass from his hands and put it somewhere safe so it wouldn’t spill, tuck a pillow under his thinning grey hair and spread a towel or blanket over his bony chest before she left. Sometimes, when she was a bit older, she would take the empties out to the wheelie bin too.
And now here they were in this damp church surrounded by barely a handful of people, listening to the vicar say words he didn’t mean about a man he didn’t know. Mum wasn’t there.
Then it was her turn to speak:
“Grandad knew a few things about addiction. It was actually his addiction that inspired mine.
“It started with a library book. That was the gateway and I was hooked. Then came the inevitable downward spiral: library membership of my own, second hand book shops, reading groups.”
“Next thing I’m £15,000 in debt to a Masters degree in English literature and stuck with a lifelong habit that, like grandad, I’ve never managed to kick…”
Then it was time to say goodbye. Grandad was in his best brown suit, which hung off him as he lay cradled on his bed of white satin, instead of the usual scratchy green tartan. Someone had polished his shoes.
Quietly, in her smart shoes and neatly pressed blouse, she looked at the man in the coffin and slipped a copy of The Jungle Book into his waxy hand. She couldn’t help with the decent scotch, but she could make sure he had something good to read.