Authors: Christine Harris
To the real Claudia,
who swims like a fish
To Phoebe and Indigo
laudia tried to ignore the fluttering in her stomach.
None of the faces in the airport terminal looked familiar.
He’ll be pale,
And there’ll be grey hairs on his chin. I hope he doesn’t smell. Or try to make me eat cabbage.
Back home, the old woman next door, Mrs Pearl, cooked cabbage a lot. She boiled it into a green mush. Then a sour smell like a big burp
would ooze out of her windows.
Claudia put her left leg forward so her hip stuck out. She’d seen models stand that way. Her silver shoulder bag was new. So was her cropped T-shirt and sparkly jeans. The stickers on her stomach looked like real tattoos.
But even thinking about clothes couldn’t stop her worrying.
What if he’s changed his mind? What if he’s forgotten?
Nervously, she touched the badge on her T-shirt. It told everyone she was travelling alone.
Makes me look like a loser,
‘Leave that on, please,’ said Rowena, the flight attendant. Her smile showed red lipstick on one tooth. ‘Wait till your grandfather gets here.’
Rowena pointed to a man in a navy suit. His silver hair was neatly parted. ‘Is that him?’
‘No.’ He was nothing like the blurry photograph her mother had shown her. Even though the photograph was twenty years old.
Claudia imagined her grandfather was so old he would have a bent back. Maybe he would lean on a walking stick, shuffling with tired steps.
‘Hey, dudes,’ a deep voice boomed out.
Claudia turned, and froze.
I don’t believe it.
laudia slid down in the car seat. She was glad that no-one here knew her.
Grandpa’s car was splashed with mud.
The aerial was bent like a boomerang. And there was a long scrape down the driver’s door. A sticker on the dashboard read, ‘Don’t drink and drive — you might spill something.’
Grandpa’s shirt was a sickening mash of colours. It made her eyeballs feel funny just looking at it. He wore open sandals, which showed
his long yellow toenails. His hair was gelled into spikes and he wore wraparound sunglasses.
The car smelt of takeaway food. Empty bags and boxes told her where he bought dinner.
‘I thought you guys ate vegetables,’ she said.
‘You guys?’ Grandpa crunched the gears.
‘Hamburgers have lettuce,’ Grandpa grinned. ‘That’s enough greens for me.’
This man was family, yet he was a stranger. He was supposed to wear grey trousers and knitted cardigans. Not crazy shirts. Old people ate soup or vegetables. They didn’t pig out on hamburgers.
‘Burgers are cheap. Great for pensioners,’ said Grandpa. ‘You get meat, salad and bread all in one go!’
Claudia rolled her eyes and folded her hands neatly in her lap. She hoped her pink suitcase wouldn’t get grubby in the boot.
favourite food then?’ asked Grandpa.
‘Far out! Hey, how’s your mother these days?’
Claudia shrugged. ‘Okay.’
‘Still pick her nose?’
Claudia didn’t know what to say. Her mother wouldn’t allow even a speck of dust in their house. She ironed every wrinkle from everything, including the sheets. Mum wouldn’t even
the word ‘nose’, never mind stick something up there.
‘She didn’t tell you that, did she?’ Grandpa chuckled. ‘Always had her finger up there when she was little. I told her if she kept it up, her brains would fall out. One day she started sobbing. Her nose was running and she thought her brains were coming out.’
‘You lied to her,’ accused Claudia.
‘I imagined,’ he said. ‘There’s a difference. And it worked. She doesn’t pick any more, does she?’
I have to stay with this weirdo for two weeks.
laudia wondered what Grandpa’s house would be like.
Probably dark. It’ll smell like old potatoes. He’ll have doilies and plastic flowers. Maybe there’ll be magazines on war or caravan holidays.
Grandpa flicked on the left indicator. The car turned into the driveway of a block of flats.
There was one empty parking space. And there wasn’t much room to turn. Grandpa drove forward, then backward. Forward, then backward. Forward, then backward.
The car bumper knocked a rubbish bin. Its lid fell open. Bulging plastic bags tumbled out. Claudia gasped.
‘Just checking if the rubbish truck’s been yet.’ Grandpa wrenched on the handbrake. ‘Come on. Help me pick up that stuff. No-one will know the difference.’
Claudia stayed in her seat.
I’m not picking up someone else’s stinky rubbish.
When he was done, she got out of the car.
Grandpa dragged Claudia’s case from the boot and plonked it on the ground.
I’m not touching that handle,
He didn’t wash his hands.
Grandpa carried the case upstairs. He unlocked the door and flung it open, with a loud. ‘Welcome.’
His belongings were scattered everywhere.
‘Didn’t you have time to put things away?’ she asked.
away. I know exactly where everything is. Soon as you put things in cupboards, you can’t find them.’ Grandpa dropped his keys onto the kitchen bench. ‘Want to go down to the beach?’
The fourth floor flat had a wonderful view of the sea. White sand and vivid blue water.
‘Unless you’re too tired,’ said Grandpa.
‘I’m not tired.’ This was a chance to show off her new swimming outfit and beach towel.
‘Cool bananas. He who hesitates is…uh…takes a lot longer.’
‘Lost, Grandpa,’ said Claudia.
‘I’m not lost. I know exactly where I am. Even got it engraved on this copper bracelet in case I forget.’
‘I meant, “He who hesitates is lost”.’
‘Well, he could be. That might be why he takes longer.’ Grandpa put his sunglasses beside the keys. ‘You’ll have to keep an eye on me at the beach.’
He looked healthy, but Grandpa wasn’t young anymore. Maybe he worried about crowds. Or the sun burning brown spots on his skin.
‘Soon as those women see me in my shorts,’ he said, ‘they’ll mob me.’
He’s going to be trouble, I just know it.