Gran and Me On Tour26 August 2020
“Yes, I know! Such a charming guide!”
“No, Gran, he’s a guard… a guard.”
“…He’s going to get a big tip from me! And that accent! O there’s nothing more magical than an Irishman’s tongue!” she winks as a flush accelerates across my face. “Shall I ask if he’s single?”
Her imagination must be working overtime to create this mythical tongue talent. I haven’t caught a hint of it in the ten words he’s spoken since we came through the gates. But then again, Gran’s got a growing knack for painting her own realities into life. Today is turning into a shining example: she’s scheming my future romance with our handsome Irish tour guide, while I’m helping escort her to her prison cell; her new home for the next five to ten.
Gran’s eyes light up as she takes in the scene around her. In a low and excited voice she whispers, “Such colourful language from the staff!”
I look around and realise she thinks the women in the cells are exuberant employees. They’re all on their feet, cheering and heckling and rattling bars; if you turn up here as ancient as Gran, I guess you can’t help but spark curiosity. You’ve gotta be hard to commit crimes in your nineties.
It was some rubbish cold case they dug up on her, and the deeper into the prison we go, the more I wish I’d just sat her in a red convertible and told her to drive into the sunrise. Instead I drove her here in her old Ford Ute—the green paint giving way to rust, and the tape player warping a Beach Boys song she’d pirated off the radio a few decades earlier.
Gran smiles at me and a memory shimmers in the wrinkles around her eyes. “When I was young and travelling Europe, all the tour guides had such colourful umbrellas. One lady in Prague even had a magnificent teddy bear tied to the top of hers. They’d hold them up high so we could always find them, in even the thickest of crowds… Where do you think he’s left his then?”
She drifts off into another thought and the guard falls back and puts his hand on my shoulder. He tells me they’ve got her a good room. I’m too focused on catching any slip of an Irish accent and miss his tone of voice altogether. As he walks ahead my mind races, trying to work out if he was being menacing or reassuring.
After an eternity of grey cinderblock walls, he stops suddenly and swings open a cage door. “He we are.”
Gran grabs my shoulder with excitement. “How exciting, we get to see inside one!”
As she turns into the cell, a voice greets her. “Deirdre, my love, welcome home.”
Gran freezes on the spot, her mind turning circles. “Agnes? Oh Aggy, how wonderful to see you! You must meet my grandson…”
Gran pulls me in beside her. “Agnes and I used to rob banks together in Copenhagen! We were rather good at it,” she sings as her eyebrows jiggle with pride.
Agnes looks me over. “I hope you don’t mind. Your mum got in touch to say the nursing home wasn’t working out. Causing a ruckus were her words. So I called in a tip to an old copper, and a favour from the warden, and got her in here with me.”
I do mind. I really do rather mind. My anger is spread across so many people right now I don’t know where to begin—so I turn to the guard and scream, “Bunk beds! Are you fucking kidding?”
His green eyes are as horrified as mine.
Gran comes over to shake his hand and thank him, and he seems surprised to find three tissues deposited into his palm. Gran’s equivalent of a crisp $20 tip I suppose.
I hug Gran goodbye; she thinks I’m nipping off to use the bathroom and I can’t convince her otherwise. Aggy gives me a hug and pinches my butt, for reassurance, I hope. As I walk away, heartbroken and desperate to hear more about this bank robbing phase, Gran seems perfectly at ease.
The guard leads me back through the maze of security and walls with absent windows. I’m expecting sunshine as we walk outside, but it’s raining, and he opens an umbrella as we cross the yard. At the gate he pauses to shuffle his feet, till he mumbles shyly, “Would you like to get a drink sometime?”
I can feel Gran nudging me from afar.
“Are you Irish?” I ask, though I don’t care much for the answer.
I’m going with Gran’s reality either way.