A very personal tale for this week’s short story awaits you.
Another challenging week, but I do want to get the proper momentum going for this weekly short story challenge, and the only way to do that… is to write the short stories.
For those just joining us, I’m challenging myself to write a short story once a week for 52 weeks in total. This follows on from a similar challenge I did many years ago now, which you can buy as an eBook, inventively called “Fifty Two”
If you missed the first two stories, they’re still available for your reading pleasure too:
This week’s short story is one that’s rather personal to me, as will become apparent.
When I was much younger – I’m getting substantially older now, but once upon a time, I was indeed younger – we would go and stay with my grandparents from time to time.
Nothing exceptional about that; lots of families do grandparent visits on a very regular basis.
They didn’t live particularly close by, so this was a whole endeavour of arrangements and temporary pet feeding and the packing of bags and the planning of road trips and all that besides too.
We’d pack bags, toys, kids, sometimes cats and dogs and into the car and hit the road. It seemed to take forever from the point I was shuffled into the middle seat to the point when we actually got there.
In reality, and with hindsight, it was really only an hour or two of twisty mountain roads before we got there.
One unusual thing you should know about my grandparents is that I had more than the usual allotment of two pairs.
That’s a complex story in and of itself that I won’t get into here, but as a kid I saw and felt that as a perfectly normal state of affairs. Didn’t everyone have at least three sets of grandparents spread around different places?
Still, there was something else exceptional about these grandparents, and my grandmother in particular.
When you say “grandmother”, you probably get a very specific picture in your mind of what that kind of lady looks like.
Probably a little short, maybe a little squat, floral pinny, warm kitchen meals and hugs and smiles and all that goes with it. You know the type.
That description would fit this particular grandmother of mine very well indeed. The lady you have in your mind’s eye absolutely is my grandmother. I mean, maybe yours as well if you’re getting specific about it, and especially if you’re directly related to me.
But there’s more.
You see, alongside all the usual images of grandmothers that you might have, mine was special.
Again, I can hear your protests, because every grandmother is special in their own special way.
Naturally, they’re also special to you, because they’re your grandmother. Or grandmothers, in my case, but I’m digressing again.
This grandmother was special for the not-so-simple fact that she was a ninja.
Now, when I say that, you probably think of black clad assassins, creeping along upside down on temple ceilings, waiting for the perfect moment to strike and cut their target’s throat.
As far as I know – I cannot absolutely rule it out, but I would be very surprised – my grandmother never partook in that side of the ninja lifestyle.
Although now that I think about it, she certainly would have been a dab hand at the infiltration side of matters, because nobody really looks at little old ladies all that often.
I suppose she could have dropped any number of poisons into the green tea without raising suspicion… but we never talked about that kind of thing. No, I can’t see that being part of her daily routine.
I don’t think she would have had the heart for that kind of endeavour, either.
Or the time, because she was perpetually busy running her household and supporting her hard-working husband, because that was absolutely the style of the time.
So, if I’m sure she never engaged in any ninja style black-clad missions, how is it that I know she was a ninja?
The answer is surprisingly simple.
I know, because of the blankets.
See, as a kid, every time we’d go visit, it would eventually get to the time when smaller children (such as myself) would be told that they had to go to bed.
So off to bed I’d trot after brushing teeth, donning pyjamas and all the usual night time stuff one does.
I’d climb into bed under a few layers of blankets, always made up extra tight to keep the warm in, and pretty rapidly doze off to sleep.
I’d then wake up the next morning, unable to move.
I was unable to move, because of the blankets.
At some point in the night, my grandmother crept in, carrying more blankets than it was humanly possible for one small elderly woman to silently heft, and carefully arrange them around me for maximum warmth.
This wasn’t just one blanket. Or indeed two. This was a lot of blankets, providing a lot of warmth, all at once.
Every morning, I’d wake up under this array of blankets, aware once again that she’d done this, and that I had to work out how I was going to extricate myself from this significantly heavier bedscape.
Sometimes I could slip out of a corner. Sometimes I could pop out of the top like an overexcited soft drink bottle. Often I’d just have to deadlift all those blankets off myself with a morning groan.
Once I inevitably managed to extract myself from the mountain of blankets that threatened to crush me, I’d head to the kitchen where somehow there was always a smell of fresh toast in the air.
She’d be there, spreading marmalade onto toast from a tiny pot that never seemed to run empty, ready for feeding the hordes.
Now that I think of it, those marmalade pots might have also been one of her secret ninja skills. Maybe that’s an advanced course?
She’d always look at me, and the first thing she’d ask me is if I was warm enough overnight, because she worried that I might get cold.
She’d never say that she’d added blankets. She would only ever ask if I was warm enough overnight.
Yes, even in the summer, when the nights were warm.
She’d just want to ensure that I had been warm enough, without giving away her very specific, very silent blanket delivery skills.
This would happen every time we visited, without fail. I tried many times to stay awake, or to try to wake up and catch her in the act, but of course I never did.
Ninja grandmothers are wise to those kinds of tricks from young children.
It wasn’t just in my youth, however. Fast forward some twenty plus years and change, and I’m now freshly married and taking in a week or so of holiday driving around the country.
My grandparents are now retired to a place they’d built just outside the town, so that my grandfather can run some cattle.
He always seemed to have wanted to be a farmer, but was instead a railwayman. I never dug into the whys and wherefores of that one, but it doesn’t take too much guessing to suggest that, given his generation, steady railway work once you were in it was what you did for life.
Still, he even ran cattle there, boasting that once he was stationmaster, he had one of the longest fields in the country, running parallel to the train lines. It’s just that it was only about 2 metres wide and 100km long.
Anyway, we stopped in to see them and stay overnight. I’d warned my better half about the blanket thing, noting that it was pretty likely to happen again.
My wife was a touch concerned, as she’s a lighter sleeper than I am, not wanting to be woken up in the middle of the night by blankets being added to her bed.
She was also pretty sure that she’d be able to tell the moment the weight of the covers changed.
She was, of course, no match for my grandmother’s ninja blanket wielding skills.
We went to sleep with two blankets on us… and woke up with twelve. Zero exaggeration, because once we’d dug ourselves free, we counted them.
I’m not even sure where the blankets came from or went to after we left, but maybe that was all part of her special ninja magic.
My grandmother is sadly no longer with us. I miss her every day.
I also regret never quite getting up the courage to ask her about her special ninja blanket skills.
Not because I have dreams of becoming a silent assassin to speak of.
Just that I would have liked to use those skills on my own kids when they were young, and maybe passed them onto them when the time was right.
You know, after making sure my own grandchildren were suitably warm overnight.