#fridayflash: waiting

Matthew crossed the threshold to the drawing room. Both his grandparents glanced up to see who it was. The effect was immediate — his grandfather stood and cried out, while his grandmother shrieked and burst out weeping into her handkerchief.

Bloody hell, thought Matthew, it’s only been three years since I last saw them, and Mum and Dad said they were sending photographs.

His grandfather made a visible effort to calm himself. “Matthew, my dear boy, we thought you’d be arriving with your father. Come have a drink with me in my office.” As they strode out of the room together, his grandfather rang the bell and whispered, “Mrs. MacFadyen will take care of Nan.”

Matthew followed his grandfather across the cavernous main hall and up the central staircase, wishing that he’d just shown up for the pheasant shooting with his father instead of agreeing to start his visit a week earlier.

They reached the office, insulated as ever from the world in thick layers of mahogany and red velvet.

“How do you like your whisky, Mattie?”

“Just with soda,” Matthew said, biting his lip. “I’m Matthew, Granddad.”


“I’m Matthew.”

“Of course you are,” said his grandfather, fixing the second drink. “What did I say?”

“You said Mattie.”

His grandfather tried to put the stopper on the whisky bottle, but his hands were shaking too much to get it into the bottle’s neck. Matthew gently took it and replaced it for him.

“You sit down. I’ll carry the drinks.”

His grandfather sank into the wing-chair on one side of the fireplace. “You’re the same age now that he was when....”

“I know.”

Matthew spent the rest of the evening listening to his grandfather ramble on about Uncle Mattie. How he’d adored his much-older brother, Matthew’s father. How he’d been top of his class, an excellent athlete, a friend to everyone. How he’d been one of the first to sign up when the Great War started. How his letters had shown that he’d written home regularly, even if their delivery was less so.

And now whatever’s left of him is under some Belgian farmer’s field, thought Matthew.

Of course his father had named his eldest child and first son after his beloved brother. It was just awkward that Matthew would so strongly resemble his namesake.

He fixed his grandfather yet another drink, carefully adding just a little more soda than last time, and a little less whisky. The stories would just get more depressing if the old man got drunk.

He handed the tumbler to his grandfather, who took a sip, made a face, but didn’t say anything. Matthew sat down. At some point the butler had been called to light the fireplace, and it was relaxing to stare into the flames.

We see him around the house, you know,” said his grandfather suddenly.


Mattie. But always outside. That’s why it startled us earlier — we thought you were him and that he’d found a way in.”

Matthew forced himself not to roll his eyes. “It’s probably just someone looking for work, Granddad.”

“We’ve been seeing him for twenty years,” said his grandfather. “Both your Nan and I. At first we didn’t want to tell each other because we each thought we were going mad, but then we both saw him at the same time. The MacFadyens have seen him too, and they never knew him when he was alive. He’s always wearing a long tan coat and brown trousers, just like you did today. And he never ages. He’s always a lad of twenty-one.”

“I’m sure there’s a rational explanation,” said Matthew, making a mental note to never wear the tan coat around his grandparents.

The mantlepiece clock chimed. “Look at that,” said his grandfather. “I’m sure your grandmother has gone to bed already. We should turn in. Fresh start in the morning.”

“Good night then.” Matthew finished his drink. “Which room did my bags get put in, do you know?”

His grandfather opened his mouth to speak, then hesitated.

Matthew nodded. “Uncle Mattie’s room. Do you mind if I borrow a book to read?”

“Anything you like, my boy. Good night.” His grandfather waved a hand at the bookshelves, got up and left.

Matthew scanned the bookshelves. He settled on a Dickens that looked like it could have been a first edition, then headed down the hall to the wing the bedrooms were in. There weren’t any lights on, but he knew the way well. Nothing had changed in the three years he had been abroad studying.

He reached automatically for a light switch by the door, then remembered that his grandparents still used gas. He cursed softly under his breath, and stretched out a hand. Sure enough, there was a little table near the door with a candle set in a brass holder and a box of matches.

Matthew set down the book, lit the candle, and shut the door. Now that he had made it to the bedroom he realised he didn’t feel sleepy at all. As much as his grandfather had promised him a fresh start to the visit in the morning, he had a bad feeling about being here alone with them.

He put the candle on the bedside table nearest the window and parted the curtains. It was so overcast that he couldn’t see anything but his own reflection staring back at him in the window. He studied his face, wondering what he could do to make his grandparents more likely to remember he was their living grandson. He glanced down at his clothes with reproach. He should learn what colours Mattie wore and try to avoid them. It would be difficult since, of course, what had suited Mattie now suited him.

He looked at the window again without lifting his head, and was surprised to notice that his hair was parted in the middle. He always wore it parted over his right eye. He raised a hand to part it the usual way and then gasped. The reflection in the window still had both hands at its sides, and its expression hadn’t changed when Matthew had gasped.

Then the reflection raised its own hand and reached through the window...