Fish Fingers

Monday, 10 May

I am sorry that I have left you in ‘blog limbo’ since Friday - I have so much more to tell you about my adventures in Elmfield House last Thursday afternoon but it has been a busy weekend and I have been unable to break away from Alex for a second in order to sit and write. Let me continue quickly while I have the chance....

Leonard’s comments about the upstairs rooms had shaken me to the core, but I brushed them off and continued with our conversation as though nothing had happened. Then, as I watched Leonard cut the sandwiches, I noticed a hand-drawn picture attached to the fridge door. It was a child’s drawing of a tall, thin man holding hands with a little girl with blonde hair.

“Is this an early work?” I asked, gesturing towards it.

Leonard looked puzzled at first, then he realised that I was referring to the picture and laughed.
“Ah that is a masterpiece from the other great artist in my family - my grand-daughter Sophie…”

We carried our plates into the workroom and Leonard paused by the door to sort through a pile of cassette tapes. He told me that he has no photographs of Sophie (which surprised me since he is such a keen photographer) however he had a recording of her that he made during her last visit at Christmas. I settled into the leather armchair with my plate of sandwiches and Hooter slumped at my feet while Leonard put the cassette tape in the hi-fi system and we waited for it to rewind. It seemed such an antiquated novelty to wait for a tape to rewind! The player clicked and Leonard leaned over and pressed the long rectangular play button. There was a hissing noise at first, then whispering voices and laughter from a man who I presumed to be Leonard’s son and then a girl’s disembodied voice rang out as clear as though she was in the room with us (the microphone must have been right next to her). After a few seconds of general chatter, the girl began to sing and, although I couldn’t hear the words clearly, I recognised the tune straight away:

‘One, two, three, four, five,
Once I caught a fish alive,
Six, seven, eight, nine, ten,
Then I let it go again.

Why did you let it go?
Because it bit my finger so.
Which finger did it bite?
This little finger on my right.’

I could tell from the way that Leonard sat listening to the recording with a fixed grin and a distant expression that his granddaughter was extremely precious to him indeed. When the tape finished Leonard proceeded to tell me that Sophie lives in London with her father and he sees very little of her, except during his occasional visit to London at weekends. Her mother died shortly after Sophie’s birth from complications arising from a long-term illness - a disorder of the immune system known as Lupus - and Sophie has been in poor health herself with an arthritic condition that makes it difficult for her to travel long distances. Leonard began to sound like a doctor when describing the finer points of Sophie’s illness and I found his understanding of the structures and systems within the human body to be surprisingly comprehensive. He often expounds at length about the mechanics of the physical body during our sittings and he once presented me with a study of Greek medical terms that he compiled many years ago when learning Koine Greek, but it was not until this particular conversation that I fully appreciated the extent of his medical knowledge.

When discussing Sophie’s birth I mentioned that my mother had also experienced a difficult labour and I had been delivered by caesarean section, to which Leonard clapped his hands together with glee and exclaimed “ah, so you are unaccounted for!”. I paused and gave him a quizzical look which prompted him to explain that “the gods are not aware of the birth of caesarean children since they do not break waters”. It was an odd comment to make and it sounded worryingly ominous, but Leonard seemed to be very excited about this revelation and he assured me that I should be delighted. He then revealed that his own birth had been somewhat uneventful in comparison, aside from the fact that he had been born with a caul. This surprised me greatly as I remember my grandfather showing me his own birth caul when I was very young (it looked like a yellowing piece of tracing paper and he kept it between two sheets of brown paper at the bottom of his wardrobe). 

I cannot recall the exact path that our discussion took from that point onwards but we found ourselves talking about games that we played as children and rhymes that we could remember from our childhood, such as the one recounted by Sophie on the cassette tape. At one point Leonard asked “do you like riddles, Helen?” to which I nodded. Who doesn’t? He said that he was interested to hear my thoughts on a riddle that he was once asked by a very dear friend a long time ago. He sat back in his chair and took a moment or two as though preparing himself to make a grand statement, then the question that he asked was this:

“What unites the hunter and his prey?”

I smiled and waited in anticipation of an answer, but instead he simply stood out of his chair, took my plate, told me to ‘think about it’ and shuffled off into the kitchen. The riddle was one of a dozen trivial questions that he asked me that afternoon - just seven short words buried in hours and hours of conversation - but this one has intrigued me and I am determined to give Leonard an answer.