We spend the summers at my mother’s parents’ house in the English countryside—a rambling old mansion with no proper heating, and mice in the cupboards. My grandfather is a British Raj sort of an antique who works in the city and is absent even when he’s home. My grandmother is a onetime athlete, banished to a wheelchair by polio at thirty-five. She’s funny and clever, so clever that she wrote all my grandfather’s papers when they met at the University of Edinburgh, and it gets under her skin when his pretty, young secretaries eye her crumpled legs and reference her in the third person, like a patient with dementia.
“Does she need a blanket?” they ask, when they visit the house to take his dictation.
“No, she does not,” my grandmother replies. “But she could use a gin and tonic.”
My grandparents have adopted a son, Christian, from the Philippines, to keep them company now that their other children are grown. Christian and I are the same age, and my grandmother takes a sportswoman’s delight in setting us against each other in all manner of competitions.