Last month, for the first time in years, I ate my grandma's cooking.
I was back home visiting from Canberra and her house was smaller and darker than I remembered. She was smaller too. Perhaps that's why my guard was down.
Because we have a rule in my family, a line in the sand carved from years of stomach cramps and product recalls. We don't eat Grandma's cooking. We don't sneak a snack from her shelves. We order takeout or we press-gang her into the nearest cafe. Grandma is not to be trusted.
Whether intentional or not, my tiny white-haired Grandma never serves anything that's not at least four months out of date.
As a kid I remember sucking on jelly babies as hard as toffee, climbing into her pantry and finding bread mottled blue and grey like zombie skin. There were ice-cream cones that cracked and cut the sides of my mouth, beef we had to chew and chew until she'd looked away and it was safe to spit it out.
She'd give that same coy denial, reach out one veiny hand for the faded package and double check the date. Dad's teeth would grind together.
I imagine it would have seemed innocent enough at first. After all, Grandma had been a chef before her hip operation. She was forever shrieking about dishing out stew to American soldiers in the smoke and ash streets of Germany. Their strange voices, laughing together over tables groaning with food; fresh crates of beans and potatoes coming in from whatever scraps of farmland had survived the war and nothing to season them with.
So, if the odd packet of biscuits skipped past their date with the bin, we called her thrifty. We praised that hoarding instinct leftover from a time when two suitcases worth of Reinsmark couldn't buy an apple. But, as Grandma has aged, so has her kitchen. And those pantry walls are slick with danger these days.
We had all the interventions, of course. After Dad vomited up a plate of tuna halfway through dinner, drastic measures were taken, shelves emptied and restocked.
Mum poked all the milk lumps down through the sink grate and that jam jar crusted over with something green, pungent and possibly sentient was safely dropped in the neighbour's trash.
After that, we placed Grandma on a shopping "probation" that meant she trailed along behind the trolley in the supermarket, muttering snatches of German under her breath.
We stopped eating meals at her house, though she'd always lay out the place settings anyway. Mum said she was trying to guilt us into lifting the probation.
Then, Dad died.
That afternoon, I ate stale mint slices with her; I ate scones gone dry in the middle with jam and cream, I ate that potato salad leftover from Christmas. I ate whatever she put in front of me. I thought vomiting might help. But, she'd been taking Mum's advice; it was all under a month old.
Now I try to eat with her every time I visit, at a restaurant preferably or from groceries I've brought round.
We don't talk much; we were never very good at talking to each other. Still, when I put down my knife and fork, she looks at me and, sometimes, even if she's yelling, I can see the ghost of my dad shivering there in the corners of her eyes, tugging at her mouth, a certain expression or an eyebrow raised.
It only lasts a second. It's usually punctuated by one German expletive or another.
But, for a moment, I remember how two people so maddeningly different could be mother and son.
And, I wonder if she's ever seen the same look in my eyes, the same flash of brown.
Then, last month, I learnt something new about Grandma.
We were arguing about lunch, as usual. She couldn't find her wallet and she wouldn't hear of me paying. But I knew she'd slyly tucked it, along with her keys, behind the croaky old kettle in the kitchen.
I watched her butter some bread, hearing the sharp scrape of the knife over the Wonder White, still half-frozen. She'd done this at least twice before. As I moved past to unearth the hidden stash, my eyes snapped across to a black and white face on the bench, an old photo in a dirty silver frame. I looked away but the shock of recognition hit me anyway, as it always did, in the nerve snarl in my chest. Grandma knew we avoided her kitchen.
As if summoned, she jabbed me under the arm. "What are you looking at?"
I turned to the kettle. No wallet, no keys.
"Do you remember when you last had them?" I asked.
She ignored me. Her eyes were glazed.
Then she said: "I always wanted to have girls." She blinked. "A daughter."
Just as suddenly as she'd spoken, she shook her head and barrelled past me, like I wouldn't understand.
I didn't blame her.
When I was a kid, she was always shaking her head at me. She'd yank me out of Dad's arms, hiss at me for taking out the ribbons in my hair, for doing burnouts on my tricycle, for the muddy footprints in the hall. You're just like him, she'd growl.
Looking back, it's still one of the nicest things she's ever said to me.
Now at 96, shuffling into her near-empty pantry and stopping to touch the dusty photo on the bench again - of a boy with big brown eyes and muddy shoes - I realised she might finally agree with me.
So I ate the damn sandwich.