It began when I helped move my granddad, Edward, into a flat with a warden. He’d been an art professor at the university and his big old house was too much for him now that he was in his eighties. He had boxes and boxes of papers that we had to go through and it was whilst I was doing this that I found one of his early sketch books. I looked through it and was fascinated by some sketches of a beautiful young girl and of a grey stone. I asked him about them and he told me this.
He had been a soldier in the Second World War and was part of the D Day landings. The night before he left for France he had found a stone on the beach at Dover, the stone was round and dark grey granite and unusually, it had a white cross on it. He thought it was lucky so he put it in his pocket and kept it there. It was lucky because after a terrible battle where he was injured, he did make it to into France. He was one of the few, but he lost his platoon and was on the run in enemy territory.
When it got dark he found refuge in an old farm building but he soon realised that he wasn’t alone. A young girl had come into the barn to collect some supplies for the Nazi soldiers who had called on the farm. She saw him and he was terrified that she as going to give him away. But she didn’t. Later that night she came back with a blanket and some food for him. She sat with him and cleaned his wound, bandaging it with strips torn from an old sheet. My grandfather told me that in the hours he spent with her that night he fell in love with her gentleness and beauty. He drew her while she slept for a couple of hours and those where the pictures that I had found.
In the morning her father found him and told him that he had to go; his presence was dangerous. Sophia didn’t speak any English, but somehow my father managed to convince her that he would come back for her. However, he told me then that he did go back, but when he got there the farmhouse had been bombed. The villagers told him that the family had been killed.
I was so touched by the story and by his drawings of the girl. It was the most romantic and tragic thing I had ever heard. My grandfather married, but he never forgot the girl who had saved him that night.
Two years later, in the summer, my granddad was gravely ill and the stone story came to light again. He was in hospital, confused and only semi-conscious and he kept talking about the stone; his lucky stone. I went to see him every day; he was the only family I had and we were close and always had been. One night when he was delirious with pain, in desperation, I told him that I’d find his lucky stone and that everything would be ok. Somehow I had convinced myself that it would be.
I drove down to the coast the next day and spent the morning on the beach, looking for stones. I found a stone with a cross, but it wasn’t like the one Edward had drawn in his sketch books. I wondered if there was anywhere that sold things like that in the town, so I went in search, but it was hopeless; I had been stupid to think that I could find anything that unusual.
I gave up and went for a cup of tea in a café back on the beach and, as I sat down and looked at the menu, a young man came up to take my order. He said I looked sad and could he cheer me up with tea and cake, but I told him that I doubted it. Suddenly he pulled up a chair and sat down and before I knew it I had told him the whole story. It was the first time that I had cried and he didn’t seem to mind. He listened for ages, handing me tissues and then quietly he told me that he thought there was someone I should meet…
It was early evening by the time that I got back to London and the visiting hours at the hospital were over. I didn’t think the nurses were going to let me in, but when I went up to the ward my granddad was so ill that they had moved him to a private room and they thought I should spend some time with him. As I walked in it was as if he knew. He opened his eyes and looked at me. “Sweetheart?” he said. I turned and Sophia stepped forward. She went to the bed and sat down on the edge of it. She was old and frail but she was still the lovely woman that my grandfather had fallen in love with. He put his hands up and touched her face. “Is it you?” he asked her and she nodded. “It is me,” she said and then she took his hand and gently placed the grey stone with the white cross on it in his palm.
Sophia’s grandson and I went down to the coffee machine. He told me that his grandmother Sophia had been the only one of her family to survive the bomb that hit the farm and had believed it was the lucky stone she carried everywhere with her. So, she came to England just after the war looking for the soldier she had fallen in love with that night and the only thing she knew about him was that he had found a stone on the beach. She had never been able to find him, but she settled near the coast and bought the café on the beach and even though she married, he told me that she had lived all her life with the crazy notion that one day Edward would walk in, looking for stones on the beach.
When we went back to my granddad’s room, he had opened his eyes and was talking quietly with Sophia who held his hands. She had been weeping and had her head close to his; my grandfather was smiling.
My granddad lived for two more days and I knew that I had done the right thing. He died with me holding his hand and the stone on the bed beside him. He died peacefully. When it was time to leave him I didn’t know if I could; he was the one person who had been constant in my life. I sat for ages until there was a knock on the door behind me and I realised that I didn’t have any choice. I turned and saw Sophia’s grandson. He wondered if I could use some company. He handed me more tissues and that made me smile through my tears. He held out his hand and I took it. I turned back, picked up the grey stone, tucking it in my pocket and bent to plant a kiss on my granddad’s face.
On the way down in the lift Sophia’s grandson told me that he didn’t even know my name. He was still holding my hand. “I’m Sophie,” I said and he shook his head, staring at me in a way I’d never thought possible. “I’m Ed,” he told me and I knew then that the stone was indeed lucky and that sometimes, love lives on…