Ivy and Abe

By: Elizabeth Enfield

According to ‘M’ theory, ours is not the only universe. Instead, ‘M’ theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing.

Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design

London, 2026

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

Frank Capra, It’s A Wonderful Life

I’m aware of him looking at me.

Whatever intuitive faculty it is that informs of things we should not be aware of has kicked in.

I begin to feel flustered.

If I look up, will I catch his eye? If I do, will I simply smile in acknowledgement or will I be forced to look away, embarrassed?

I think I know him from somewhere but it’s hard to tell. His face is partly obscured by the hat he’s wearing, the kind Max used to wear when he was a student.

A Greek fisherman’s hat, I had called it, but Richard had said, no, it was a Mao hat. ‘I imagine our son is trying to capture the revolutionary-worker look rather than the Mediterranean fisherman,’ he’d mused. ‘Combined with a touch of Dylan and a dash of Guthrie for good measure.’

Max had been laughably image-conscious at the time but, then, most boys that age are.

Connor, who is just four, is the opposite: totally unaware, even when he comes out with me dressed as a tiger. ‘Oh, look at you. Are you a tiger?’ well-meaning strangers ask, and my grandson shakes his head or sometimes explains that he’s ‘just wearing a tiger costume’.

Today he is a regular little boy in blue shorts and stripy sweater, and I am the one who appears to be an object of curiosity, which is rare in your seventies.

I carry on scanning my items at the till. The self-consciousness of knowing I’m being observed lends an awkward deliberation to the routine act of shopping, moving the bread, croissants and chocolate buttons – to bribe Connor with on the walk back to my flat – from one side of the self-checkout to the other.

Hannah will say, ‘I hope Grandma hasn’t been feeding you too much junk,’ when she comes to collect him after work. But she won’t really be cross with me. Or maybe she will, in private. But if I’m the mother-in-law who meddles, she never lets on.

Eventually, I allow myself a quick sidelong glance. He definitely reminds me of someone, or perhaps it’s just the hat.

I go back to my shopping, scan it all, pay and pick up the bag, meeting his eye now, smiling briefly.

And that would have been it, except he’s finished and paid too.

‘Excuse me.’ He draws alongside.


‘It’s Ivy, isn’t it?’

‘Yes.’ Where do I know him from?

‘Ivy Trent,’ he says, not questioning now.

‘Yes.’ He’s very familiar but from where? Is he a past colleague, someone connected to Lottie and Max’s childhood? Or one of Richard’s friends? He doesn’t seem to fit any of those categories.

‘This is my grandson, Connor.’ I stall for time, hoping for some further clue. ‘I don’t think you’ve met him.’

‘It must be at least sixty years,’ he says, and then, seeing my confusion, he’s about to introduce himself. ‘It’s –’

I get there first. ‘Abe?’ I ask, recognition slowly flooding through me. ‘Abe? Abe McFadden?’

He nods.

I experience a sudden rush of emotion. There he is. My oldest childhood friend. My closest childhood friend. ‘I can’t believe it.’

An insufficient summary of everything I feel. I’d often thought of him over the years, wondered how he was and hoped life had been kind to him. Kinder than it had been when we were growing up.

Time seems to rewind and then jump.

It’s leapt to a place where Abe and I are five years old, standing shyly in the playground on our first day at primary school. I had seen him and wanted him to be my friend. And then he is, and we’re the kind of friends who are in and out of each other’s houses, part of each other’s families, the kind of friends people refer to in one breath, ‘Ivy’n’Abe’.

I look at him again now. He’s aged but the young Abe is still there, shifting on the spot, unsure what to say. His hair is grey but still thick and slightly unruly, the kind of hair that needs a close cut to tame it, the kind of cut he’s too shy to have because it would expose his face with its peculiarly inviting set.

He smiles now, and I see it in the way the wrinkles appear, in grooves that have deepened over the years: an expression that suggests kindness, coupled with gentle humour and a trace of sadness.

Then my mind leaps to when it happened – the tragedy that would herald the end of our friendship.