Reading on the go! (short stories)

Pop

Late afternoon sun slips between the plastic slats of the blinds, painting parallel lines in the room. The stripes melt over the edge of the mattress and land on the floor, getting wider and wider as they go. I sit on the bed, watching my grandfather. They moved him to the “rehabilitation center” today (it’s not a nursing home, everyone insists) after spending time in the hospital. I know this is a turning point in our lives. He won’t go home again.

He sits in his wheelchair, facing me. I am his mirror image, sitting motionless, facing him. Sterile plastic crackled beneath me when I first sat down. My mind shies away from the ramifications of that sound.

This is my grandfather.

He glances at me and cracks his familiar grin, cocking his head slightly to the right. The smile splits his face from side to side, revealing the gap between his two front teeth. He knows it’s me, but I sense from the quiet confusion in his eyes he doesn’t quite know where he is. He glances away, maybe ashamed to ask me, maybe embarrassed he doesn’t know.

This is my grandfather.

I sit, watching him be. The sun streams in golden from his window, also casting stripes across his face and body. Dust motes dance in the alternating pattern of light and the dimness of his room.

It’s quiet where we are, alone at the end of an L-shaped hall. We’re in the last room. The constant stream of day-to-day noises from the nurses and other residents seem far away from our golden cocoon. His room is a double occupancy, shaped like the wings of a butterfly with the shared bathroom in the position of thorax. The other butterfly wing, however, is empty. It is just the two of us.

I fight back tears as I watch him. His hand moves up slowly, and his fingers touch the side of his face. The tip of his index finger traces the curve of the shell of his ear. Each movement is slow, methodical, thoughtful. It’s as if a current has broken between the synapses in his brain controlling his movements and the actual muscle contractions that follow. I wonder briefly if they gave him a pill.

His ears make me smile through my tears. A memory surfaces. We took a picture of him from behind, while he was holding my infant son. We stood on the sidewalk in my mother’s front yard. The similar silhouettes of their two round, almost-bald heads with their ears sticking out slightly to the sides made us all laugh, and we told him to hold it while we found the camera. He was so tall, so strong, holding my baby. He was my grandfather. We laughed…

Pop lays his hand gently, slowly back in his lap. It joins its gnarled, age-mottled partner, both facing palm up with fingers curled inward, relaxed and defenseless. He glances at me again, and I quickly wipe my face and smile back at that grin I’ve known all my life.

This is my grandfather.

This is the man who sailed a boat on Lake Benbrook with my grandmother. This is the man who, during the summer I was twelve, spent hours touring me around on his motorcycle during the once-a-summer week I spent with them each year. My feet and my bottom were numb from the vibrations before we got home, but I can still see my skinny arms wrapped tightly around his sturdy back as he drove and drove. This is the man who whistles, because the joy inside has to come out somehow.

This is my grandfather. And he will never be the same.

I sit in this golden, quiet room, and I love him.

Finally, I reach out and wrap my fingers around his. “Pop, I have to go home. Someone will come tomorrow to see you.”

He looks at me, quiet, uncertain, but that grin cracks out again. He doesn’t answer and doesn’t try to talk me out of leaving him. I lean forward and press a kiss against his bristly face, feeling the tips of whiskers prickle against my lips. 

I am flooded with another memory.  He stands in his bathroom, feet braced wide apart, white undershirt tucked into his pants, belt unbuckled. Morning sun streams in through the frosted window pane to his right. He stretches his cheek tight with one hand while his other rubs his electric razor across the night’s growth of beard. 

I can’t remember ever feeling whiskers on his face before now. Love floods my chest so strongly that for a moment it is hard to breathe.

I walk down the hall, leaving my heart in the room. I press buttons to open doors. They’re simple buttons. They’re even labeled so people will know which to push. But they trap the residents behind the doors as surely as a prison gate. Buttons empowered by the dimness in their minds.

This is my grandfather.

I sit in the parking lot, unable to drive because of the tears flooding my eyes. I chant, like a mantra.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. 

Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.

I speak out loud, through the tears slipping down my face. “This is my grandfather, God. He has loved You all his life. Now, love him well.”

And I know He did, and He does, and He always will. Because there, in that golden room, was also my Father, and He is a God with a plan, a God who loves. 

6 Replies to “Reading on the go! (short stories)”

  1. You had me in tears. Well-written, and very touching. I also loved the sweet promise of hope at the end. I want to be a grandparent to my grandkids who will also leave them with such sweet memories.

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