Short Story: Grandpa’s Voyage
A few people I love died this year. It’s been sad, and difficult for me and the others left behind.
So here’s a story about losing the people you love. It’s imperfect. But it makes me cry in a good way.
Deedee’s grandma was her favorite person. As the only child of an only child, she and grandma spent all their free time together. That meant Grandma spoiled her rotten.
“I’d give you the world if I were able to,” Grandma would say. “But these days all I have is time, and that will have to do.”
The two of them would pick a hidden corner of the house, and spend their day whispering secrets to each other.
Sometimes Deedee would speak too loudly and Mom would find her.
“What are you doing hiding out?” she would say.
“It’s a secret,” Deedee would whisper back, bringing her voice under control.
Mom would shake her head, and leave the two of them alone.
“How come I get in trouble but you don’t Grandma?”
“Because I have practiced the art of being completely invisible,” Grandma would reply smugly. “Also I’m old. Old people don’t have to follow the rules.”
She’d put her arms around her pouty granddaughter, and rock her gently until Deedee smiled again.
When Grandma wasn’t playing with Deedee, she would tend the flowers around the house. She loved the flowers dearly.
“Ellen never waters these enough,” she’d say. Ellen was Mom’s name, but no one else called her that except for Grandma. Grandpa always called her Bambina. “She always forgets them. She’s lucky they’re even still alive.”
She’d put her fingers in the soil, and make a tut-tut sound, then rub the dry dirt between her fingers. Then she’d have Deedee fetch some water and pour them into each plant equally.
She’d thank Deedee for being such a good girl, and give her one of her world-famous hugs.
Deedee loved being hugged by Grandma. It was the coziest spot in the world, warm and soft and smelling like spices. Grandma had the best smell. She would breathe Grandma in deeply, and close her eyes, and Grandma would rock her back and forth, and everything would be right with the world.
Grandpa was also Deedee’s favorite. You can never have too many favorites, she always said, otherwise some people get jealous.
Deedee was definitely Grandpa’s favorite. He always said he loved three things in this world: his sports, his bowling, and his granddaughter.
“I’m too old to bowl now, but I can still watch hockey and play cards with my favorite Peanut.”
And so they played cards every morning before school.
As soon as Deedee would wake up, she’d go into the kitchen and find Grandpa at the table, drinking coffee and playing solitaire. Grandma would sit opposite him, watching him play and giving him advice.
“You missed a nine there,” she’d say.
Grandpa wouldn’t reply. Grandma would wink knowingly at Deedee, then they’d trade places.
“Good morning Peanut,” Grandpa would say as she took a seat in front of him.
“Good morning Grandpa. What are we playing today?”
“Whatever you want, girl. Grandpa will enjoy the pleasure of your company, regardless of the cards. It reminds me of when I used to play with Grandma in the morning, back when we were young and in love.”
“We’d still play if you weren’t so bad at cards you old fool,” Grandma would laugh. “But I still love you, even though we’re old.”
Grandpa, as usual, wouldn’t say anything.
The morning games would end when Mom would enter the kitchen.
“Daddy! What are you doing playing cards with her? She has to get ready for school!”
And Deedee would run off to get dressed while mom would look at her kitchen plants.
“I could’ve sworn I forgot to water these,” she’d mutter. “They’re all still wet though.”
Deedee would laugh with Grandma about that.
“See? I told you she never remembers which ones she watered.”
Deedee loved the mornings with her Grandpa, and the secret moments throughout the day with Grandma.
The only part of the day Deedee hated was dinner. Dinner was always difficult, and she often refused the stuff her mother had cooked. Mom claimed it was food, but Deedee knew better: food doesn’t look like sludge, with suspicious floating brown bits in the middle.
“Honey, you have to eat something,” her exasperated mother would say.
“With protein,” her father would add, between shovelling huge spoonfuls of sludge into his mouth.
Deedee would shake her head silently, and munch on bits of veggies and fruit instead. Then when dinner was over, she’d run over to grandma to see if she’d sneak her a treat.
“Now now Deedee,” her grandmother would chide her. “You know that’s not how it works.” As Deedee’s face fell, Grandma would give her a mischievous wink and whisper “Go see grandpa, he can’t say no to you.”
Deedee would bounce gleefully over to her grandfather, who always sat in his favorite chair and read the paper after dinner, and tell him she was still hungry.
“Well, that won’t do,” he’d say. “No grandchild of mine will go hungry when there are perfectly good cookies to be had. C’mon Peanut, let’s get some grub.”
And he would put his finger to his lips, make a shush sound, then walk into the kitchen. He’d make a big show about sneaking over to the fridge, above which rested the fabled cookie tin.
He would grab a cookie, and begin to eat it as he took the milk from the fridge, often finishing it while pouring himself a generous bowl.
Then he’d take a sip to wash it down, grab two more cookies, and walk slowly back to his seat, careful not to spill a drop.
Deedee would climb into his lap, and grandpa would open the paper to hide their mischief. The two of them would then dip the cookies in the milk and eat, giggling all the while.
“You old fool, we all know what you’re up to,” Grandma would say, before going back to grooming the flowers.
Grandpa wouldn’t respond. His mouth was too full of cookies and milk.
And that’s how it went, night after night, week after week.
Hugs and secret stories with Grandma, cards and cookies with Grandpa.
But not tonight.
There was no dinner this evening. No brown sludge or green goop for Deedee to refuse, no pleading from her parents to eat her dinner, no sitting with grandpa and eating sweets.
Tonight everyone was at the hospital. They sat in a cold, quiet room, the silence only marred by the occasional beep of the machines next to Grandpa’s bed.
His eyes were closed, and his breathing came in long, slow motions.
Deedee sat in her father’s lap as he dozed. The seats were uncomfortable, and she rested her head on his chest.
She was tired, yet she refused to close her eyes. She knew if she did, her grandpa might not be there when she woke up. She didn’t want to miss him.
Mom had pulled up her chair to one side of the bed, and held back tears while squeezing his hand. Grandma was on the other side, calmly stroking his face.
“You old fool,” she sighed. “What are the kids going to do without you?”
As always, Grandpa remained silent. Mom stood up, then reached up to cup her father’s face as Grandma moved away.
“I love you daddy,” Mom said. “You can go now. You don’t have to hold on for us anymore.” She leaned forward and kissed his brow, then reached behind him to adjust his pillow. He made a slight sound, then took one last deep breath…
A steady beeeeeeeep sound began to come from one of the machines, and Grandma turned away as Mom let out a loud sob.
Deedee slid from her father’s lap and ran to Grandma for a hug. Dad woke up with a start, then quickly walked around the bed and put his arms around Mom.
Grandma guided her off to the side as nurses and doctors entered the suddenly crowded space. They held hands, took one long look at Grandpa, and left the room.
“Don’t worry dear,” Grandma said. She patted her hand reassuringly. “It won’t be long now. Just be patient.”
They stood in the hallway silently for a few moments, and Deedee smiled as Grandpa slowly appeared.
He came forward and reached for Grandma’s hand, lifting it to his lips and kissing the palm.
“You really waited for me all this time,” he said.
“Of course you old fool, you’d get lost in a closet if I wasn’t there to guide you,” she replied fondly.
And for the first time ever, Deedee heard Grandpa laugh at something she said. Then he leaned forward and kissed her on the mouth, before turning his attention to Deedee and ruffling her hair.
“Goodbye Peanut,” he said.
“Will you come visit?” she asked, suddenly afraid.
“No girl, there’s no coming back from where we’re going. But someday we’ll see you again.”
She ran forward to hug them both, squeezing them fiercely with her tiny arms. Grandpa stroked her hair, and Grandma leaned down to give her a kiss, then held her close and rocked her one last time.
Ellen rubbed her eyes and walked out of the room. She couldn’t bear to watch them cover her father’s body.
She looked to her right, and found Deedee standing alone in the hallway, hugging herself with her arms and gently rocking with her eyes closed.
She always rocked like that around the house. Whenever Ellen asked her about it, she’d put her fingers to her lips and wouldn’t say a word.
With a heavy heart, Ellen walked over to her daughter.
“Deedee. What are you doing out here alone?”
“Saying goodbye to Grandpa,” she replied. “He said to give you this.”
She walked forward and beckoned for her mother to kneel down, then took her into an embrace. After a moment she leaned back, held her mother’s face in her hands, kissed her brow, and ruffled her hair.
“Goodbye, Bambina,” her daughter said.
A feeling of peace washed over her, as if she’d just been hugged by her father for one last time. She pulled back, and stared at her child in wonder.
“Did…” she began, and her voice faltered. She cleared her throat and wiped her eyes. “Did he seem happy?”
Deedee pursed her lips thoughtfully.
“He was happy,” she said slowly.
Then her face erupted into a huge grin. “But not as happy as grandma was to finally have someone else to talk to.”