Alex dreaded the moments when he said goodbye to his grandpa. The air in the room was thick and stale, demanding his lungs trudge through its bitterness. A wave of sunlight cascaded through the windows, illuminating the decaying wood of the ancient building. Regardless of what happened in his life, Alex’s grandpa had the uncanny ability to dispel the troubles of the world. An iron fist laced its unforgiving fingers around his heart as he stared at him, oppressing his ability to move. As Alex’s lips began to form the word “goodbye,” he thought of the stories that his mother would tell of her father.
Stephanie shared everything with her dad–the two were inseparable. He came home from the factory each day with a polished and mechanical smile. His posture only faltered after he closed the front door behind him, allowing his shoulders to collapse and the bags under his eyes to sink. Throughout her childhood, the girl watched as his bountiful black hair faded into a misty silver and slowly thinned across his scalp. He worked tirelessly for the wellbeing of his family, beating the sun each morning and losing to it each night. Unable to afford the luxuries of a middle-class lifestyle, the two resorted to exploring the nearby woods under the moon’s watchful gaze. “Grandpa always did what he could to show me the beauty of the world, even when it showed him its ugliest,” Alex’s mother would tell him.
She grew up with no siblings and an ailing mother who died during her elementary years. Stephanie often told Alex that she and her father worked together to endure life’s most relentless obstacles. To this day, she mimics her father’s curses of politics and wartime, which became a shared language between the two after he received a letter from President Nixon. Everyone, it seemed, needed the strength and support of Stephanie’s tired father, even on the battlefield. Upon his return, he told her stories, that she later relayed to her son, of the heroism of his brothers and the sacrifices they made so that he could go home to his daughter.
Alex thought longingly of the farewells that his grandpa must have made before he was deployed, forcing his lips to form a goodbye of their own. The boy’s innocent eyes studied the intricacies of his weathered body, tracing the stitching of his aging, midnight suit. Captivated by its fabric, Alex recognized it as the outfit he wore to his daughter’s second wedding. Stephanie’s first husband followed in the footsteps of his father-in-law; however, those footsteps never had the chance to return home. Although it was devastating, Alex’s infancy shielded him from the loss of his dad. When his mother chose to remarry, he turned to his grandpa for answers, wondering why she needed another husband. “My biggest regret as a father was allowing your mother to grow up without one of her own,” Alex’s grandpa would tell him.
He could still remember the relentless heat of the sun, expelling its rays across the ceremony’s lush garden setting. Alex was uneasy about sharing his mother with another man; however, the angelic fabric of her dress complemented the biggest smile he had ever seen stretch across her face. Sitting upon a splintering bench, the young boy watched as a myriad of people stood to dance with his mother, but no one moved as gracefully as his grandpa. The tired man’s feet appeared to hardly make contact with the ground beneath them, gliding effortlessly toward his beaming daughter. His dark suit provided a contrast against the radiance of her immaculate dress. From a far off corner of the field, a pianist kissed the black and white tiles of a keyboard with his fingertips, allowing a song to enter the atmosphere. Alex’s grandpa reached his arms around his daughter as the two swayed, without regard for the world, shoeless in the grass.
Those were the hands that Alex studied now, overworked and callused, while his lips continued to form a goodbye. He remembered the sensation he felt each time his grandpa lifted him off the ground and swung him through the air, letting his extended arms grasp helplessly toward the sky. These were the same hands that retrieved a flattened ball from the roof, inflated it, and played a game of catch with his grandson in the backyard. The hands that opened doors for anyone behind him, waved at people as they came and went from his home, and dried the tears from Alex’s face when the world came crashing down. “Grandpa, I want to be as strong as you one day,” Alex would tell him.
It was not until the two of them hiked together that his grandpa assured him that he was far stronger. Just as he had done with his daughter, the aged man took his maturing grandson through the woods to a cliffside that overlooked the divine structure of the world. In the distance, the sun departed behind the horizon, splashing the sky with hues of lavender and rose and streaks of gold. The silhouettes of conifer trees were etched against the skyline, their branches waving toward the two traveling souls who had come to admire their allure. From below their feet, a stream of water hungrily consumed the soil, carving a path along the earth and fed into a towering waterfall. Alex pleaded with the forces of time to slow down, but it was ready to claim its next victim. His grandpa’s hands, pale, thinning, and trembling, clutched his weak heart as he fell to his knees. The magnificence of their surroundings dissipated in an instant as Alex hoisted his grandpa’s lifeless arms over his shoulders and carried him home in a frenzy.
The hands he had held now lie on his grandpa’s chest, his fingers laced delicately over his still heart. Alex remembered the descent through the forest vividly, the adrenaline pumping through his veins. Although his grandpa assured him that he was ready to say goodbye, Alex was never able to bring himself to do the same. He stood over his grandpa’s resting body, staring in a trance at his shallow, powdered cheeks and empty veins. Alex reached into the casket and felt the frigid touch of the body as a single word left his lips.
Oh, My Word! Jacob would love to hear from you after reading this story. The title is inspired by a line from one of his favorite poems by Thomas Hardy titled “The Going.” Click here to read it! Leave a comment below!
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