It’s always the same story, same sequence, same Friday at 4 pm to 4:10pm, September to late August. I get the last Friday off in August, a visit to grandma’s grave and a splash at Wisconsin Dells. I figure one day it’ll end, although I pray it never does.
“Hi Grandpa.” No one at school (or church) talks about their grandpa (or grandma), another way in which I don’t fit in.
He nods me to the plastic chair beside the bed, and says, “Two men from The Iron Range are hunting deer on a neighbor’s land when they hear what they believe to be children screaming.
The men hide like cowards beneath a patch of shrubs until a woman approaches and tells them to help search for the screaming. One man agrees; the other man leaves and goes home. As the woman and man search, the woman says the man who left is a ghost. The man who is searching with her is hit in the chest by a Broadhead arrow, but it is unclear what, or who, shot the arrow. When the man awakens alone at the hospital, he tells the doctors and nurses what happened, and that he believes he was hit with an arrow by a ghost. Later, in the evening, something red flies from his mouth, and he dies.”
“Is this a true story, Grandpa?”
“Now I want you to recite the story back to me.”
“I hope I can remember everything.” I know I can remember everything, but I don’t want to act like a smarty pants.
“There’s nothing wrong if you can’t remember it all, love.” He smiles, reclining the power bed all the way up. A chunk of tuna fish rests in a silver beard. His hands shake like Pentecost when he brings a soda pop to his lips, more liquid falling onto a t-shirt than into his mouth. I worry evolution is going to do to me what it has done to him. If so, I hope someone comes to visit.
“It’s hot in here, Grandpa.”
“They won’t let me control the thermostat. Now tell an old man a story.”
Grandpa is old. Mom says he’s eighty-nine. Dad says he’s a decrepit ole coot who ought to die already. Grandpa’s room is on the third floor, number twelve. His revolving neighbors always ask who I am. I’ve been coming for six years and not one resident knows my name. Grandpa doesn’t call me by my name. He calls me love. Mom says it’s the sweetest thing she’s ever heard him say. Dad says it makes him sound weak, which he is, weak and disgusting. I don’t think Grandpa’s disgusting, even though he does smell like vomit and pee. No one who says the word, love, is disgusting to me.
“So?” he says. “Ready to remember and recite?”
“Did you live on the Iron Range, Grandpa?”
“Would you like that, love?”
“Did you hunt for lots of deer?”
“I think so.” He inhales. “But it’s foggy now.” Exhales. “Please go on.”
“You can tell me, Grandpa.”
“I’d rather have you tell me.”
“Two men from the Iron Range are hunting deer when they hear children screaming.”
“Where are the two men hunting?”
I know the two men are hunting on a neighbors land, but I always leave it out, because I want him to ask me, which he always does. As long as he asks, I figure he’s doing okay. I know one day he won’t ask, although I pray he always will.
“On a neighbors land. Sorry, Grandpa. I forgot, but now I remember.”
“It’s okay. Go on.”
“The two men hide like cowards beneath a patch of shrubs until a woman approaches and tells them to help search for the screaming children.”
“Any idea why the men hide like cowards or who the woman is or where the children are screaming?” he asks.
“If you know, Grandpa, I wish you’d tell me.”
“Not today, love. Someday maybe. But not today.”
“Did this story really happen to you, Grandpa?”
“It did if you want it to or it didn’t if you don’t want it to.” He closes his eyes. “Go on.”
“One man stays while the other man leaves.”
“Where does the other man go?” he asks.
I know the other man goes home, but I always leave it out. I like the way Grandpa says go, no, goes, and home; each word sounds like southern towns I’ve never been.
“I think he goes to town?”
He nods. “No. He goes home.”
“Home, that right. Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Go on.”
“The woman and man are searching for the screaming children when a Broadhead arrow hits the man in the arm.”
“Are you sure it was in the arm?”
I know the Broadhead arrow hits the man in the chest, but I always say arm. I don’t like misleading Grandpa, but I need to test his focus, make sure he doesn’t swerve away from the facts, and keep him on schedule.
“I think it was the arm, Grandpa.”
“Are you sure?”
“Maybe it was the leg.”
He shakes his head.
He laughs. “Try again.”
He pretends to shoot a bow from an arrow. “Bullseye. Right in the middle.”
“But the man isn’t sure what, or who, shot him. Right, Grandpa?”
“No, he is not.”
“But he still goes to the hospital and tells the doctor that he believes a ghost shot the Broadhead arrow into his chest.”
“That’s correct. Did he tell anyone else other than the doctor about the Broadhead arrow and the ghost?” he asks.
“Oh yeah, some nurses, too.”
“Right. You’re very good at remembering. Please continue.”
“Then something red flies out of his mouth, and he dies.”
“What time of day did he die?” he asks.
I know he dies at night, but I always leave it out. I don’t want to remind him of death, or give him any reason to think about it. I know he’s going to die, although I pray he never will.
“Sometime during the day, I think.”
“Was anyone with him?” he asks.
“No. I think he was alone.”
“That’s right, love. He was all alone.”
The story always ends here, but today I’ve decided to ask a few more questions, ones I hope he will answer, although I believe he will not. Then I will tell him something I’ve been wanting to tell him for months, something I worry will bring him sorrow, although I hope it does not.
“Did you know who the children were screaming, Grandpa?”
He looks at me as if I’ve asked for his soul: pain oozing from his eyes, palm of his hand on his forehead, a draining of color, expression, and posture. “Why are you asking, love? Why do you want to know?”
“Were you one of the children screaming?”
“I was the ghost, the Broadhead arrow, and the doctor.”
“You were a doctor?”
“I was also the something red flying from the mouth.”
“What was the something red flying from your mouth?”
“Perhaps one day, when you’re ready, you’ll tell me.”
“I won’t be coming to see you with regularity, Grandpa. I’m heading to Tech school.”
He closes his eyes and squeezes my hand. “Tell me again, what time does the man die?”
“In the evening, Grandpa.”
“Yes, love, that’s the exact time when he dies.”
About the Author: Samuel E. Cole lives in Woodbury, MN, where he finds work in special event/development management. He’s a poet, flash fiction geek, and political essayist enthusiast. His work has appeared in many literary journals, and his first poetry collection, Bereft and the Same-Sex Heart, was published in October 2016 by Pski’s Porch Publishing. His second book, Bloodwork, a collection of short stories, was published by Pski’s Porch Publishing in July 2017. He is also an award-winning card maker and scrapbooker.