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Grandpa demands that I go straight to his house. As he’s head of the family, I can’t say no to him. His house isn’t far from the train station. You can see the castle ruins from his bedroom window.
The outside of his house is beautiful, always covered in tulips. He’s kept every ornament grandma has ever owned outside in his garden, even though he hated them. So he hides them under the flower beds. He says the Norwegian trolls keeps the thieves away.
Todd follows me into the house. He gags. “God, what is that smell?”
“Fishy isn’t it?” I tell him. “Grandpa keeps a token of every woman he’s slept with.” His banister was covered in female underwear. He never gets rid of them either. Years of bacteria lurks on that staircase.
“I guess that’s why they call him Papa Fish in the clubs.”
Grandpa’s real name is Lucas Fishman. You wouldn’t believe that he used to be a policeman with the way he acts now. If we stood next to each other, you wouldn’t think we were related. His parents were Jamaican immigrants. He treasured this house because he was born in it.
“He’s not your average grandpa,” Todd says to me. “Kathleen said he was a handful, but I didn’t expect anything like this.”
“Grandpa?” I call him out.
“I’m in the kitchen.”
We go in. He’s in his aqua tuxedo and glittering boots. He whistles before sipping his cup of tea. “Help yourself to some snacks, gentlemen.” He shows us the table covered in biscuit barrels and chocolate bars.
“Thanks,” Todd says taking a Mars bar in his pocket.
“Sit down boys, we have lots to talk about.”
“Like what?” I ask, even though I knew what he was going to say.
“Kathleen called me not so long ago. She said you tried you tried to kill yourself? What’s wrong with you?” He looked over at Todd and shook his hand. “And thank you, I will always be grateful to you for saving my grandson.”
“Kathleen’s dead!” How many times have I said this? I’ve lost count. “You were there for her funeral.”
“I never went to no funeral,” Grandpa says back. “Now I’m fed up with burying my family. I lost my mum and dad, wife, my two children and all my brothers. I don’t want my grandchildren to go before me as well.”
“See Bobby?” Todd exclaims. “If your granddad is saying she’s still alive, then she must be.”
“Have you really forgotten?” I ask Grandpa. Something’s not right. He devours alcohol and drugs all the time, but he still functions. “Maybe we should take you to the doctors.”
“Those pesky doctors,” Grandpa slams his desk on the table. Todd pushes himself back against the fridge. “They’ll do anything me put away.”
“I’m sure that’s not the case,” Todd says. “The doctors only want to help.”
Grandpa shakes his head and looks at me. “And you can tell the social services I shall not be going to any institution. I was born in this house, and I plan to die here.”
“You’re not going to any nursing home,” I promise him. The promise is as empty as my wallet, but I hope it calms him down.
“Good!” Grandpa nods and downs his tea like he does with the drinks at the bar. “And you can them I shall not be going to any nursing home. I was born in this house and I plan to die here.”
“He just said that!” Todd mutters.
“Sometimes I have to repeat myself to make sure the message goes through. And you can tell the social services that I shall not be going to any instructions. That includes the hospitals. And I do not need to go to a home. I’ve got my own home here.” He points to the floor and taps his feet. He raises his voice. “I was born in this house and I plan to die here. In the comfort of my own bed.”
“It’s okay Grandpa!”
“Get the social services out my house at once!” he orders, pointing to three bookcases. “How many times do I have to tell you guys, I shall not be going to anywhere unless I want to.” He bangs the table and slams his feet against the marble floor. “I was born in this house and I plan to die here.”
“What do we do Bobby?” Todd asks me as if I have the answer. I shrug my shoulders. How should I know? I’ve never seen him like this before. When the sun sets, he’ll running to the pubs like there’s no tomorrow.
“Your Uncle Ryan never smoked or drank. He had one drink and then he drops down dead.” That’s not how it happened. It’s like I’m talking to a different person. There he goes, at it again. “And you can tell the social services I shall not be going to any nursing home. I was born in this house, and I plan to die here.”
Dying in your own home isn’t exactly going out with a bang. In the corner of my mind, I briefly ponder if Grandpa could be behind Kathleen’s profile picture, but it can’t be him. And if he really does have dementia, how could it have taken a huge part of him so soon? His lifestyle is unhealthy and demanding for his age, but he always seems okay.
Grandpa roars with a large smile on his face. He clapped his hand in slow motion and swung back on his chair. He bursts into song and grabs a whisky from the bottom cabinet. In corner, the barrel of a gun is sticking out.
“Would you two like a drink?”
I leap out of my seat and the table slides towards Todd. “No thank you. I need to get going.”
“Ah you spoil sport!” Grandpa pours himself a pint of whiskey and raised a toast in my face. “Oh well, more for me. And you can the social services to fuck off. And if you see Sarah and Kathleen give them my love.”
“We certainly will do,” Todd says.
I couldn’t even say goodbye. Not only did he have to bring Kathleen up as if she was still alive, but they had to mention her… as if we were still married.
“He’s just drunk!” Todd tells me.
This goes beyond that. He’s living in his own fantasy world to escape. He’s blaming himself for everything. He’s trying to take me back to how things were before. Trying to make me see that I need to stay alive.
I’m tired of waiting around for something good to happen. If miracles exist, I would have gotten one by now. Running back to my home, I feel everything is about to clash into me. Chest is tight and my legs are burning.
I left the door open. I didn’t think I would be coming back. Banging into everything that passes me. Chairs rattle as I kick the small table out of the way.
Heading straight to the kitchen, I swing all the draws out. The cutlery flies everywhere. When Sarah’s old mugs catch my eye, I smash them. A kitchen knife glimmers in the corner of my eye.
I’m sorry Grandpa, but I can’t do this anymore. I just hope I can do it before Todd finds me again.
The blade pricks my neck. “Please Todd… I can’t do this anymore.”
“Have you been listening to a word I’ve said?”
“I could ask you the same question.”
“What about your grandfather? He’ll be lonely without you.”
“He’ll have his friends from the bars.”
“But he doesn’t want to bury any more of his family,” Todd echoes. “He’ll be lonely, and you won’t gain anything from killing yourself.”
“I don’t want to gain anything.”
“I thought you were going to help me find Kathleen.”
How naïve can a man be? Is it even worth telling him the truth? Might as well talk to the brick wall. Who knows? I might even get more sense out of it.
“Think about it, would Kathleen really want this?”
I drop the knife.
Flashback: Smiling Through Tears
Christmas was always an awkward time of year. Miss Airy gave some stupid homework at this time of year. We had to write a letter to Santa Claus. What fun it is to beg a fictional character for shiny gadgets that their parents can’t afford.
“ROBERT!” There Miss Airy goes again, picking on me. I never liked her sunken face and bones sticking out of her. She looked revolting and she sounded revolting. I guess that’s the reason she’s still a miss. She glares at me as if I’m a criminal. “Read out your letter to Santa.”
“I didn’t write one.”
“Because Santa isn’t real.”
Some of the kids behind me started crying. Miss Airy hushed, but she never kept her eyes off me. “Robert Fishman. You’re going to fail in life with this stinking attitude of yours. I bet your mother and father don’t get you a lot of presents.”
“Good, you don’t deserve them.”
“My parents are dead.”
She throws her pen against the board and her high heels clank. “Don’t talk back to me. Now go outside.”
I was meant to stay behind after school, but Grandpa kicked off. He took me a small chapel in the middle of nowhere. My cousin, Annie was in a white dress.
The ceremony was pleasant as one would expect it to be. Next to me was Grandpa, smiling through his tears.
The joy was destined not to last.