Short Story: Dissolve To Old Age

( I wrote this in 1988. My memory of writing it is how smugly proud I was of the depth and ripeness of meaning the finished story had. Having re-read it after all of these years and re-typed it to post here, I am struck by how obvious and shallow it actually is, and how unbalanced the narrative . Still, I like it and what I was trying to say with it, regardless of how poorly I actually said it.)

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I still remember it like it was yesterday.

My Grandfather sat in his chair relaxing, while the sun burned the lawn outside. There had been another water shortage that summer. Most of the time Pops would just sit in front of his wall screen watching old movies, sipping an icy glass of lemonade. But that one day I remember exceptionally well. Maybe because he didn’t talk much ever, and that afternoon it was practically all he did.

I was only nine at the time and had a short span of attention. I was playing outside, trying to soak in all the rays I could before it became too hot. Pops called me from inside. His voice sounded tired. For the first time I realized what “old” meant.

I wiped my dirty hands on my pants and sniffed as hard as I could to keep anything from dripping out of my nose, and ran up the porch steps. “Did you want me, Pops?”

He smiled down at me through his wrinkled and bloodshot eyes, and laid one wrinkled, spottled hand on my shoulder. It felt like a feather.

It’s funny, I don’t ever remember him touching me before that – I mean really touching me like he meant it. Like he was purposefully connecting with me. That tender weight right then made me feel good, but at the same time sad.

I looked into his eyes and tried to see what was going on inside, wondering if he was sick. He never really had any health problems. Nothing ever seemed to bother him. Mom said that even when Grandma died, he just went on like nothing ever happened.

He guided me into his viewing room and pulled up a big chair next to his and motioned me into it. Beginning to worry, I looked around nervously for Nephi, the family cat, for moral support.

Since Dad took off I lived a kind of pampered life. No one ever tried to punish me, not that I ever did anything wrong – I was a pretty well behaved boy – but once in awhile I could get a little carried away.

I gave him my best innocent look and waited for him to start in on me.

“Andrew. My grandson.” A wistful look crossed his face and he turned away to look out the window. “Time is getting short, I think, for me. Does that make sense to you?”

Confused, I tried not to understand too quickly.

Leaning forward, Pops rested both hands on my knees and continued. “I want to tell you a story. About me. And I want you to listen good. It might a little hard to understand, but that is okay, just as long as you remember.”

He stared into my eyes until I finally nodded agreement, and then he started: “It all started when I graduated High School. Mind you, I wasn’t the best student in the world but I tried hard. I wasn’t too popular with the young ladies, either. Maybe that was one of the reasons.

“Anyway, my life at that time didn’t seem to be going too well. Everyone seemed to be against me. So, I tried to hide from them.

“I spent all of my free time alone. I mostly went to the movies. There’s something difficult to explain about seeing a movie in a big dark theater. It’s an incredible experience being completely surrounded by the screen and sound. It was an escape for me. A means to get away from what I thought, at the time, were the people and circumstances that were holding me back from what was in front of me.

“I couldn’t begin to tell you the number of movies I saw. I went at least three times a day when I didn’t have to be at my minimum wage job at a local restaurant, washing dishes or at school. And a lot of those viewings were repeat viewings. I saw them again and again when there was nothing new to see.

“And then I graduated. I was a man. I was an adult. It was time, according to popular believe and my father, to take charge of my own life.

“The bad times seemed to outweigh the positive. Everything seemed to be actively working to keep me from moving forward. And my only escape was my celluloid life in the theater.

“And then I met your grandmother.” His eyes misted over. Though, at the time, it was hard for me to follow everything else he was saying, I knew he missed her. This made me sad.

“Your grandmother was a wonderful woman . She was the only person who really understood me. And my times with her were short, they were always the most important times. I really did love her.”

I looked up at him, perplexed. “What do you mean? You were always with Grandma, weren’t you?”

Pops stared down at me for a moment. He gave my knees a soft squeeze as the wrinkles around his eyes turned up in a kind of half smile.

“It all began with the movies. I worshipped the kind of life portrayed there. The way everything always turned out how you expected.

“Only the important things happened; everything else that didn’t matter got skipped over. And not missed.

“It was just after I met your grandmother. At that time ‘romance’ was really big at the box office. ‘Domestic bliss’ was the selling point. Everything was so wonderful and perfect in their film lives. I wanted my life to be just like theirs.”

Pops sat back in his chair and stared away in silence. His face looked more tired than I had ever seen it before in my life.

The silence grew longer. Almost as if he were biding his time, purposefully drawing it out as long as possible for dramatic effect.

Finally, he drew a big sigh of resignation, surrendering to the conflict inside of himself. He turned his lips up in a wry smile, “So, I made a wish or a pact or whatever you want to call it, that my life could be just like those in the movies.

“You see, they faded or dissolved to the next important parts of their lives. With one clean wipe of the screen they went from one important, good moment to another. Skipping completely the erroneous, useless moments that make up a long day.

“That, Andrew, is what I wished for.”

He leaned toward me again, his entire body tense. I could feel his warm, lemon-stained breath on my cheeks. He reached up and wiped away a large tear that had spilled out onto his wrinkled cheek from his tired, sad eye.

“As I walked up the aisle of the theater, I found your grandmother standing beside me, holding my arm and rubbing her soft, pink face into my shoulder.

“I put my around her and set her down in one of the soft cushioned seats. The soft blue lights rested gently on her, and I dropped to my knee and proposed to her right there. In the eighth row from the back.

“And she said ‘yes’.

“Then she jumped to her feet and threw her arms around me. And I threw mine around her, and held her for all I was worth. I could have stayed that way forever…

“We walked through the archway into the foyer of the theater. I waited for her by the ticket taker while she went to freshen up. And when I turned around to look for her, there she stood.

“She was glorious in her long, flowing white wedding gown. Her father sniffed as he led her up the church aisle, past our seated families. Confused, I turned back around, and where the ticket man had been, now stood the man who would perform the ceremony.

“Only snippets and pieces of the previous three months came back to me. My wish had come true.

“When the ceremony was over I took her in my arms, kissed her and we ran from the chapel and climbed into our car.” Here, he gave a short laugh, and shook his head. “We no sooner pulled away from the curb at the church than we arrived at our hotel. We raced up the steps to our room, laughing and holding onto one another. I put the key in the lock and threw open the door. I then grabbed her up and carried her across the threshold and out the front door of this very house.”

He took a ragged breath mixed with a half hearted laugh and then sat in silence again.

Finally, when he was ready, he continued his story. “You see, she was pregnant, and in a lot of pain. Her water had broke, and it was a month premature. I had to get her to the hospital as quickly as possible. The drive this time, for me, was even shorter than our drive to the hotel a few minutes earlier, if you can believe that. And she was rushed into the maternity ward.

“I found myself in the waiting room, trying to figure out how this was happening to me. But before I could sit down, a nurse came in and led my by hand into the deliver room. In there I watched as a tiny, little girl entered this life. That was your mother. “

“I don’t understand, Pops, why are you telling me this?”

“Things began to go by quickly then. While your mother was growing up, she had a birthday party every year. Even if she tells you I went to them all, I was only actually at three of them.

“Then your grandmother… I was with her those last few moments. I knew something important was about to happen, because those are the only times I am actually here. And it did.

“My whole life had gone by and I had missed it. The most precious things had all passed me by. I didn’t get to watch my daughter grow up. I didn’t get to grow old with the woman I loved.

“I felt like an intruder, popping in and out of these people’s lives. They had me, but I didn’t have them.

“After you grandmother died, I was at her funeral. Then I showed up when you were born and now.

“That’s my life, Andrew.” His began to shake and quiver, his eyes watering.

Beginning to cry myself, I jumped up from my seat and threw my arms around him and held on tight.

I could have stayed that way forever.

Then I was at his funeral. The overcast skies shed their own tears for his passing, and I wept extra for him on behalf of my grandmother.

And now here I am, trying to write it all down. To capture it all. The important and the not important. The precious and the small. Trying to slow down life before it all dissolves and is too late.

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