I’m writing a short story a day for thirty days; here’s today’s story:
At breakfast, our grandfather announced that he was going to die. While his cereal floated in his bowl, he quickly explained that he was old, bored, and that it was his time to go. The man liked attention. My mother never even turned around, still irritated with him waking everyone up last night because he wanted someone to drink with after the bar closed.
He looked at us, then slurped the milk out of his bowl and told me to pick him up at Biggy’s Bar at seven. Both my parents worked and had long since lost patience with him. My younger brother usually loved to drive, but he was getting his heartbroken for the first time, so he was splitting his time evenly between leaving pleading voice mails and going for long walks.
At seven, I went to pick up my grandfather. He was sitting with both hands on the bar to keep himself steady. Evidently, he’d been milking this being his final day for drinks. We stayed for two more rounds, and he began making his flaming-breathed goodbyes to each individual patron. It was going on eight when he finally realized that the liquor was closing in just a few minutes, and with one big kiss for the bartender, my grandfather jaunted out the door, hurrying me to go start the car.
We stopped and got him a bottle of his gin. What he swore kept him alive for so long was now going to accompany him in death. The sun was setting quick and heavy. Fall was here, the nights brisk. Next week, the frost would most likely come. Grandfather directed me out of town with waves of his hand, suddenly quiet.
I knew where we were going–out to his favorite hike. It was one he hadn’t done in years, a long, ten-mile trek that left you looking out into the valley and on a clear day, practically over the whole mountains. You couldn’t see our town. All you could see was the odd clearing and fire tower.
I dropped him off at the trailhead. He grabbed his gin, told me he loved me, and to send his love to the family, and walked off into the night. It was a clear night, and he’d lived here long enough to not necessarily need the trail to find his way up the mountain. In case he had a change of heart, I thought I’d wait a few hours, and stretched out in the backseat.
The crisp morning sun woke me, blinding me, and for a second I couldn’t remember why I’d come out here. Grandfather. I looked out as if expecting to see him, but nothing, not even recent footsteps in the dirt. The car struggled to start, and I had to get it rolling down the hill before I could pop the clutch and get the engine running. I was chilly, hungry, and looking forward to eating and then stretching out in my bed.
My brother passed me on the way out the door with barely a scowl, and my mother greeted me with a glare. Where was my grandfather? I told her, and she snorted. He shouldn’t have made you sleep in the car all night. How was he going to know? I’ll tell him when he gets back.
After a week, we stopped expecting him to return–the frost had come and he’d set off without any supplies. We hoped he’d found a peaceful place to die, and for once, my brother came out of his funk to say that he missed the man. After two weeks we lit a candle for him, and people sent their half-hearted condolences.
And thats when he came back, banging on the door, yelling to be let in, stinking and unshaved. I let him in, and from the way his eyes were barely spots, I knew not to ask why he was back. It’s a hard to formulate “why aren’t you dead yet?” as a polite question.
The next morning, my mother almost refused him breakfast, and forced him to shower first. Dripping water and stray hairs into his bowl, he spoke to no one. On the way out the door, he told me to pick him up at Joe’s at seven. I had nothing going on, and it seemed hard to refuse someone their last request of you, even if it was for the second time.
At Joe’s, he was even drunker. First people had bought him celebratory drinks, and after that, just one more round for my grandfather. He was a man of many skills, first and foremost was getting drinks out of people. This time I’d already brought the gin, and by the time we left, it was pitch dark outside of town.
He left me again, told me he loved me and to send my love to everyone. After a second, he told me not to ever listen to my mother. I resolved to wait a few hours, just in case, but it was cold, and my breath was coming out clouds lit by the moonlight. I drove back, and my mother told me that I should start paying for my own gas.
This time he stayed away close to three weeks, and when he came back, he interrupted breakfast. The third time only a few peole bought him drinks and one buddy begrudgingly demanded he buy him a drink, the bartender even left him credit. The fourth time, in the dead of winter, I sent my brother to drop him off. The fifth time, I went and dropped him off without even stopping at the bar.
Each time he came back angrier, saying less. The man wanted to die, but seemed unable to manage it. He came back mostly out of boredom, and out of some sense of frustration. It’s like he just didn’t know how. He’d lie down in the snow, shivering, and sleep would come, sweet like he’d read about, and in the morning he’d wake up, aching and chilly, still here.
The 6th time, spring was coming, and my grandfather decided to try again. He was very depressed at this point, too depressed even to drink. I drove him up in silence, and he got out of the car with a heavy sigh. He was determined to die, but just did not have much hope that he could do it. He waved goodbye, and trudged off through the tree line.
After a month, we began to wonder. He’d never managed to be gone this long before. My brother wanted to light another candle for him, but my mother said not to waste it, he’d be back soon enough. After two months, we lit a candle. Not but two hours later, there was a knocking at the door. Swearing, my mother got up and blew out the candle, went to the door. It was a neighbor here to tell us he’d seen him walking to towards town.
He didn’t show up that night, and in the morning, my mother sent me out in the car to go looking for him. I drove slowly, getting out often to check along ditches, but saw nothing. As the days got longer, I could search longer into the evening, but still, nothing.
We finally lit another candle, just before it got too hot to light candles inside the house, and we watched it burn a full day, all the way down to the wick, where the blue flame lingered, ghosting in the house’s many drafts. He was gone.
But even so, much to the great irritation of our mother, every once in awhile, someone tells us that they’ve seen him walking down the highway, spittin’ mad to the point where he won’t even acknowledge them when they stop and offer him a ride.