Before Your Time
Grandfather Harry coughed softly. I could tell he was trying to hide the strength of it from the way he tensed up, from the depth of his sigh when he finally stopped. He settled down again, most likely enjoying the warmth of the large fireplace the hotel had. I noticed he sat alone, despite the numerous family members that arrived for my wedding day.
I looked at my two kids and told them to go keep him company.
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I wondered if they felt hesitant, because he was so grumpy or because they didn’t quite get over their grandmother’s death. Despite what they felt, they were mature enough to look past their own feelings and do as I asked. My daughter held her little brother’s hand and the two walked to him while I kept my family amused until my wife arrived with the bridesmaids.
Lisa and David got their grandfather’s attention by walking in front of the space he was staring at. He didn’t look unhappy to see them but wasn’t smiling either. He just seemed to focus on them.
Lisa had her mother’s hair and David had the mean expression his daughter had. The narrowed eyes, the judging stare.
“Grandpa Harry? Are you okay?” Lisa asked.
Lisa was close to thirteen, but her tone and words were too mature. It wasn’t right how she observed him. She could read his emotions so well, but she could not guess what caused them.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” he replied the same way he did to his daughter, already treating Lisa like an adult. “Getting some rest before your mom and dad are married. I want to be wide-eyed and alert when they do, so I can remember the moment better.”
“Do you forget things?”
“Sometimes,” he replied simply.
“What kind of things do you forget?”
“A lot of things I need to remember,” grandfather Harry replied, as vaguely as he could. It seemed to be a cloud that Lisa saw right through.
“Did you forget grandma?”
The grandfather’s expression remained unchanged, but this freezing of muscles was enough for Lisa to understand as anger.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured, lowering her eyes. By breaking her gaze, the old man could breathe a little easier.
“I will never forget her,” he grunted, such fury in his words. He gave his soon to be son-in-law and the other guests a careful glance, as they would not appreciate such a tone. His fear made him angrier.
When the old man turned to look at his grandchildren, he saw that Lisa was still staring at her feet. His grandson, still quiet as a mouse, looked at him with wide eyes.
“David…” the grandfather said as if remembering his name right then. “Why do you look at me so?”
“If you still remember her-” Lisa continued before David could say anything. “-why are you sad? Years from now, David won’t remember her and it will be his loss.”
Grandfather Harry’s lips curled down into a grimace, but the furious expression quickly faded when he saw the heart of her statement. Her memory was an honour, a gift, a treasure.
“It’s not your grandmother that weighs on me so,” the old man said, deciding to answer their question. “It’s the memory of my life, a life before your time, life before your fathers and mothers. A life even before your grandmother.”
“What did you used to do?” David asked, breaking his silence.
“Dad says he was a soldier,” Lisa told David.
“Your father is right and wrong, he told you a half-truth to respect you, a half-lie to protect you,” the old man murmured. “Yes, I was a soldier, so were my brothers, in a time where fighting was necessary. Yet, that was only the start of our lives, I became many things after that, and did many great things.”
“As great as being a soldier?” David asked.
“Well, yes and no. My brother’s and I did many great things, but our fight brought peace to this world. We were gods amongst men ever since.”
“Ah, well, some might have thought that...uh...no, not gods. Figureheads, perhaps.”
Lisa’s eyes must have strained her, as her grandfather’s story so far gave her more questions than answers.
“Where are our great uncles?” asked Lisa.
“Zeke still works, his head in the clouds most of the time,” the grandfather muttered, a seed of contempt showing every ‘t’ sound. “My other brother, Perry, has a good life at sea. As for me...I had a difficult job, working under both of them.”
“Are they coming to the wedding?”
“I hope not, David, it’s better if they don’t.”
The grandfather saw disappointment on his grandchildren’s faces. He didn’t mind, as they had no clue who he spoke of. It wouldn’t be long before something else interested them. To keep them occupied, he decided to ask them the usual questions while he stared into the fire.
“Lisa, have you thought about your future?” the old man asked.
“No...I just want to do well in school first,” Lisa replied, following his gaze to the fire. It seemed to capture her as much as it did her grandfather.
At this point, David took a cookie out of his pocket and bit into it. Being such a small child still, he needed both hands for it, not bother by the melted chocolate chips which no doubt left a stain his pocket.
“What about you, David? Is there anything you like?” the grandfather asked, seeing this mess out the corner of his eye. A smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
“I don’t know…” David said as all children do. “I like birds.”
“Birds?” the old man repeated.
“I like big birds, like eagles!”
Grandfather Harry’s eyes drifted slowly to David who continued to gnaw at the hard edge of one of the cookies.
“Eagles...what do you like about eagles?” grandfather Harry asked, his jaw stiff as he grit his teeth. A terrible thought was growing in his mind with each second.
“They are easy to shoot with a bow, a lot easier than pigeons,” David said, miming the action of using a bow.
The old man smiled cruelly, worries vanquished.
“That’s good, David,” he said with a smile, comforted by the words of his grandchildren. “That’s very good.”
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