Originally written 2007 by Timm Holmes
Every day a boy brings me water.
I’m not sure why he does it. I’ve never seen him before. Well, before he started bringing me the water, that is. Which, if my memory serves me correctly (which it rarely does), was sometime last week. Hmm…well…no…yes…yes it was last Monday, today being Saturday, that would make it five days. Six, if you count this morning.
It is Saturday, isn’t it?
I’m beginning to despise that about me. I’m always so unsure of things. My daughter shakes her head at me when she thinks I’m not looking. I’ll never let her know that I’ve seen her do that. It would embarrass her too much. Besides what would be the point? I have become a burden these last few months.
After my Frannie passed on last year, my daughter Beth and her family insisted that I come stay with them for a while. It was supposed to be a temporary situation — just until we were able to sell the old house and find a little apartment for me. But while the house went up for sale; the house Frannie and I had shared for thirty-two years, the house we’d made love in on so many stormy nights, the house we’d raised Beth in, my health quickly deteriorated. The doctors weren’t able to tell what exactly was wrong with me, only that my increasing weakness, and tendency to be tired, was most-likely a symptom of the great amount of stress I’d undergone in recent months.
It was like I was being punished by Him for selling my past away. Really, when I think about it, when I can see through the fog that clouds my brain so often these days, any day that really mattered in my past happened in that house. Maybe I had sold my past away. That’s not how I had meant it to be. I just found it too hard to walk around that empty house, and with every step be reminded of the sweetness that had left me.
The black lump took her quickly. This was bad and good. Bad because this made it relatively untreatable — a waste of time really. Good because the doctors said it was moving so fast, that at the end she wouldn’t have time to feel the pain.
Well, I stood by her side those last long, sharp nights, holding her hand. Those doctors have no idea what they’re talking about. They give their medicine and theories too much weight. They think they know everything there is to know. Well how come my Frannie spent her last day and a half with me in tears, as the blackness scraped her insides raw? How come it decided to slow down and simply stroll through the last few inches of my Frannie’s sweet body, knawing at every nerve-ending?
They couldn’t answer those questions. They stood in front of me, with their arms crossed over their chests, their starched white, hospital coats unmoving, shaking their heads like my daughter would learn to do, thinking to themselves, Poor, old man.
Now every day a boy brings me water.
My daughter comes to see me in my bed when she has the time. She tries to feed me, but this week I haven’t had the appetite. The water seems to be enough. Beth says I have to eat, that I won’t stay healthy if I don’t eat. Does she think I’ve become half-witted as well as forgetful?
I laugh at my own helpless situation, with the kind of laugh that comes out when you really feel like crying. I haven’t left this bed in two days. No energy, no will power either, I guess.
The last time I got up, was to watch the thunder and lightning on Thursday night. It was so beautiful, it was. Just like my beautiful Frannie.
God! If only I could describe her to you! Imagine taking the sweetest scent…lilacs perhaps, and draping it like silk over smooth and gentle curves. Then you must imagine adding a electricity to that image, so that if it entered the same room as you, the hairs on the back of your neck would stand at attention to honour such a beauty. If you can imagine that, then you have an idea of how beautiful my Frannie was.
My eyes alertly scanned the blackness watching the lightning that night and my heart waited to beat until the thunder came. Everything disappeared except for that storm, and the sound and light show it put on for me.
Although the storm had begun around eight o’clock that night … or it could have been later … I think maybe it was later. My sense of time isn’t so good anymore either. Well, I do believe though, that the storm went on for quite some time that night and certainly didn’t stop until well past two in the morning. I don’t remember Beth or any of the rest of her family coming in to check on me, although they must have. They always came in to say goodnight, before they went to bed.
I think Frannie was saying hello.
You see, Frannie was sort of funny. She always seemed to get the urge to be … well … frisky when there was a storm raging outside. I think she really picked up on the electricity and energy in the air. Those were always the most powerful, most passionate, and sometimes the wildest nights.
All I recall about Thursday night is that storm. The storm and feeling the thin rivers of warm tears caressing the papery skin of my face as I smiled widely.
In a raspy whisper, with my words soaked by my tears, I said hello back.
I woke up the next morning curled up in a ball on my bed, with a very painful erection trying to pry its way from behind the flannel pajama pants I was wearing but finding a mattress blocking it’s escape. The pain isn’t what woke me. The pain is what I forgot about, when I felt the tugging at the sleeve of my pajama top. That’s when I saw the little boy again.
I got a good look at him that morning. Something was odd about the way he looked though. I thought maybe it was his clothing. The brown cap sitting on his head, just a bit too big for his round, little head. His shorts held up by suspenders colored the same dirt brown as the cap, looked tattered and well used. His skin looked very yellowed like he had jaundice or maybe like I was seeing him through a yellow filter. For all I knew my sight was beginning to go like the rest of my senses.
The boy handed me a glass of water.
That Friday after the storm was the first day I refused to get out of bed. This worried my daughter a great deal. She came in sometime in the afternoon. I only know it was the afternoon because the window in my room faces east and I could no longer see the sun through the beige, gauze-like drapes. Light still found its way into my room, but the walls, the furniture, the vase of daisies, remained drained of any defining colour. It all looked very muddy to me. In fact, now that I think about it, time seemed to pass as if through mud as well. Muddy is a very good word for the last few days.
Beth didn’t bother to turn any lights on or even part the drapes. She just walked into the room very carefully like she was afraid to wake me. Even though she could plainly see I was wide awake, when our eyes met as she passed through the door frame. I don’t remember blinking, but I guess I must have. I suppose at that time I had fallen into a sort of trance, under a spell that Beth wouldn’t understand for many years yet to come. Maybe if she had turned the bedroom light on, or opened the drapes, the spell would have been broken. Maybe. Or perhaps it wouldn’t have made a difference at all. Maybe once you fall into that trance, you can’t climb back out.
She talked to me for a long time. I think she knew what I wanted, but I don’t think she was willing to let her conscious mind accept it. I asked her what kind of a father I’d been. I really didn’t remember at that point. I hoped I’d been a good one. I saw her eyes get wet, and then she said in a choked voice that I’d been the best daddy a girl could ask for. After that, she just laid down next to me, her arms shakily holding my bony torso, her head resting under my stubby chin. I wanted to hold her so badly then, but my arms were pinned beneath her relatively fleshier body. I didn’t have the heart to disturb her silent crying hug. I was afraid she’d cut it short if I said anything. So I just let her do the hugging for the both of us. I did manage to slowly, carefully kiss the top of her head though.
As she was leaving, she told me she’d be back later to check on me, and reminded me of the bell that was sitting on the bed-side table. The bell I was to ring if I needed anything. I fell in and out of a doze for the remainder of the afternoon.
Just before dinner…although…no…no, it was definitely before dinner, little Tommy came into my room. He, like his mother crept softly, just in case Grandpa was sleeping. There was something special about Tommy. I don’t know what it was though, but whenever he came in, the room seemed to get its color back.
Tommy was only four, but smart as a whip, already reading second grade books, and he talked a mile a minute. From his vantage point, so low to the ground, he couldn’t see my face. So when he pulled his tiny body onto the bed, he was still moving as slowly and softly as he could.
Memory is an odd thing, isn’t it? There is so much I couldn’t remember and some that I still can’t. I couldn’t tell you a single item of clothing that Tommy was wearing that day, but I remember every word he said as if I was listening to it right now.
He had just managed to pull himself all the way onto the bed, and was on his hands and knees near my feet. That’s when he started whispering.
“Psst! Grandpa…you sleeping? It’s Tommy … psst come in Grandpa…”, a favourite game of Tommy’s was to play what he called Walkie-Talkie Soldier. So I played along.
I made a static, crackling noise, that sounded more like a squirt but Tommy got the idea and smiled as I responded, “Grandpa here…report Tommy…over”.
“Tommy here…mommy dudint know I’m in here…over”, he said still whispering, and his face getting serious for a moment.
“Grandpa here…won’t tell mommy about your presence if you report to my face with a kiss immediately…over”
Like some little man inside him had stood up on the gas pedal, Tommy took off up the length of the bed on his hands and knees and nearly pounced on my face. He landed a loud, sloppy wet kiss on my cheek. Then he sat up to my left with his legs tucked under him, resting his tiny bottom on his ankles. He tilted his head slightly and seemed to be trying to look into me.
I was just about to ask him what he was looking so intently at, when he spoke, “I love you Grandpa. I’ll miss you.”
He understood. He was four years old and admittedly smart, but still only four years old. It seemed impossible that he could comprehend what was happening to me. Somehow though, he understood. It was in that moment that I realized how much he looked like the boy that had been bringing me water every morning.
I tried to ask him if he’d ever brought me a glass of water in the morning, but what came out was, “What are you doing in here, little mister?”, and it sounded just like Beth’s voice. Then I saw Beth as she scooped Tommy up into her arms and I realized that I hadn’t said anything at all.
“You making trouble for Grandpa?”, Beth asked Tommy playfully, but a part of her was concerned that he had disturbed me.
I made the crackling noise again and Tommy’s worried uh-oh-I’m-in-trouble look was swept away by the smile that spread across his face, “Grandpa here…Tommy was a good boy and always will be, right? Over.”
“Tommy here…that’s right — a good boy forever! Over”, he giggled raising his arms over his head.
“Grandpa here…love you, too Tommy…roger…over and out.”
“Over and out!”
Then Beth carried him out in superman-style to have his dinner. Holding Tommy in her left arm she reached back with her right to close the door to the bedroom and paused a moment. We shared a smile, and she closed the door.
I must have fallen asleep then because the next thing that seems even remotely clear is waking up this morning to the boy offering me water again.
This time, before I drank from the glass, I really looked at him, trying to figure out who he was.
“Tommy?” I asked.
The boy simply shook his head.
I hadn’t said anything to Beth earlier in the week only because the boy was never on my mind when she was around. I felt like I should have known who he was. He seemed familiar the way strangers do in dreams, when your mind tells you that even though they look nothing like a certain person, that they are in fact that person. You just know it. Well, I didn’t just know who this boy was. I felt like I’d missed something somewhere. So I asked him.
The only response I got was, “Drink up.” For some reason that was good enough for me at the time. So I drank up.
Beth poked her head in this afternoon and asked if I wanted to try to eat anything. I could tell by the way she hung on the doorknob waiting to close the door immediately that she expected me to say no. I did not disappoint her. But she didn’t close the door immediately. Instead, she remained frozen, leaning all of her weight on the door knob and just looked at me. It was her turn to get lost in a trance. After a few short moments, she stood arrow straight in the doorway and very mechanically, robotically, blew me a kiss. She turned without waiting to see if I caught it. I knew she was crying already. The door closed behind her.
As I watch twilight form outside my window, I realize the day has passed rather uneventfully. The only notable fact being my intermittent hallucinations and half-dozing. Seeing Frannie in so many different scenes from our life together, seeing Beth being born, seeing myself sign my very first book contract. I may very well have been dreaming though. Today, the muddiness became so chunky that dreams, hallucinations and reality all intertwined into one indistinguishable mass.
The boy brings me water again. It’s Sunday morning now.
I don’t bother to ask him his name again. I just accept the water with thanks. My throat is drier than I ever remember it being. I’m so thirsty, I tip my head back and swallow the wetness greedily. I keep swallowing as the water keeps coming. I can feel the deep, cool touch of it along every bit of my throat. After a minute though, I realize that there’s been too much water pass through my lips for what could have possibly been contained in a single glass. I try to stop swallowing, but the water keeps coming. I begin to choke and gag on it. The water begins to flow faster, like it’s pouring from a garden hose. I can’t keep up with it and I start to drown, unable to close my jaw, unable to move the glass from over my mouth. I close my eyes and I feel strangely calm. I’m drowning quite happily actually.
Then I smell it. Ever so faintly at first but the scent quickly grows in strength until I can almost feel the smell on my skin.
I open my eyes and see my beautiful Frannie, as lovely as the day I first saw her picking strawberries in her daddy’s field all those many years ago. Before the war, before divorce was popular, back in a time when love at first sight could happen and last forever.
I feel something in my hand and look down to see the little boy that had brought me water every day. I ask him, for the last time, who he is.
“Most folks just call me Crank, sir. But it’s a nick name. My real name is…..”
“Eddie…” I finish for him, as surprised at myself for knowing, as he is pleased to see that I do.
Feeling a wave of giddiness wash over me, I introduce myself to the young boy, “Why, my name’s Eddie too!”
We smile together. Still feeling giddy, and now slightly inebriated, I look up at my Frannie. I go to her. The little boy has gone again and something tells me he won’t be back. But I’ve got a feeling that from now on my sweet Frannie and I will do more than enough smiling for the three of us.