Short Fiction – By 8r4d
On the day that Grandfather got young, it came on quite slowly.
The skin on his face, tanned and given over to the textures of the lettuce in his vegetable garden gradually pulled taught and firm, a uniform hue restored from deep within, his cheeks glowing like tomatoes ripening over the course of that one day. Grandfather\’s chest and arms filled back into the loosened skin, war-era tattoos stretching back to their past glory. His backside expanded steadily, rounding out his formerly hollow posterior and by lunchtime his pants were much too tight. His scalp, previously exposed and mottled with the spots of liver and age, bit-by-bit filled with the near imperceptible advancement of a lush hairline not quite the colour of his former youth but suiting him just the same. Grandfather\’s step eased from a slow, patient shuffle, lightened, and by mid-afternoon it was a confident stride. His appearance was radically different, and in fact, had Grandmother been more attentive she may have recognized the man who dusted the garden soil from his hands, slipped on a loose pair of coveralls from the shed, and strode out into the alley and away.
The confidence of an eighty-year old man in the body of one less than half that age is a sight to behold. Men of thirty-two years, the age roughly equivalent of what Grandfather had felt he\’d become that day, are rarely as self convinced in their manners as those who have acquired a few extra decades of life. Men of thirty-two years are seldom as patient to the faces of those they meet, expecting exacting perfection in the reflected personality. Men of thirty-two years are quick to judge the opinions of strangers, categorizing those ideas as either sheer ignorance or towering brilliance. And men of thirty-two years too often think the prime of their life is peaking just at that moment and that opportunity is something to be grabbed, held, and fought for else it slips into the past never to be seen again. But Grandfather was not thirty-two. Grandfather was an eighty year old man who got young, and that was the sight to behold.
Despite this confidence, walking through the alley in worn garden shoes and coveralls Grandfather might not have known exactly his destination. His mind was sharp and clear, the dust of age washed away as if by a spring shower over the grey, post-winter soil. His step was strong and balanced. His eyes saw colours with more depth and focus than he could recall had existed. But where does one go when one gets young with neither warning nor explanation?
On the day that Grandfather got young, he went to the mall and he met a girl.
It must be understood that Grandfather loved Grandmother. The memories shared between an eighty year old man and a seventy-nine year old woman are often recollections of the seemingly insignificant yet deeply meaningful. The memories of fifty-nine years of marriage are emotions and moments frozen in time of both the good and the bad, those expectance glances, uncertain futures, mutual disagreements, and tender caresses. Fifty-nine years turns romantic love into patient love, a passionate fling into family, and dueling personalities into a predictable couple. Grandfather loved Grandmother and that was a fact as immutable as one could reasonably expect.
But Grandfather met a girl. And the girl, twenty-five years old, a college student with piercing green eyes and a subtle lisp, preferred the company of more mature men – though she was completely unaware that Grandfather was an eighty year old man who had simply got young that morning. He had smiled at her with a genuine grin when their eyes had met across the food court. He had listened to her when she spoke and didn\’t flinch at the faint impediment in her unbounded speech. And Grandfather himself hadn\’t said much about himself, instead asking deeply into her interests and her accomplishments, the kind of things he might have asked his granddaughters or any other patient child a quarter his true age had he captured their attention for long enough. To Grandfather it was conversation, but to the girl it was a welcomed flirtation. To the girl it was rapture.
On the day that Grandfather got young, he forgot himself.
Grandfather had already eaten, purchasing half a cucumber sandwich from the kiosk in the mall, so the girl bought him a cup of coffee and he let her talk about her studies and herself. He was an eighty year old man in the body of his fit and rugged thirty-two year old self, garbed in a white cotton shirt and gardening coveralls quite impractical for coffee and small-talk. But the girl spoke and smiled, and by increments she leaned in closer to this attentive, ageless man – and by increments Grandfather forgot himself.
He had no wristwatch, so he lost track of the time, and when the girl asked if he would walk her home he, as a gentleman, agreed. His arms were bare, the coarse hair of his youth having reappeared earlier in the day, and when the girl reached and put her hand on his bicep as they hurried across the busy street he didn\’t object. Also, it was dark, and the neighborhood where he and Grandmother had spent much of their life together had fallen to decline, so when arm-in-arm he walked by his own house without stopping, ignoring the silhouette of his wife in the window, he did so only with regard to the safety of his new young friend. And when she asked if he would come up to the apartment to look at a jammed window she couldn\’t quite get open, he did so only as a compliment to his rediscovered utility and the respective sense of virtue to the girl that utility offered, and not as an inclination to anything more meaningful.
Later that evening over more coffee the girl would move in measured bumps, inching closer to sit beside him on the hand-me-down couch, and Grandfather would wait a moment before standing and excusing himself to use the washroom, adjust the windows, or refill his coffee, always sitting back down in a less-compromising position. As the evening continued, so did the conversation, and move by measured move, the girl\’s rapture increased whilst Grandfather\’s sense of time and purpose grew vague and less obvious. He was, as slowly as he had got young, forgetting himself. And the events of the day, the events of eighty years, faded as all things fade for with a man of his true age, patiently and quietly, lacking any sort of order, but as clear as the first blanket of autumn snow.
On the day that Grandfather got young, he went missing for a very long time.
Grandmother had called the police and a search was performed, though all the only trace of the elderly man who had been working in his vegetable garden was a pair of brown trousers that had been inexplicably removed, folded, and placed on the back step and a worn, leather belt hung over the handrail.
Grandmother had called her family, and we drove from all over the country to be by her side. We debated and planned. We sought answers. But we never once suspected that the thirty-two year old man who walked by the house each day, casting curious glances into the windows, a young, green-eyed girl on his arm was the man we were all desperately seeking.
Grandmother had been the most patient of all of us, despite her initial worry, assuring us all that Ã¢â‚¬Å“these things happenÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“he\’s likely just forgotten himselfÃ¢â‚¬Â and that Grandfather would turn up eventually and we\’d have our answers. Meanwhile she cooked, assembling large meals to accommodate her burgeoning houseful of eager and attentive relatives.
And after a while, too, Grandmother seemed to forget and sent us all away. She sold the house, packing up the contents of fifty-nine years of marriage and moved into a nearby care center where she could continue to forget about her missing husband and where she needn\’t look out the large picture window at the overgrown mess of a vegetable garden that had gone untended since that one particular day.
On the day that Grandfather got young, he realized he didn\’t know how to go home.
Instead, Grandfather stayed with the girl. Though, as much as he had forgotten himself he never failed to recall that he was a married man. This drove the girl into quiet desperation, of course, her advances patiently diverted and her infatuation with an eighty year old man in the body of a thirty-two year old growing unchecked all the while. She thought she loved Grandfather and she could not bring herself to deprive him of the patient and methodical relationship she had determined they were building together. His dedication to an abstinent cohabitation only strengthened that desire in her, and she clung to that perception with care and dedication. But she never saw past the thirty-two year old body into the eighty year old mind, though it really was the mind she desperately loved, and for this Grandfather could not have loved her back.
Grandfather got a job delivering furniture. He had got young, and he was strong and eager to contribute. Each day he would get up early, walk past his old house to the mall where the delivery truck was waiting. Each day he would climb into the passenger seat with two other young men who were frustratingly impatient and boastful. And each day he would carry couches, bookcases, and matching washer and dryer sets into nearby homes, manipulating awkward objects through tight spaces, before trudging back to the small apartment where the girl waited to tell him about her day over a hastily prepared dinner of instant foods and microwaved vegetables. And then one day, walking to work, a moving truck appeared in front of his old home complete with more young men, these ones carrying out of the small house bits of furniture that, to him, were as unfamiliar as his own face. Laminated wood shelves, mint green sofas, floral-print area rugs came into sight but only as if recollections from a fleeting dream, and he wanted to stop and tell them to leave. But instead he only slowed, looking over his shoulder as he passed, wincing with impatience and frustration as some forgotten bit of his life was carted box by box into that truck, yet not truly understanding why he felt that.
And more time passed.
On the day that Grandfather got old, he had forgotten nearly everything.
Grandfather\’s morning had started out as it had done for some weeks. He woke and ate breakfast of cold cereal with milk and sugar. The girl, her lisping voice grating in his ear, asked him questions to which he didn\’t know the answers and interrupted him while he read through the fliers that had come through the mail slot overnight. He dressed in his delivery uniform, khaki pants and a red golf shirt with a brash logo adorning the chest, and hastily waved the girl goodbye as he rushed down the street towards the mall. He had checked the inventory list for the deliveries, had barked orders are the new guy to load up the last bits of the work order, and jumped into the driver\’s seat with a large plastic mug of sugared coffee.
Many of the day\’s deliveries were not unusual. His crew moved three couches, two refrigerators, a chestnut brown wall unit with matching end tables, and a king-sized mattress and box-spring set through narrow hallways, up staircases, and around tight corners, complaints echoing not in front of paying customers happy to receive their orders but back in the truck as they sped to their next location. But the last order of the day was particularly easy; One small pedestal table was to be delivered to the senior citizens home a few blocks from the mall. And to the young men that meant wide doorways, ample hallways and generous elevators. Grandfather spoke up, and told his companions that he would handle this one himself.
On the day that Grandfather got old, his family was visiting Grandmother.
Grandmother was holding the door to her cozy suite open to let us inside when a young man of about thirty-two years old walked by, striding down the hallways of the care center carrying a mahogany pedestal table generously swathed in bubble wrap. He was unremarkable, and would have passed by unnoticed but for that he stopped to ask Grandmother for directions. Their eyes met and Grandmother\’s small, bent frame seemed to lose balance for a moment before she stiffened and pointed the young man to a door just a little further down the hallway.
We shuffled inside Grandmother\’s suite, but Grandmother hesitated, staying standing in the hallway watching the young man as he gradually slowed his step, his muscular frame seeming to deflate in nearly undetectable increments until it was insufficient to hold the weight of the small table. Over a time that could have been seconds or minutes the skin at the back of his neck seemed to whither and darken, taking on the texture of fresh garden lettuce. And as if his whole body softened, his back gave way to a gentle curve and his knees slackened to the diminishing weight of his aging body. He set the bubble-wrapped table down on the floral-patterned carpet and paused, shrugging with a deep breath, wiping a bit of sweat from his hairless head, and cinching his belt tighter to hold his generous pants up above his withered hips. And relaxed.
Grandfather turned around and walked back towards the familiar woman standing, grasping firmly the steel frame of her door. Their eyes met again. And he smiled.
On the day that Grandfather got old, he embraced Grandmother and she squeezed back.