As promised, here is the short story that I submitted to the Toronto Star newspaper for their contest.
However, the prize amounts were a wonderful thought. The contest was free to enter: first prize was $5000 + a correspondence course worth $3000, second prize was $2000 and third, $1000. All those prize amounts would have been great, but alas, I don’t think I have won. They were supposed to call by 5 PM on April 12th, but they haven’t called or sent out an email. The recognition of having my story be printed in the Star would have been fabulous. My name…in black and white.
I promised I would publish it here on my blog, so here it is. It’s called, Second Hand. I hope you like it.
I stood beside the mahogany coffin, wishing that I could have been at the hospital when my Grandma took her last breath. When I got the call from Mom that Grandma wasn’t doing very well, I’d hopped on the first plane back home. By the time I’d gotten to the hospital, she’d already passed away.
Grandma and Grandpa had always seemed old to me. When you’re little, and you meet an old person, their wrinkles and experiences make them seem older than what they are. Now looking at Grandma laying in the soft pink, satin-lined casket, I realized that she really wasn’t that old after all. She had only been in her late seventies when she passed.
I remember when I was ten, I asked Grandpa if he would take me to the pond that was just down the lane from the barn to do some fishing. He’d let me sit on his lap and steer the tractor until we got to the pond. I’d jump down, then he would hand me the fishing poles, our worms that we’d caught in the early morning dew, and the picnic basket lunch that Grandma had filled with all of our favourites. She’d always pack me a peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich, and a ham and cheese sandwich for Grandpa. For dessert, she would always put in her famous butter tarts for us. They were creamy and sweet and free of raisins. Hers always had coconut in them instead. My favourite.
Grandpa would park the tractor underneath the shade of the old maple tree, leaving the picnic basket on the tractor seat. He would tip toe over to our spot, telling me that he didn’t want to scare away the fish. He’d always make me laugh when he did that.
There was a large rock on the water’s edge that fit both of us perfectly. We’d take off our shoes and socks, letting our feet dangle in the cool water. He would tell me not to kick about in the water too much. “They won’t bite if you keep swishing your stinky feet around in the water like that,” he said, a smile on his face.
I laughed. “My feet don’t stink. Yours do. Look, there’s a fish that’s gone belly-up from your stink.” I pointed at the shoreline at the bloated dead fish that lay there, sunny-side up. A few flies buzzed around it, which I tried to ignore. It kind of grossed me out.
Grandpa laughed, putting his arm around my shoulders, holding me closer to him. As he rested his left arm on my shoulders, I noticed the new shiny watch on his left arm. “You got a new watch. It’s nice,” I said. Grandpa turned his wrist slightly, showing it off to me. The gold band and clock face gleamed in the sun, the brightness making me squint just a little. “Where’d you get it?”
“Grandma gave it to me last month for my birthday. Do you like it?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said enthusiastically. It looked like it had been made for him, fitting his arm perfectly. “I do.”
Grandpa smiled, pulling his arm back, he put his fishing pole in his other hand. I sat there watching him, and watching the sun glinting off of the watch. It almost mesmerized me, it was so shiny.
We sat there for hours, never really catching anything. We’d talk about school, and girls. I told him that I like a girl named Lisa who was in my class. He asked me if I’d kissed her yet. I just blushed.
Occasionally one of the fish would forget that the worm-covered hooks shouldn’t be bitten. When that happened, Grandpa would take the fish hook out of the fish’s mouth, setting it free. Grandpa and I would always tell Grandma that we’d caught the ‘big one’, but that it had gotten away. She believed us every time.
“Let’s get out of the sun,” Grandpa said, standing up. “I’m hungry.”
He stood up from the rock, his shirt sweat-marked under his arm pits, along his collar and down his back. The sweat from his neck pooled in the crevice of his collarbone. He took out a blue plaid handkerchief from his pants pocket and wiped his brows and neck with it. “Sure, Grandpa. I’m getting a little hungry, too.”
We walked over to the tractor where we’d left the picnic basket. He handed the basket to me andlifted the tractor seat, revealing a compartment underneath. Inside was the pickiest blanket that I had ever felt. It was gray woollen, and rough against the skin. It was almost as if that blanket had never seen the hide of a sheep before. I hated that blanket, but Grandpa insisted that we sit on it so that I wouldn’t get my shorts dirty. I told him Mom didn’t care if I got dirty, but we had to sit on it anyway.
That day, even though Grandpa said he was hungry, he didn’t eat much. He only ate a few bites of his sandwich, and he gave his butter tart to me to eat. He never did that, since butter tarts were his very favourite. I asked him if he was all right, and he told me he was.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m ok. I think I’m just hot from the sun. It’s been beating down on us pretty hard.” The sweat continued to pour off of him, but he didn’t want to go home. “I just want to sit out here with you, fishing and talking about girls.”
As I ran my hand along Grandma’s coffin, I remembered how Grandpa had looked in his. It had been a long time ago, and yet, it seemed like it was almost yesterday.
Regret filled my heart when I woke up the next morning after our fishing trip to see Mom in tears. She sat at the kitchen table, Dad’s arm around her, trying to hold her together.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Dad lifted his hand, gesturing for me to come over to them. I did reluctantly, afraid of what he was going to say, because clearly it wasn’t good.
“Son, something happened to Grandpa. He died last night of a heart attack.”
Tears filled my eyes as I recalled our time together the day before. “A heart attack?” I furrowed my brows, letting them know that I didn’t really know what that meant.
“Yes, he had a blockage in his heart, and it just sort of quit on him.”
I remembered how he had looked yesterday, his shirt drenched from his sweat, his brows littered with tiny beads of water that had leaked out of his skin. I thought it had been the sun like he had said, but maybe it was something more.
We went to see Grandma, and to make the funeral arrangements. During the wake, I remembered looking at Grandpa lying there in his casket. He looked so peaceful, his hands folded in front of him, his best suit on.
I saw his gold watch on his wrist, recalling how it had shined so brightly in the sun. I touched it, seeing what I saw that other day—the sun shining on it and the way Grandpa’s arm felt around me. I could even smell the faint smell of manure from the barnyard as we passed it on the tractor.
I looked over at Grandma, who was watching me. She smiled, knowing that I would miss my time with Grandpa. Now time stood still for him.
On the day of the funeral, Mom and Dad took me and my little sister up to say goodbye one last time before the men from the funeral home closed the casket for good. I noticed that Grandpa’s watch was gone from his wrist, and I wondered where it was. I tugged on Mom’s skirt. “Where’s Grandpa’s watch?” I pointed to his bare left wrist.
She shrugged her shoulders and said she didn’t know. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she led us over to one of the wooden church benches to sit down in.
I was concerned when the lid went down on the casket, knowing that I would never see Grandpa again. Tears welled up in my eyes. I thought I’d done this to him, causing his death because I wanted to go out fishing.
After the funeral, we drove Grandma back home. She was teary, but remained strong. She sat in her rocking chair beside the window that looked out over the veranda. She called me over to her. “Jack, I want you to have this.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a black box.
I looked at her, unsure of why she would be giving something to me at a time like this. I opened it, revealing Grandpa’s gold watch. “I saw you admiring it on Grandpa the other day. He said that you thought it was nice. I want you to have it. I’m afraid it doesn’t work though. I’m sorry about that.”
I looked at the watch as it sat in the black box that it had originally come in. I looked at Grandma, the tears that had been in my eyes now flooding out, overflowing down my cheeks.
“I don’t think I can accept this, Grandma,” I said. “I think I killed Grandpa. We shouldn’t have gone out fishing the other day. Maybe he’d still be alive if we’d stayed inside and played checkers or something.”
Grandma smiled, and put her arm around me. “Honey, you didn’t kill Grandpa. He ate too many things that were bad for him. He had high cholesterol and hardened arteries. It wasn’t because of you. It wasn’t your fault. He wanted to go fishing with you.”
I looked at the watch. The second hand was stuck on the seven, ticking, but not moving. I tapped the clock face a couple of times, but it didn’t budge. “If the watch didn’t work, why did Grandpa wear it?” I asked.
Grandma smiled. She pulled me closer, her arms encircling me. All I could smell were the peppermints that she always had in her mouth. “The watch never worked from the time that I gave it to him, but he wouldn’t take it to a jewellery shop to be fixed. He told me that he wanted time to stand still, that he hoped that we would have forever together.”
I kept that watch with me for years, carrying it around in my pocket along with the frogs and stones and other trinkets I would find. I’d wind it up, hoping that the second hand would free itself, but it never did.
When I stepped closer to Grandma’s casket, I laid the watch near her hands. “Time stands still for both of you now. Give this back to Grandpa. He’ll be looking for it.”