As he looked out onto the lake holding Grandfather’s hand, the little boy wondered about the events of the day. At the tender age of five, funerals and weddings were very confusing.
The entire clan seemed to gather for both events in full force, the only difference being the colour of their clothes, but he never saw the battalion of aunts and uncles otherwise. For some reason completely unknown to him, everyone cried at both occasions and made a fuss about how big he was getting.
The tremble of his grandfather’s hand pulled him out of his reverie and he gazed up at the old man’s face. The wrinkles he knew by heart seemed to have multiplied in a single afternoon, and the twinkle in the left eye that always came with a smile and an idea for something fun to do, had faded.
“Look, child, the geese have taken flight. They are taking my Beloved’s soul with them.”
Wincing as grandfather squeezed his hand tighter, the child dared not say a word the moment he felt the tears on the back of his palm; and they were not his.
They walked along the edge of the lake in silence, Grandfather lost in thought, with one or the other tear escaping down his cheek every so often. It was so strange to see him cry, when usually it was the other way around, and it was the gentle hands of experience that soothed his pain. He wanted to say something that would make Grandfather’s sadness go away, but what? How could a five-year old ever come up with something good enough that would take the place of the woman he was married to for sixty years? Then it hit him.
“Tell me a story Grandpa… tell me about the first time you met her.”
The old man looked down affectionately at the boy and stood still. Turning towards the water, he embraced his grandson, and pointed. “It was late afternoon when my little fishing boat pulled in, after three days of being out at sea. I was tired, smelly, and in a really bad mood. All I wanted was a bowl of my mother’s hot stew and a cold beer. But I forgot all about it when I looked down into the water and saw what thought was a mermaid who had lost her way. Nobody ever went swimming in those waters because they are ice cold. Only fools and drunkards, but never pretty ladies! I should have turned away then and fled back to the open sea. I would have been safer, and my life would have been much less turbulent. I never should have offered my hand.”
The child pulled his jacket tighter around him, unsure whether the sudden drop in temperature was due to the story or the cold wind from the lake. Upon seeing the movement, the old man sat down on the sand, placed the boy on his lap, and wrapped his arms around him. It had been a long day and the last thing he wanted was to hand over a sick child back to his irate mother. Now that The Beloved was no longer amongst them, there would be nobody to bridge the rift between him and his daughter. There was too much bitterness and anger between them that seemed to worsen each time they met.
“Was she a witch Grandpa? Did she put a spell on you like they do in the books you read to me at night?”
“Oh yes, she definitely was a witch. A good one, and a very kind one, but she had magical powers that I never understood until now. She knew how to calm me down when I was angry or agitated, she always put a meal on the table even when we didn’t have much money, and no matter how unfair I treated her, she never walked out on me. I was blind to her faults, I know she secretly put money away behind my back because there were always gifts on our birthdays and Christmas. Oh but she was stubborn and could flare up, and during those times I could have sworn her eyes turned red. But she was also generous with her feelings and time.”
“Why did she have to go then?”
“So I could learn to appreciate her and finally be the father your mother never knew.”
“Ap-pre-ciate... hmmm... does that mean that you not my real grandfather then?”
“Oh yes, child, I most certainly am your grandfather, but I was always away at sea and your mother and I never really got to know each other.”
The two sat in silence staring out onto the lake. The bond between them was so strong that no words were needed to read each others minds and movements even before they happened. The grandfather stirred slightly, and the boy immediately jumped up and stretched out a small but determined hand.
“Come on Grandpa! Let’s throw some stones in the water! Maybe we can wake up a new mermaid for you”
“Oh I’m too old for a new mermaid child! Tell you what, let’s change the game a little today. For each stone, we send your grandmother a message, or a wish. I’ll start…” He bent down and picked up a small white pebble at his feet, rubbed it between his fingers and whispered “Thank you for all the dreams that came true”
The child stood with his hands in his pockets, moving the sand around with his foot, still wondering what to wish for. Then he found a star-shaped stone. “Here is a star for you to take with you among the stars Grandma.”
“For all the fights we had, and the times I wished I had hugged you instead of walked away.”
“Please send Grandpa a guardian angel”
“May you be my first and last thought always”
“Make his sadness go away”
“Help me find my way back.”
The large white house loomed over the sand dunes, looking more intimidating than welcoming. He could see his daughter standing at the porch with her arms crossed, and even from this distance he could already feel her antagonism. He sighed heavily and hung his head in resignation. No matter what he did it was always wrong in her eyes. If only he could turn back the clock and start over with her.
“Where have you two been all this time? Everyone has been asking about you and I had no idea what to say!” she hissed even before they reached the steps.
“Don’t be mad at Grandpa Mommy, he needed to add some tears to the lake.”
“I don’t care, we have a house full people and it is way past your bedtime.”
Standing face to face with his daughter, he looked into her eyes and realized for the first time that she had her mother’s eyes; the exact same colour that had bewitched him all those years ago. How could he have never noticed that?
“Sorry we took so long. I needed to show the boy the geese… “ and before he could finish his sentence, two tears trickled down his cheek.
She had never seen her father cry before, and in only occurred to her at that moment how much pain he must be in and how lost he must be feeling. She had always been fiercely jealous of her parents love for each other, always marveling at how they completed each other. This was probably not the time to pick another fight with him.
“Look at those posts on the lake Dad, what do they remind you of? What did Mom always say about them?”
He wiped the tears away with his shirt sleeve, turned around and managed a lopsided smile. “Your teeth when you were 12! Your mother was furious when I came home with that truckload of candy instead of an appointment with the dentist! ”
“Exactly! Why don’t we go in and tell your grandson the story… together.”