This story is by Justin Caldwell and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
So It Goes
They stood before the gravestone, hand-in-hand, as the crisp autumn air breathed against their skin.
A year ago they buried him. Time marched on, but the pain was still fresh. Still raw.
Tears flowed down their pink cheeks, the wind stinging against their soft faces. They refused to wipe them away.
Biologically he was their grandfather, but they knew the truth. An abusive father and mother addicted to heroin was all it took. He would not stand idly by and watch his grandchildren become victims of a life they didn’t deserve.
He took them into his home when they were just toddlers, barely able to walk. A widower at the age of sixty, the three came into one another’s lives at just the right time. They were all given a second chance at life.
Living together had its challenges. He learned to be patient. They learned to trust him.
He was always there. Baseball. Basketball. Swimming. Gymnastics. Band. Boy Scouts. Cheerleading. The list seemed endless as they thought about the time he invested.
They were inseparable, this unlikely trio.
“Remember our first baseball game?” the boy, now a man, asked his sister.
She smiled as she thought about how infuriated their grandfather was with them. But who had bought them a large drink in the first inning? Was it their fault they had to use the restroom every fifteen minutes until finally he couldn’t stand it anymore and took them home?
As the years passed, they looked back on the memory and laughed together.
“What about the time he drove the car home backward from church?” she countered.
They both thought they would die that day. The transmission was out in the car, and the only way it would move was by putting it in reverse. It wasn’t a long drive, and thankfully there wasn’t much traffic. Regardless, it was impressive.
These memories provided temporary relief, but couldn’t rid them of the unbearable pain eating at them.
The cancer took its time on him. Others told them stories of how quickly it always spread, how it wove its terrible, dark threads throughout their loved ones bodies in only a matter of weeks or months. This was not their experience.
He was a strong, stubborn man. It surprised neither of them that he refused chemotherapy. They waited and watched for signs that he was weakening. Nearly two years went by before he admitted to them that he needed more rest than usual.
From there, they did their best to return the favor he bestowed upon them so many years before. As his body deteriorated, they performed more and more duties for him. Still he hung on.
It was excruciating being forced to watch him die a little more each day. His body grew gaunt as he withered away before their eyes.
“Please,” he begged them. “It is too much. You know what to do.”
They sat up all night and discussed it. It was impossible to know how much agony he must be in to ask such a thing of them. Still, they knew in the end they would do as he requested.
The boy volunteered to do it, but she objected.
“Together,” she said. So they had.
They expected nothing, but were not surprised when everything was left to them. The house, the money, the estate.
Some said it was too much for the young siblings to bear, but they were stronger than people gave them credit for. A trait learned from their grandfather.
Dead leaves rustled and stirred about them as the wind picked up again. She knelt and laid a bouquet of flowers on the gravestone. Tenderly she traced the engraved letters of her grandfather’s name.
“Miss you, dad.” she said quietly, her words carried off by the breeze.
She stood and joined her brother, pulling her coat tight around her.
The walk home would be brisk.