April 28, 2008

It was my Grandad’s birthday. Eighty-six years of age and sadly, taking a slow, bumbling bow from this world. I arrived at the home at about twelve. This had become a tradition that I hadn’t expected to last as long as it had. When my parents first put him in there and fucked off to their retirement villa in the south of Spain, Grandad was seventy-eight and seemingly on his last legs. Yet here he was all those years later, ‘celebrating’ another birthday. I felt duty-bound to make an appearance, although I doubted whether he was aware that I was even in the room.

The nurses had him suited and booted, ready and waiting in the wheelchair when I arrived. I think it had become a running joke to them now that Grandad was still there to inconvenience me year after year. The woman barely even tried to hide her smugness as she wished Grandad a happy birthday and did everything but pat me on the head as she told me what a great grandson I was.

Getting Grandad into the front seat of my car took ten minutes and I could see the curtains twitch as I turned back to the main building. Well I’m glad I could brighten up their day, the stupid bitches. The plan was the same as every year, take Grandad to the pub, get him a carvery lunch and a pint, then get him back to the home quick before he pissed on the car seat. Then my duty was done for a few months until Christmas.

“How are they treating you in there Grandad?” I said loudly. There was no reply. The same old happy, vacant glaze over Grandad’s face didn’t shift. He rarely spoke anymore. “How are your buddies in there? Good?” Nothing. “Still with us, are they? Or have they been carted off to the graveyard?” He just smiled and stared straight ahead. “Do you even know I’m talking to you, huh? I could probably just say whatever the fuck I wanted and you’d still just go on grinning.” He started to hum a tune quietly to himself. I left him to it.

The pub was nearly empty. I always tried to get there before the lunch rush. It was difficult enough to manoeuvre the old man around a deserted pub, it was practically impossible to do it with eighty other people rushing manically about trying to get to the top of the queue before the roast beef or their lunch hour ran out. We sat and ate in silence. The gravy was watery and tasteless, the meat, tough and slimy. None of this seemed to bother Grandad, who wolfed it all down as if it was the first meal he’d eaten in days. Then, just as the first of the rush began to filter in, I got Grandad his birthday pint. I left him to finish it while I went in search of a cigarette machine. I smoked three Marlboro Lights in a row, sitting on the window sill outside, occasionally peering in to see if he was still alive.

Back in the car and pulling out of the car park, I smiled to myself, thinking that I was becoming faster at getting him into the front seat. Eight minutes twenty this time. Next time, God forbid there is one, I might get it down to sub seven. I should have perhaps given Grandad the opportunity to use the bathroom in the pub, but that would have meant helping him on and off and probably wiping his arse too. So I thought I’d leave that particular task to that smug bitch back at the nursing home to deal with. But I was now running the risk of him pissing all over my car’s front seat. It was a brand new Golf GTI that I had saved for two years to afford and I loved it more than I have ever loved anything or anyone. I put my foot down on the dual carriage-way. The clock was ticking.

“Can we pull in please?” It was the first time I’d heard his weak little voice all day. I nearly swerved off the road with shock.
“What?” I managed as I righted the car.
“I need to wee wee.”
“No Grandad, we’re nearly there.”
“I can’t hold it.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake.” But I knew I had no choice. My upholstery was at risk.

We pulled in at a fancy looking health spa. I wasn’t about to have him squat in a shrubbery by the side of the road with everyone driving by, laughing at me. This was the only place along this stretch of road, so we went in.

The lobby was beautiful, too beautiful for us. I felt guilty just being there amongst the lavish white marble walls and floors. Everything in the building screamed ‘You don’t belong here!’ I guess that’s the way they like it. The girl behind the reception desk was the human equivalent of the lobby, way too beautiful. She looked about nineteen with the palest white skin, big green eyes and jet black hair that curved sharply down the left side of her face. She raised her head away from the computer screen and glared at us. As I wheeled the old man up to the desk, she flicked her head backwards, tossing her hair over her shoulder revealing her small, but perfectly formed breasts. I considered whether this was a deliberate move on her part to unnerve me, but then realised I was now just staring at her chest as she waited for me to speak.

“Em, would it be alright if my Grandad used your bathroom?” I quickly blurted and made a big point about looking her in the eyes.
“I’m sorry. Our facilities are for members only.” She replied coldly and returned to her work. As I gripped the wheelchair handles and began to turn around, Grandad removed the cap from his head and smiled at the girl with an innocent and harmless charm.
“Please.” He said, in a tone of voice I had simply never heard him speak before. This one short, simple little word slithered out of his mouth like silk and drifted across the desk, enveloping the Ice Queen where she sat. She melted. Her ivory milk skin quickly tinted a bright crimson and her mouth gave in to an involuntary giggle. It really was something.
“Well… I guess, if you’re quick.” she wheezed and handed me a key. “Its through the double doors and second on the right.”

I was dumbfounded by the old man’s little victory as I pushed him carelessly through the double doors. I thought perhaps I could get him to use that witchcraft to get her number or something for me on the way out. It was while this thought was circling my head that he must have leapt out of the wheelchair, because before I knew it, Grandad was ten feet away from me, striding down the corridor like an Olympic walker towards the open elevator at the opposite end. All the vacancy and fragility had suddenly disappeared. His shoulder hunch was gone and he looked a foot taller as he skipped into the closing lift.

“Grandad!” was all I could manage as the metallic doors closed leaving me staring at the reflection of me and an empty wheelchair. He was gone.

The red electronic display showed that the lift was going down so I abandoned the wheelchair and vaulted through the door marked ‘stairs’. There was only one floor below and as I emerged from the stairwell I saw an empty elevator closing. The old man was nowhere to be seen. I jogged down the corridor that led away from the lift. How did he move so fast? As I passed the wooden doors to my right and to my left I saw, through the little windows, that they were all private little saunas. Through the steam I could see the figures of unattractive naked forty-somethings oozing with sweat and struggling to cope with the heat. ‘So this is how the fatter half live.’ I thought. As I turned the corner I saw Grandad. He was twenty feet away from me, standing in the open doorway of one of these saunas. He was meticulously putting on a pair of brown leather gloves, grinning at someone or something through the door. But it wasn’t his usual glazed-over smile. It was something much more sinister.

“Ian Travers?” he asked with a brisk, business-like courtesy.
“Yes. Who are you?” replied a tired middle-class voice from inside who seemed annoyed at being interrupted.
“Dennis Reynolds says ‘Hello‘.” sneered my Grandad as he reached into his jacket, pulled out a silver handgun and fired twice in quick succession. Then there was nothing. Not a sound. Everything had frozen when the gun was produced, my body included. I was three feet away when the shots were fired but I didn’t jump, I didn’t scream, I just stopped mid-stride and hung there, unable to breathe or function. After what seemed like a day or so, Grandad broke the silence.
“Here.” he tossed me the gun. “Make yourself useful.” And again, he strode away from me, around the corner and out of sight. This surely wasn’t my Grandad.

I caught up with the old man as he waited for the elevator. He removed his gloves with the same considered care and put them in his inside pocket.

“Grandad, what the fuck is going on?” I was breathing heavily now. This was partially due to the shock of what had just happened but almost completely due to my complete lack of fitness. Grandad had hardly broken a sweat. He slapped me hard across the face sending me backwards into the wall beside the elevator doors.
“Have some manners.” he barked. I had never seen this side of my Grandad. His confidence, anger and coherency had never been there before, since I had known him. I lay back against the wall with the gun still in my hands and tried to make sense of it all. The elevator bing-ed and the doors slid open. The old man froze stiff. I couldn’t see what confronted him in the elevator but it stopped him dead. He flicked his gaze momentarily to me as his eyes tried to communicate his thoughts. I took this to mean ’keep quiet’. Terrified, I obeyed. There was a deep, tense pause. Finally, the last thing I had expected, which was probably exactly what I should of expected, happened.
“Mr. Guiney… we meet again.” said the sweetest, most harmless sounding old woman. My Grandad breathed deeply and raised his hands in the air.
“Mrs. Dockeral… how nice to see you again.” The old man took a cautionary step backwards. I could hear a light footstep on the metal as she moved forward accordingly.
“Cut the shit Martin. This isn’t a social visit.” As she said this she moved out of the lift and into my line of vision. She looked as she sounded, very small and very old. She was barely five foot, dressed like Miss Marple and looked as though she must be in her nineties. But there she was, pointing a gun that was bigger than her head at my Grandad. She hadn’t seen me though, yet.
“You‘ll always be number two Thomasina.” he taunted.
“Not anymore.” She grinned that same grin I had just seen on the old man’s face minutes earlier and raised her gun to my Grandad‘s head level. That deep pause again.
“Now Adam!” screamed Grandad and looked over to me expectantly. Now… what? There was no plan in place, was there? The old woman turned to me in shock and was now pointing her barrel at me. I froze again, just like before and braced myself for the shot. This was all the time he needed, as before I had known what was happening, Grandad had leapt across the few feet between him and the woman, sent her gun flying into the corner with some elaborate martial arts move and gripped her tightly, pinning her arms behind her back. All I could feel, see or hear then was confusion. She was screaming and spitting and barking and growling, struggling to release herself. He was shouting and wincing and pleading and wheezing, trying to hold on to this ridiculously strong geriatric.

“Hit her!” he called.
“Punch her! Knock her out!”
“I can’t she’s… really old.”
“She’s an assassin Adam! I can’t hold her much longer. Knock her out or she’ll kill us both!”
“Do it for fuck‘s sake!”

I looked down at the ground. She was lying there, not moving, but with blood pouring from her shattered nose. I had summoned up all my strength, swung back my right arm and punched her full on in the face. This was the first time I had ever punched anyone in my entire life and it was a ninety-year old woman who was having her arms held behind her back. I knelt down and pressed two fingers against her throat. No pulse. She was dead. Numbly I rose to my feet. Bing, the elevator rose away from me. My Grandad was gone. Soon to be replaced by the sound of approaching sirens. How was I going to explain this?

…Not Also, But Only.


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