by Ted Lietz
Older cousins reported that Grandpa Wil had visited them at the stroke of midnight on their twenty-first birthdays.
But in my case, he showed up more than a dozen hours late, sitting on the edge of my unmade dorm room bed. He died before I was born, but this definitely was the man I’d seen in family pictures. Cheap suit, the jacket of which was unbuttoned. A half-dozen pens in a shirt pocket. Worry lines deep as the Grand Canyon.
“I was expecting you earlier."
He curled the side of his mouth in a way I’d also seen in photos. “At midnight, you still were in a bar. Then you and your girlfriend were—Well, it didn’t seem like the right time. But now she’s gone and you seem to have slept it off. Plus it’s 1:13 p.m. 1313 in military time. So there’s that. Just by the by, a lot of things aren’t going to happen the way you expect.”
I took that as an opening, and asked about my future.
“I have to be real vague or I’ll get in trouble,” Grandpa said. “You’re not going to be president, or anything like that. You’ll miss out on a lot by focusing too much on what’s coming up and not enough on what’s happening in the moment. Right now, for instance. You’re talking to your dead grandfather. Do you ask how I’ve been? Do you want to know about the Afterlife? No, you want to know what’s coming up for you, personally.”
“Sorry, Grandpa. How are you?”
“Twenty-three years in Purgatory, and another five hundred seventy-seven to go. That probably says all you need to know.”
“Purgatory—is it like what Dante describes?”
Grandpa Wil laughed. “You read too much. Nobody told Dante about Purgatory. And he sure as Hell never visited there. Dante made up all that stuff. For which he’ll still be serving time long after my sentence is up.
“But you asked what Purgatory’s like? I used to love the movies, you know? For me, Purgatory turned out to be watching black-and-white films of every regrettable experience I ever had. That was at first.”
“And after that?”
He spit. “After that, I had to visit my grandchildren.”
“Grandpa…my dad and me. We never seem to click, you know? I remember as a kid, I couldn’t get away from him. He’d always want to play with me—toy soldiers, baseball, whatever. Even now, when I’m home from school, he wants to help me study. Once I overheard him tell my mother that you never spent much time with him. That he wasn’t going to make that mistake with me.”
Grandpa Wil closed his eyes for a long second and then opened them. “After I died, there was this one film. Grainy. Black-and-white. Your father’s a little kid, maybe four feet tall. He asks me to play with him. I tell him to go find one of his brothers or sisters or a friend. Then a close-up. The look on your old man’s pudgy little face. I had to watch that over and over.
“I was stuck in a meaningless office job with clueless bosses. Pushing papers around all day. Every day. By the time I got home, all I wanted to do was eat dinner and go to bed. So no, I didn’t spend much time with your dad.
“But even then, I knew I should’ve tried.”
“Will I have kids, Grandpa?”
“Back to you, huh?” He raised his eyes to the ceiling. “Can I tell him?”
Turning back to me he said, “You’ll be a father. I’d better not say much more than that.”
“Will I make the same mistakes as you or my dad?”
“No. It turns out you’re a pretty creative guy. Your sins will be original.”
I was going to ask about those sins, ask if I’d end up in Purgatory. Or maybe even a worse place.
But Grandpa Wil had vanished.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.© Ted Lietz 2021. All rights reserved