“Morons,” he murmured.
“OK, paper time,” Toby said and reached for the paper.
“You want some tea?” the old man got up and headed for the kitchen.
When his cup of tea was finished, Toby reached for the paper again. He begun
silently flipping through pages, his grandfather Geoffrey watching, slowly sucking his own tea.
“Barbara and John are coming for the weekend.”
“Yes. John wants you to pick them up at the station.”
Toby picked John and Barbara as arranged and they all had a beer at Johnʼs favorite pub downtown. Their local ale was probably the only reason he was still visiting his grandfather. He was never reluctant, however, to bring up the issue.
“So, howʼs the old man?”
“No news in the house,” Toby sipped his lager and took a long while before answering that question.
“How much time do you spend with him?” Barbara asked.
“Well, most of it. Iʼm there after school, usually all afternoon”
“You donʼt have to study?” Johnʼs interrogation made Toby uncomfortable. Like John didnʼt know the answers. Like he wasnʼt supposed to help Toby instead of running away and then coming back scarcely and playing surprised.
Barbara was with her brother on that one. “So you have no social life?”
“Heʼs my social life.”
“You canʼt be serious!” John almost yelled.
“Well, I am. Perhaps you should consider spending more time with him. Heʼs your grandfather just as heʼs mine.”
“I hardly have the time for myself, so cut this messiah bullshit....”
Toby knew this was going nowhere, so he glanced at his watch: “weʼd better go.”
Approaching that house provoked strong emotions in all of them. Regardless - or maybe because - of how they dealt with the old man, they all felt a strange mix of nostalgia and anticipation. Over all those years, each one of them had developed a way to deal with
it and you would have to know them very well and watch closely to tell how they were feeling when they found themselves walking through that garden towards the house.
Geoffrey was sitting by a window, reading paper. After the obligatory ʻhey grandpa, howʼs it going?ʼ conversation, he started talking about the upcoming elections. He flipped through the paper.
“Can you believe that…..freaking socialists… The worst part is that the others keep joining them.”
“They donʼt have a choice, grandpa,” John could never resist a political debate. That startled Geoffrey, who immediately responded in a passionate manner and they went on for a painfully long time. Geoffrey was against anything even remotely leftist and John -
who wouldʼve agreed with him on lot of those issues - kept bringing contra-arguments just to oppose him. Geoffreyʼs opinions were strong, and their conversation had reached a point where Johnʼs confidence begun fading. At that point John asked Toby what his opinion was.
“I agree with grandpa. They should stick with their principles. This is a democracy and weʼve voted for them because of the ideas theyʼve presented us with. Side-shifting is unacceptable.”
John was enraged by Tobyʼs answer. “But if they donʼt shift sides, they lose the little power they have. With-”
“Credibility is what you lose, my--”
“Hey, letʼs talk about something else.” Barbara didnʼt let Geoffrey finish the sentence.
“Yeah, like what?” asked the old man in a disparaging voice.
“Have you recently read a book?” said Barbara, hoping for the best.
“The one he” Geoffrey said pointing at John, “got me for Christmas.”
“Really? How did you like it?” ever since he read it - and it was long before Christmas-, John was looking forward to this conversation.
“The authorʼs an arrogant little prick,” was about the answer John was hoping to get, and this time, the old man did him a favor.
“He still makes some pretty interesting points, doesnʼt he?” John just wanted to get into an argument that day.
Geoffrey murmured that the only good point about that book is that you can burn it.
Hearing this idea made Barbara loose her well-trained how-to-treat-grandpa manner.
“You didnʼt do that?” she shrieked.
“No, Iʼm saving it for the burning festival,” he was apparently proud of that idea.
With Barbara incapable, Toby resumed the chief-of-diplomacy post and he got them all playing cards before he even realized how lucky he was. The only problem was pairing up, since thatʼs how bridge is played. Geoffrey started playing with Toby and they were good, which seemed to cheer Geoffrey up a bit. On the other hand, it worked particularly badly for John and Barbara, for whom - as for any other siblings - it was easy to get into a fight.
Soon, with John and Barbara blaming each other and Geoffrey vilifying them both, Toby had to calm the three of them. Barbara and John werenʼt enjoying it either and went to bed early, blaming it on travel-enforced weariness. Geoffrey felt playing a game easy enough to be played by two people would be beneath him and went back to his paper. The rest of that evening was a routine for Toby - he did his schoolwork while the old man read the paper, listened to his mutter and mumbled irresolute answers.
Toby got to bed quite early that evening but it took him a long time to fall asleep. It was about 3 AM when the phone woke him up. It was Barbara, she was sobbing, her voice quiet and shaking. She told him to come over to Geoffreyʼs house. Toby had a bad feeling since the phone rang for the first time. His mind was working out rational explanations that excluded anybody getting hurt. The well-known way now seemed endless to Toby who rushed to learn the truth, since none of his theories made sense but he didnʼt want to admit that a bad thing might have happened.
When he arrived, he found them in Geoffreyʼs bedroom. John was staring out the window and Barbara was sitting by his bed, holding his hand, she had tears in her eyes and some have already been dried on her face. “Heʼs dead,” she whispered.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Tobyʼs grief, didnʼt fully emerge until the autopsy report confirmed natural death. He became obsessed with the house - he spent more time in there than when Geoffrey was alive. First few days, he wasnʼt able to do anything. He dawdled from one room to another bursting into tears randomly and often.
Sometime after the funeral, he stared going through Geoffreyʼs stuff - especially newspaper articles, books and recorded TV programs. Most of these things were political and had Geoffreyʼs notes scribbled on them. Toby read it all and it got him thinking. He signed up with the library and borrowed books by authors of different political views. He grew sympathetic to the idea of solidarity within society - a rather leftist idea, despised by his grandfather, the war veteran and a loyal republican. After profound consideration, he had concluded that he was okay with it as he came to realize he has every right to his own view.
During one of his afternoons with Geoffrey, theyʼve read somewhere that the progenitor has to die in order for the descendant to flourish. Toby disagreed, but if there was anybody close to him at the time around Geoffreyʼs dead, he might as well tell you something else.