The children who wouldn`t see
by Frank Roger
"I'll go and
fix breakfast for both of us," George said, his voice reduced to a
raucous whisper, just like any other morning. It took him
considerable effort to clamber out of bed, and to make his limbs
move without too much protest. He washed his face, put on his
bathrobe (dressing would be for later) and shuffled toward the
he peered out the kitchen window. Making out details was scarcely
possible without his glasses (now where could he have left them?),
but it appeared to be overcast, and the wet sheen that seemed to
cover everything probably meant there was a drizzle. Vague shapes
were passing through the grayish haze, no doubt people walking
briskly past and cars driving by.
vague memory surfaced in his consciousness, and he focused his
attention on it until its meaning came back to him. Oh yes, of
course. They would have visitors today. His son, his
daughter-in-law, and their two kids would drop by this afternoon. He
would have to remind Laura of their visit when she came to have
breakfast, just in case she had forgotten about it.
minutes later the smell of fresh coffee, eggs and bacon, sizzling
and sputtering in the pan, and sliced bread being toasted filled the
kitchen. "Do you remember who's coming today, darling?" he asked.
"Richard and Susan, and their two little kids. It'll be wonderful to
see them again. How long has it been? A week? More than a week? No,
probably just a week or so. I don't quite recall... do you,
about his grandchildren brought a sour taste to his mouth, and he
pushed his plate away, his breakfast only half finished. Much as he
liked to see his son and his family, there was something about the
children that bothered him, and on a very deep level. For reasons he
would never be able to fathom they didn't treat Laura as a
grandmother deserved to be treated. Although the children were
always quickly rebuked by their parents, George often had the
distinct feeling they chose to ignore poor old Laura. He failed to
grasp the reason for this sign of disrespect. Shouldn't grandmother
get back as much love as she gave herself?
"I can see
you're not very hungry either," George said, noticing Laura's plate,
empty and clean as if hardly touched. "Well, I suppose I'd better
clear the table then."
he felt somewhat tired, although the effort hadn't been all that
taxing. Old arms, old legs; lately even the simplest of activities
tended to wear him out. "Why don't we sit down and watch some TV?"
he told Laura. "Who knows, maybe there'll be something interesting
for a change."
to the living room, collapsed into the couch, reached for the remote
control on the table next to him and found his glasses. So that's
where they were, he thought. He put the glasses on, grabbed the
remote control and switched on the TV.
he said. "I don't quite feel like watching some news program, do
you, darling? Most of the news is so depressing these days, don't
you think? I'd rather have something that makes us feel better, some
good old-fashioned sitcom. Or a game. What about a quiz, darling?
I'm not sure I'll find what we're looking for at this early hour,
though. I'm afraid TV just isn't what it used to be. But let me try
a few more channels."
glasses his vision got blurry, and he had difficulties focusing his
eyes on the screen. The TV programme didn't make sense to him, until
it dawned on him that he had only been watching snippets of various
programmes, as he had been drifting into and back out of sleep all
darling, I'll switch off the damn thing, if you don't mind," he
finally said. "I feel like taking a little nap." The room around him
faded into grayness. His journey through the twilight zone between
sleep and waking was peopled with vague memories of events and faces
too dim to really recognise, a merry-go-round in slow motion that
presented a kaleidoscopic overview of his life, an unending string
of hazy images and blurred snapshots that had to be related in a way
he somehow failed to determine. The journey across this territory
shrouded in the mists of old age and obscured by the dusk of
approaching oblivion seemed to stretch into infinity. When he
finally emerged from it, he felt hungry and prepared a quick lunch
for Laura and himself, still a bit dazed, but clear-headed enough to
realise what he was doing.
"I can see
you're not too hungry," he told Laura. "Never mind. Didn't the
doctor say old people like us don't need all that much food? No need
to worry. Better to eat when your appetite is back."
he cast a glance through the window, this time with his glasses on.
It was a dreary, drizzly day indeed. The sort of day they would
prefer to spend indoors, watching TV and having some conversation
and basically taking it easy. Who in his right mind would feel
tempted to leave his warm and cosy house and venture outside for a
walk, and run the risk of catching a cold - not to mention the more
ominous dangers lurking on the streets in this modern age.
here any minute now," he told Laura. "Good old Richard and his
family. Always a pleasure to welcome them. In the meantime we'd
better take a rest. It'll be lively enough with the children around.
Remember how exhausted we were last time they came over? It took us
some time to recover. We skipped dinner and went to bead early."
He sank back
into his comfy chair, and allowed the mists to invade his mind
again. He was about to re-enter the twilight zone where he spent so
much of his time lately, when the ringing of the bell brought him
back to reality.
Susan!" Greetings and kisses were exchanged. Human warmth quickly
filled the room, a warmth that spread all through his body, exerting
an invigorating effect on his heart and soul. The smiling faces, the
twinkling eyes, the kind words. And, of course, the highly pitched
voices of the children, restlessly scurrying about, all buoyant
energy and unbridled vivacity. But barely had the first wave of
gentle warmth washed over him and rekindled the fires of
grandfatherly love smouldering within him, or a darker presence cast
its shadow over the scene, dispelling the charm and the positive
feelings that had arisen.
had happened the previous times. For reasons that were totally
beyond him, Laura did not get the attention she deserved. He tried
to remedy the situation, but knew that he would probably fail, as he
had failed on all the previous occasions. "Why don't you tell
grandma how you're doing at school?" he asked the children, making
sure his voice wasn't edged with the cold despair that was taking
possession of him. "I'm sure she's anxious to know how you're
doing." He forced his lips into a smile, clasped his hands together
until his knuckles went white.
turned their heads toward their parents, a forlorn expression on
their faces, as if looking for advice on how to deal with the
situation. What was wrong with them? Was a little kindness towards
their grandmother really too much to ask?
Richard said, gently placing a hand on his shoulder. A worried frown
creased his forehead. He licked his lips, as if he had to say
something but wanted to gain time. "I was going to bring this up
later this afternoon, but..." Richard felt clearly uncomfortable
with the whole situation.
Richard, you know you can tell me anything. Let me hear what bothers
"Susan and I
have been thinking, dad. We were wondering if you shouldn't
consider... er, how can I put it..." An uneasy silence began to
build up. George had no idea what his son was driving at. The
silence didn't last long, however : it was ruptured by one of the
children, the youngest one, Christopher (his name was Christopher,
wasn't it? he had trouble recalling names at times), and the rupture
was a harsh and painful one.
why do you stay here all alone? Why can't you see that-" Susan was
quick to make her son swallow the rest of his question, but it was
too late. George felt as if he had suddenly turned to ice. His body
temperature had dropped to zero; his blood had curdled in his veins;
his brain was numbed, his thoughts brought to a virtual standstill.
What did the boy say? Why was he staying here alone? Alone? Not
giving grandma the attention she deserved was one thing, but
pretending she wasn't there was really going too far. How on earth
had the thought entered the boy's mind? And where had he found the
courage to utter such bold nonsense, knowing very well how upset his
grandfather would be. Not to mention his grandmother, who had heard
these vile words. The boy really deserved some severe punishment,
that much was for sure.
ice inside him began to thaw. Feeling returned to his body; his
blood stirred back into motion; thoughts resurfaced in his mind,
slowly, and at first creakingly taking on the shape of rational
thinking, unfolding and crystallising into a fitting reaction to
what had been said, a reaction everyone present was clearly waiting
quite well here," he finally managed to say, his voice still broken
with the pain and the cold. "We need each other more than ever, of
course, but we haven't reached the stage where a nursing home is to
be considered. Maybe the day one of us is no longer here it might
all be different, but for now..."
"So as long
as grandma is still around..." Richard said.
"As long as
good old Laura is around there's no reason to worry," he confirmed.
"We help each other a lot. That's true. But I'm sure you'll agree
that's a good thing."
one of the children began, but Susan quickly put her hand before his
mouth, keeping inside whatever it was the boy had wanted to say.
Perhaps, he thought, shuddering at the very idea, some more utterly
dreadful remarks? What possessed these children?
The rest of
the afternoon was excruciatingly painful. Richard and Susan did
their best to talk about a whole array of subjects chosen for their
neutrality, and of no interest whatsoever to him or Laura. The
children had been given something to read, and were grudgingly doing
so, not saying anything and probably realising they had said too
much already. George tried to hide his discomfort and his
unhappiness, but he was fairly sure it showed clearly enough. Would
this terrible afternoon drag on forever? Was there any point in
prolonging this torture of heart and soul?
relieved as Richard suddenly came up with an excuse for them to go,
an excuse he was happy to accept. Even though, deep down, he still
loved his relatives, even the children, however harshly they had
been towards poor old Laura.
She had been
unusually silent since the incident. Almost as if she (God forbid)
really wasn't present...
bone-chilling moment he had felt alone, had felt himself engulfed by
stark loneliness. It had been as if Christopher had cast an evil
spell instead of merely making an unpleasant remark, as if a
terrifying prophecy had come true... He'd had the feeling that Laura
had disappeared, he had glimpsed a reality in which she was no
longer around, in which he was alone here in this big, empty house,
clinging to the memory of his deceased wife in a desperate effort to
keep himself from losing his mind.
poor Christopher, would never know what anxiety his carelessly
spoken words had caused his grandfather.
grandmother herself as well, of course. One moment there it had
slipped his mind what grandmother must have gone through. He
shuddered at the very thought. Better not to pursue this line of
his peace of mind was restored. He retreated in his comfy chair, and
allowed cold reality to recede into the background. Mist came
rolling back, and invaded his mind, enveloping him in a warm blanket
that proved beneficial to his battered soul.
And then he
retreated even further, back into the familiar territory the
twilight zone had become, where Laura and many other memories from
his past were really still lingering, where nobody shattered his
happiness with harsh, uncaring remarks, where he could still find
peace and tranquillity. The mist swirled around him in ever thicker
layers, obscuring everything he wished not to see. He really ought
to spend more time here...