New story for school. Inspiration: Some people I overheard in a Denny's. I stupidly put it off until about two hours before it is due so it is far from my best work but ehhhh.
She had heard about her grandfather's illness a week earlier. Her mother had called, thrown it in at the end of her weekly conversational attack. Tracy endured the call while she painted her nails a light pink. “Oh, by the way, your father's father is dying.”
Tracy nearly missed it. “Wait. What?”
“Your grandfather. He's dying. The doctors say no more than two weeks.”
“But I haven't even met him!”
“...honey, the cancer doesn't know that.”
Tracy sighed. “Thanks for telling me, Mom.”
“Are you going to go meet him?” her mother asked, tentatively.
“He's in St. John's hospital in St. Louis. Call me when you get there.”
Tracy spent the flight to St. Louis imagining what her grandfather would be like. She pictured an age-rounded version of her father, who had died shortly after she had been born. She had only ever seen pictures of him. She thought about her father and her grandfather as she took a taxi to the hotel she was staying, a Best Western. She settled into her room, looked in all the drawers of her temporary furniture, and called her mother.
“I'm in St. Louis now, mom.”
“Good. Are you going to see Bill tomorrow?”
“Yes! I can't wait! Why didn't I ever meet him when I was young?”
“When your father died it was just...too hard to talk to his parents. They never asked to see you, either, so I assumed they didn't want the reminder, either.”
Tracy paced the room as she listened, walking from the door to her room to the door of the bathroom and back again.
“What's he like?” Tracy asked.
“I don't know what to tell you, dear. I only ever met them once, and that was twenty-five years ago. Besides, you'll find out soon enough.”
“Is he sweet? I bet he tells funny stories. Did he fight in any of the wars? Is he old enough for that? Or maybe too old–“
“I hardly know him myself, Tracy. Just wait and see. And do try not to get your hopes up, okay?”
Tracy looked out across the dark parking lot of the hotel from her one window. “Yes, mother. Good night.”
“Good night, honey.”
Tracy flipped her phone shut and started to get ready for bed. As she brushed her teeth, she studied herself in the mirror and tried to determine which of her features had come from her mother, tried to build an image of someone two generations removed from her. The picture in her mind was incomplete, like a memory with no context, nothing to hang it on and force it to stick. She turned off the lights, got into bed. Sleep came slowly, the fatigue of her travels creeping slowly into her until she fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
Tracy stood in the hallway of her grandfather's hospital room. The door was open; she stood staring at the wall six feet removed from the doorway. She took a deep breath and walked up to the doorway, looked into the room. The man lying in bed had a newspaper opened in front of him, covering him completely. She took a step in and cleared her throat. He lowered the newspaper, and looked her up and down. He smiled, and winked at her.
“You've definitely got the wrong room, cutie. Or maybe I've got the right one,” he said.
“Are..are you Bill?” Tracy asked.
“I was wrong, you do have the right room.”
“I'm Tracy, Frank's daughter.”
He frowned slightly. “And here I was thinking I'd get one last twirl. You may as well sit down then.”
She sat in a chair facing his bed and looked at Bill. He was thin, almost to the point of emaciation, with a shock of white hair that stood high on the back of his head, and a burgeoning forest of stubble on his face.
“So, you're Frank's kid. You're how old now? Twenty-six?”
“And what do you do for a living?”
“I'm a dental hygienist.”
He nodded, then cocked his mouth to one side and looked up at the ceiling. “Well, I'm tapped out. Anything you want to know?”
Tracy thought. She had so many questions, she was paralyzed by opportunity. She looked at Bill, spread her hands and bit her lip. He laughed.
“Alright. I was a fisherman. Retired thirty years ago.”
“Did you have a boat? What was it called?”
“Yep. Thought about calling it the Wet Dream for a bit. Settled on Horizon. Still thought of it as the Wet Dream, though...”
Tracy listened to him for hours. She learned all she could about this man, listened as he told her about storming a beach in the south Pacific in a bulldozer, knocking down a Japanese pillbox and driving on top of it. There were snakes so big that men who picked up live grenades and threw them back would freeze at the sight of them. He told her about returning home, marrying her grandmother, having a litter of kids. He told her about the life of a fisherman, living from one catch to the next, the friends he'd made and buried. Frank's death was something he skipped over entirely.
Tracy walked out of the hotel and called a taxi for a ride back to the hotel. As she stood waiting on the curb, she was struck by a memory that had lain dormant for years, waiting for just the right moment. She was small, held in her mother's arms, and there was Bill. He smiled at her, and winked.