Grandpere’s words (A short story)
Word Count: 2011
Lauren sat there before the day awoke. She held the cup of coffee close to her cheek. The warmth was comforting. It was those little moments that added to her life. It was her mom who taught her to appreciate the small things in life. They were the little pieces of a glorius jigsaw puzzle!
But on that morning, her spirit was disturbed. It was her son, Jack. He had lost his joy.
She was losing grip of her son. She didn’t know how to reach him. He was in a slum. She wanted to get him out.
And Jack himself; he too was losing grip of his own life. He spent hours in his room. Only coming down for meals. He would eat in silence or with only one-worded answers:
“How was school day?” she would ask.
“Are you enjoying the omelette? Ham and cheese is your favourite.”
Then they would fall back into silence. She hated seeing her son like this. He never went outside anymore. His screen time was escalating! She sat there trying to imagine his world. At 15, he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. But was all that weight necessary?
Jack would hover from one profile to another on Instagram – seeing “how amazing” people’s lives where. He was comparing his life. He wondered why selfies of him would not get as many likes as his classmates. What’s wrong with me?
The social pressure of being popular was swallowing him whole. He was drowning.
They key rattled in the lock. They could hear the door swing open. He was home.
Paul came into the kitchen. He was full of life. He was beaming! (Even after six hours of travel.)
“They accepted my proposal,” he announced.
“That’s wonderful, honey!” Lauren replied, half-heartedly. Jack just stared at his plate.
Paul could feel the despondency of the room. But he refused to succumb to it. And with that look from Lauren; he knew what had to be done.
“Right! In an hour, we’re heading off to see Grandpere. Road trip! Each of you, go pack your bags!” He declared.
Jack looked up. “It’s Thursday, what about school?”
“I’m sure you won’t mind missing two days,” Paul replied, winking at his son. “Now, go pack.”
Lauren smiled at her husband. He was full of good ideas. What is his plan this time?
As if he could read her thoughts, he told her how he believed a trip to the countryside would help. And that his dad would know what to do with their son.
She got up and hugged Paul. “You must be exhausted!”
“I am; but this is important.” He smiled at her, then dialled his dad’s number:
“Comment allez-vous?” he asked.
“Bien merci,” his dad replied.
He went on to explain the purpose of their visit. Jack’s Grandpere (grandfather in French) was excited to see them. It had been six weeks since their previous visit.
Bags packed. Buckled in. They were ready to head off. Paul prayed for travelling mercies.
Lauren squeezed his hand. They were desperate for a miracle. Jack held his phone.
That thing he held onto so tightly would be the death of him; if he didn’t let it go, soon…
After an hour of driving, Paul had an idea.
He would pull over at the next picnic stop. (He had done that route once or twice before, so had an idea of what the next stop would be like.)
As he turned off, he could see the enquiring look from Lauren.
“Let’s take a family photo.” He suggested. “Please can we use your phone for that?” Paul asked Jack.
What is Paul up to? He’s encouraging our son to use his phone.
“Where are we, anyway?” Jack asked, trying to add some nonchalance to his question.
Paul smiled at his son. He was glad that he had noticed the change of route.
“Good observation! We’re not going to Grandpere’s!”
Jack and his mom looked at Paul quizzically and before their questions came out, he continued: “We are seeing Grandpere. But he and I decided on another venue for the weekend. We’re going to Fantasy Lodge.”
“Where’s that?” Jack’s mom asked.
“Wait and see! Now, let’s do this photo.”
They had pulled over at one of those ‘half-moon’ concrete slabbed stops. There was a knee-high wall that wrapped the circumference of that open space. The wall was one of those – made of concrete and medium sized rocks. Over to left, where two concrete picnic tables, and on the right, there was another one.
That stop was intentional. (Although Paul didn’t realise it at the time, either.)
As Paul and Lauren stood ready for the photo, he noticed how his son sprung up on the wall and peered into the gorge.
He was drinking in the view as if were a full glass of fresh orange juice!
To the right of where they had stopped the gorge went upwards, filled in by lush green trees. A forest so thick that the sunshine battled to break through.
To the left, the gorge opened with a river running down into the open landscape below.
Across the gorge on the east side, there was a bush, half way up covered in ruby red foliage.
There was an inviting silence that seemed to hover over that gorge. And yet, one could hear the water running through it. A non-disturbing noise.
“Ready? Cheese?” Jack asked as he positioned himself just in front of his parents.
After three or four silly photos, Jack considered the valley one last time.
“Okay, all aboard,” Paul asked as he headed back towards the car. “We have about an hour left.”
After driving up some old mountain passes and across vast fields, the mood in the vehicle seemed lighter.
Grandpere was sitting on the porch when they arrived. He was engrossed in a novel.
“You’ve made yourself at home, I see.”
“This is not the place,” he winked, “this is the reception.” Paul greeted his dad the customary French way. A kiss on each cheek.
Grandpere instructed them to park the vehicle to the right of the building, take their things and jump in the bakkie that he had park on the left. (It was one of those old school Ford Cortina bakkies with 4×4 wheels.)
“We’re going about two kilometres down the road.”
All three of them did as they were instructed.
“Hello Jack, good to see you. Cava?”
Jack didn’t look up. “Fine, thanks.” (Lauren smiled. A two worded answer this time.)
“Come greet me properly, please.” After the two kisses, Grandpere pulled in Jack and gave him a bear hug.
Grandpere just chuckled and playfully punched his grandson on the shoulder as guys do.
Two kilometres down the dirt road they had arrived.
With his arms raised up as if he were making a loud declaration, Grandpere beaming spoke: “Welcome to Fantasy Lodge. You’re going to have fantasy…. fantastic… fantasy lodge… see what I did there, time?”
They all smiled. His enthusiasm was contagious and inviting! And totally understood… when they saw where they were staying…
“Wow, that is amazing!!” It was Jack who spoke first.
Standing before them, was a three-storey tree house, on stilts. Behind it was a sea of trees. They had arrived at a massive lush forest. For as far as the eye could see they were surrounded by these welcoming green giants, with the occasional tree house sprouting up between them.
“There are ten tree houses, altogether.” Paul spoke, “I read that on their site.”
“Shot gun the top floor.” Jack exclaimed.
He even helped with his mom and Grandpere’s bags.
Lauren smiled at this obvious change in her son.
The treehouse as fully kitted. It was magical! From bedrooms on each floor to a living room, to a jacuzzi, to a viewing deck on the roof of the structure. All the furniture and décor made with wood.
That afternoon, Grandpere took them for a looped walk around the forest. He was acting like a big kid. And one couldn’t help but follow his lead…
At one point, Grandpere, with the help of Lauren insisted that his son and Jack needed to be covered in leaves. That afternoon they hugged trees. They threw pine cones.
It was like they were living in a fantasy. But it was all so real. And all so wonderful!
Near their treehouse, Grandpere pointed to a spot. Four trees had made a natural square. Each tree stood on the corner as if they were the posts of a boxing ring.
Grandpere got them each sitting at the base of the tree, back against it, legs stretched out before them. Then he pulled out those 340ml glass Coke bottles.
They just sat there drinking. No words exchanged. Just them soaking in the moment. Paul could see contentment in his son’s demeanour.
That night, Lauren sat snug in bed reading her book. The gents were at the fireplace.
“Jack, grab your sleeping bag and a pillow. We’re going right to the top.” Grandpere invited.
Jack beamed back. “Cool!”
They climbed the little stairwell next to Jack’s room on the top floor. From there up a ladder to the rooftop of the treehouse.
Paul knew his dad and son needed that time together. And he wasn’t tired yet, so he continued stoking the fire and watching the flames whilst sipping on some Merlot.
Grandpere and Jack climbed through a trapdoor onto the roof above. The cool air of the autumn night greeted them. It was a little chilly. Then Jack looked up and gasped!
The sky was filled with thousands and thousands of stars. No city lights to taint the natural night time sky. A black canvas with pin pricks in it – and golden yellow light piercing through.
They climbed into their sleeping bags and just lay there. Grandpere and Jack side by side. In silence for about half an hour, they watched the stars. The stars obliged and sent three or four shooting stars overhead. In the corner of his eye, Grandpere could see his grandson smiling.
“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Grandpere quoted a Psalm from the ancient scriptures.
Jack thought about that. Seeing all these shimmering and shooting stars, one couldn’t help but respond in awe and gratitude! Such magical beauty deserved that to say the least!
After another half hour of silence, his Grandpere spoke again: “In a world full of stories, you can only live out yours.”
Jack felt something inside of him. Like his heart was jumping up and down in agreement with that statement. “yes, yes!” it seemed to whisper.
Grandpere then sat up, squeezed his grandson’s hand. Smiled at Jack. Jack returned with a smile. Then Grandpere got up and headed back towards the trapdoor.
As he placed his feet on the first rung of the ladder, he looked across to Jack lying there:
“No one is better than you.”
And then Grandpere disappeared through the trapdoor. Jack left alone up there with those six words and the stars and a change of heart. There was nothing arrogant about that statement. The words just seemed to gently fall into Jack’s spirit.
He felt happy! He felt alive! And somehow, he knew those were not just fleeting feelings.
Jack wrestled with his thoughts. (A long drive, grandpere’s words and the sermons of nature.)
He knew he had to spend less time on his phone. It was killing him. And just a waste of time. He knew too that comparison was the thief of joy.
And out there on the roof top, he heard the unspoken invite of the stars above…
“Go live! There is a lot more to explore.”
Jack felt blissful! The stars shimmered with excitement. Jack’s eyes grew heavy as the tiredness from the long day finally caught up with him. Jack fell asleep.
In about four hours, a new day would dawn. And a new boy would arise.