3CP Fiction: The Park by Regina Glei
The Park by Regina Glei
Only Grandpa’s empty shell sat in his armchair, watching TV, not his soul. He had changed since Grandma’s death. He had died with her.
Judy increasingly feared that something destructive was going inside Grandpa’s mortal remains. The rest of her family–Mom and Dad, brother and sister–didn’t care. Judy felt ashamed of them. They weren’t even hiding that they were pleased that Grandfather was “out of the way”, “keeping quiet”, and “not bothering anyone”. Those were the expressions that Mom used. They didn’t care that he was still alive and doing nothing but sitting in front of the TV.
During the first year after Grandma’s death, he had still come to the dinner table. Now Mom was bringing his dinner to him in his room. In the previous two years, he had still zapped through the channels. Now he wasn’t even doing that anymore. All he was watching now was a silly variety channel that broadcast nothing but insanely dumb game shows. Grandpa was just sitting there, staring, day in, day out, empty and hollow-eyed. Sometimes he went to bed, sometimes he seemed to forget even that and remained sitting in front of the TV all night. He hardly ate the food Mom brought him and was losing weight. Sometimes he also forgot to go to the bathroom. Ever more often, Judy heard Mom scolding him when she found that he had wet his pants.
Judy could only think of two possible outcomes of Grandpa’s vegetating. Either he’d simply die one day sitting in his armchair, or–and this was what she feared–he’d suddenly snap and go berserk in some way. He would attack Mom while she brought him food, or come into the kitchen with Judy’s brother’s baseball bat, or set the house on fire during the night…there were plenty of possibilities.
Judy passed Grandpa’s room, throwing a glance at him through the always-open door. Grandpa’s frail figure sat in his chair, lifeless, motionless, and thin. The old man’s clothes had become too big for him, covering only skin and bone. His skin was grayish, blotchy with age spots, and as dry as parchment. His face was a mass of deep furrows, his gray-white and sparse hair hung unkempt around his scalp and his eyes–they were the worst. His eyes were dead. His watery blue eyes had lost the sparkle and the wit that Judy remembered. Ten years ago, he had sometimes picked her up from kindergarten. She had been proud that her Grandpa picked her up and let her play in the playground and bought her ice cream on the way home. He had been the ideal Grandpa, allowing her everything Mom and Dad were denying her, with a mellow and kind smile.
But then, Grandma had died. He had been sitting in his armchair for five years now. Judy had given up trying to make him play with her by the time she had turned eleven. Now she was fourteen and she was the only one in the household who still gave a damn about Grandpa.
She wondered if there was anything going on behind those watery blue eyes. She couldn’t stand it and entered his room that smelled of old man and piss and death. She looked in horror at his pants. There was a large, dark stain around his middle.
“Grandpa? How are you doing?” she asked. The old man didn’t react; he didn’t even look at her.
“Grandpa, you’ve wet yourself…when Mom finds out, she’ll be angry again.”
She took him gently by the arm. How thin he was! She was afraid she would break his arm if she put too much pressure into her grip.
“Grandpa, come, let me bring you to the bathroom.”
She pulled carefully and he finally looked at her, with a hint of a question in his eyes.
“You’ve wet yourself, Grandpa, you should take a bath.”
He looked down at himself and his raspy breath got a bit heavier.
He allowed her to help him up and shuffled, leaning heavily onto her arm, towards the door of his room. She was shocked at how small he was. When he had picked her up from kindergarten, he had been so big. Now he was just as tall as her, his back hunched over, his bones crooked.
“You know what, Grandpa? I’m going to my table tennis club now, but tomorrow is Saturday and I’m going to take you to the park and you’ll be able to sit in the sun for a while. It’s spring and the weather is great and the forecast says it’s going to stay fine over the weekend. How would you like that?”
He threw a glance at her sideways, confused, hunted, and afraid.
“Park?” he muttered. His voice was hoarse from lack of use and old, so terribly old.
“Yes, the park. You can’t sit in front of the TV all day long.”
“Do they have a TV in the park?” he asked.
“Um, no…but you can watch the kids playing. That’s much better than TV!” she said, trying to sound upbeat and not disappointed.
“Yes! I’m sure you’ll like it. Fresh air! The trees, the sun. It’ll be so nice!”
Judy decided to take the “oh” for a “yes”.
“Okay! Tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to take you to the park.”
Grandpa grunted something she didn’t understand. They had reached the bathroom.
“Okay, here we are.”
“Where?” he asked.
“Bathroom…you should bathe…you wet yourself.”
“Oh…” Grandpa said again, looking down at himself once more.
At that moment, Mom passed the bathroom door, very astonished at seeing Judy with Grandpa on her arm.
“Grandpa! Oh no! Not again!” Mom shouted, highly upset. She scolded him, complained, and fretted, but helped him to bathe, while Judy fled with the excuse of table tennis practice.
After the training, Judy’s friends were talking about going to the movies on Saturday afternoon.
“But I promised my Grandpa to take him to the park tomorrow, he…”
“Oh, come on! You can take him to the park on Sunday!” her friend Becky interrupted.
Judy was fourteen and she was easily persuaded.
She stopped by Grandpa’s room, after she had returned from table tennis, kneeling down next to his armchair. He sat in it, as usual, with his empty eyes fixed on the TV.
“Grandpa, I’m sorry, but my friends want to go to the movies tomorrow afternoon and persuaded me to join. I’ll take you to the park on Sunday. Okay? I’m sure the weather will hold. Okay?”
He didn’t even look at her this time, or give any sign that he was aware of her presence. Judy sighed, presuming he had already forgotten about the offer of going to the park on Saturday.
“On Sunday, I’m going to take you to the park, okay Grandpa? I promise,” she said, squeezing a quick kiss onto his leathery cheek and leaving his room.
The afternoon at the movies with her friends was great. They watched a comedy, had popcorn and Coke, and giggled and squealed appropriately for their age.
Still a bit psyched, Judy returned home, letting herself in with her key.
“Mom, Dad! I’m home!” she announced, getting no reply.
She entered the kitchen. Mom and Dad were sitting at the table, playing poker, whiskey glasses standing next to them and they were smoking. Poker time was the only time that cigarettes were allowed in the house.
“Close the door! I don’t want the smoke spreading through the whole house,” Mom said, and Judy had to grin.
“You don’t smoke! Neither of you. Why do you have to smoke when you play poker?”
“Tradition, honey, tradition,” her Dad said, placing a chip onto the pile in the middle of the table.
“How was the movie?” Mom asked.
“Good. What about food?”
“Had a burger, thanks,” Judy said, taking a bottle of juice from the fridge.
“I don’t want you to eat that junk food stuff.”
“Oh come on, Mom, one burger won’t kill me. Is the bathroom free?”
“Think so. Your sister occupied it for merely three hours this afternoon,” Dad grumbled and Judy chuckled.
“Then I’ll occupy it now. Don’t worry, I won’t need three hours, see ya,” she said, leaving her parents to their game.
Judy was soon soaking in the tub. Life was good.
She jerked as she heard someone opening the door. Shit, she had forgotten to lock it. Her eyes widened with shock when Grandpa shuffled into the bathroom. Judy gathered the bath foam around her in an attempt to cover herself.
“Um, sorry Grandpa, but I’m bathing,” she said. He didn’t seem to listen and was rummaging around, looking for something.
“I forgot to lock the door. Sorry. Could you please leave?”
He ignored her and continued searching. He found what he had been looking for in a cabinet. He took out the women’s hairdryer.
“Grandpa, what do you want with the hairdryer? Could you please leave?”
Grandpa searched for a power outlet and found one right next to the sink, not too far away from the bathtub in which Judy lay.
“Grandpa, what are you doing?” she asked, baffled.
He plugged in the hairdryer and switched it on, looking at her.
Judy’s eyes widened with terror.
“Grandpa? What are you doing!” she asked again, fear in her voice and incredulity. He couldn’t be that pissed that she hadn’t taken him to the park today…
He made a step towards her with the blowing dryer in his gnarly hand.
“Grandpa! I…I’ll go to the park with you tomorrow! I promise! Don’t do anything stupid! Grandpa!”
Grandpa made another step towards her.
Judy screamed. “Mom! Dad! Help! Grandpa, no!!!”
With an expressionless face, Grandpa dropped the hairdryer into Judy’s bathwater. The hairdryer buckled and exploded. Judy was electrocuted instantly and died with a last desperate shriek.
“There’s no TV in the park…” Grandpa said, turning around and shuffling back towards the door to the bathroom.