Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fighting in the Shade

"Why does he have to do that?" Frowning, my father turned from the window where he had a view of our driveway.

Mother set the table. "He said it's good for the engine."

"My ass." Dad sank into his chair and began separating the sections of the paper.

"You told your father he couldn't drive anymore." Mother placed a knife next to Dad's elbow. "He's not driving, he's idling."

Dad lowered the front page and glared. "He's fighting me every step of the way."

"I don't know what else you could do after he backed into the tractor. It was time." Mother returned to the stove.

"Tell him that. " Dad shook his head, his glasses sliding down from the crease over his nose. "And after that nonsense about the electricity. Ten days of carrying water from the well because he's too bullheaded to call and say the power's out."

I hunched over my art homework listening to the exchange. Dad forced Granddad to move in with us after the water hauling incident.

"He's fighting old age, Joe. Not you."

"Getting senile. And crotchety. Hell to live with." Dad rose and grabbed the poker to stir the fire.

"I don't know. His mind's pretty sharp. Know what he told Dr. Guyther yesterday?"

"That his son is mistreating him?" Dad jabbed at a log.

"He told Roy he was worried because he'd been dreaming in French."

"And what did Doc make of that?"

"After he stopped laughing, Roy told your father that most people should be so lucky, and to dream in French at eighty-five was remarkable."

"Hump." Dad straightened and headed for the archway. "I'm going to go pay a few bills before dinner."

"You've got ten minutes tops." Mother's voice bounced off the interior of the oven as she gauged the doneness of the roast. "Kathy, go tell your grandfather to come in."

I shut my sketchbook and rose to grab my jacket. "Mom, what's senile?"

"Oh, it means that a person can't reason and remember as well as they did when they were young."

"Do you think Grandfather is senile?"

"I think your grandfather can out think most people half his age."

"Yeah, like that Thermopylae thing. Nobody else's granddad does that."

"Exactly, now get."

I slammed the kitchen door and ran across the frosted gravel toward the rear lights of the '49 Chevy. A billow of exhaust wreathed my knees as I reached the vehicle. Warm air infused with the smell of Grandfather's Bay Rum aftershave and the musty aroma of his wool vest greeted me as I settled in the cabin. "Mom says ten minutes."

"Fine. This engine's running just dandy now." He stroked the dashboard with one arthritic finger.

"Grandfather, why do you and Auntie Agnes argue about dead Greeks? "

"My sister believes the Spartans were decisive. My view is that the Athenian navy mattered more."

"But how are you going to settle it? You two have been arguing forever. " I figured the people on our party line were mystified.

Been at it for over sixty years." He switched off the engine, his stubbled cheeks dimpling .

"And you aren't any closer to a solution?"

"As a matter of fact, we are." His cloudy eyes glinted from the moonlight. "One of us is bound to meet Themistocles pretty soon."

"Ah, Granddad!" I slid from the passenger side and skipped around to his.

He eased himself out of the car testing his legs and leaning heavily on his cane.

I put his other arm around my shoulders and we started our slow walk back.

"Mom says you've taken to dreaming in French. What about?"

"Actually, I was dreaming about Dieneces. He was one of the Spartan 300. When they told Dieneces there were so many Persian archers the arrows would blot out the sun, you know what he said?"


"He said, good, then we'll fight them in the shade."

"But why not dream about the guy in Greek? Why French." I helped grandfather up on the stoop.

He turned to me and the porch bulb backlit his whiskers and unruly eyebrows like a halo. "Because I still can."

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