Lost, and Unable to be Found
The crisp scent of the creek running behind my grandparents' house did little to refresh the air. In their backyard the heat of the sun weighed heavy on my skin. It was much hotter up north during the summer. After ten in the morning only a fool dared to do too much outside. It was the afternoon now, and the heat was at its peak.
Under the patio canopy, where the shade allowed his beer to stay somewhat chilled, my Grandpa lounged in a tall wicker chair. His acoustic guitar sat in his lap. His left hand glided along the neck of the guitar, fingers jumping from fret to fret, from string to string, as his right hand picked a slow, sombre rhythm.
In the twilight glow I seen her
Blue eyes crying in the rain.
When we kissed goodbye and parted,
I knew we'd never meet again...
I listened carefully to his deep, rough musical voice—a voice that boomed from his lungs like the notes of his guitar echoed from the sound hole. My mom said Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain was one of his favourite songs to play. I didn't think it suited him. He was always too playful, too cheery and silly around me. But now I wonder if he loved playing it because the song brought a connection to his first wife, my real grandmother. She died when my mom was in her early twenties. Mom said that his second wife, Beth, was the best thing that happened to him since her mom died.
When Grandpa finished the song, he looked at me with that wide, slanted grin that always made me smile. He chuckled and strummed his guitar, this time to amuse me. I moved closer to watch his hands. The tone was light, the rhythm upbeat, and his voice sounded like his grin:
Have you ever seen a fishy on a hot summer's day?
Have you ever seen a fishy just swimmin' in the bay?
With his hands in his pockets and his pockets in his pants
Have you ever seen a fishy do the hootchie cootchie dance?
I never has... has you?
As he sang the last line he shot me a questioning look, raising his eyebrows high as the wrinkles on his forehead bunched together. The song was a classic. Ever since I could talk, I would request him to play it. Even at twelve I enjoyed it, because he played it.
I tried to be a little sly when I replied, "Actually, I saw one with its hands in its pockets the other day when we were fishing."
His big hand reached out towards me and ruffled my hair as he let out another deep chuckle. "Why didn't you tell me? I've never seen one."
"You were too busy trying to find the perfect worm. Didn't want to ruin your concentration."
"Bill!" Grandma called from just outside of the door to the house. "Do you know where you put the bread?"
"Huh?" he said. His face contorted into a frown of confusion. "What bread?"
"The alpine bread you used to make a sandwich for lunch. It's not in the kitchen."
Grandpa narrowed his eyes and regarded her as if she was going mad. "I didn't have a sandwich today. I had vegetable soup."
I watched his face carefully. Was he joking with her? He must be. He didn't have vegetable soup today. I saw him eat that ham sandwich.
"Bill," Grandma sighed. "We haven't had soup for lunch in months. It's too hot." She opened the door to the house and beckoned him inside with a sweep of her hand. "Why don't you help me look? Please?"
"All right, dear." He slung his guitar strap over his shoulder strolled to the door. "But I swear I didn't eat any."
Grandma glanced at me and forced a smile. "Sweetheart," she called to me. "Do you want to do me a favour?"
"What do you need?" I asked.
"Could you vacuum my car? I'll give you five dollars."
"Okay." I shrugged, glanced at the shiny, golden-tan car that consistently remained near-spotless and regarded my Grandma's false smile. We both needed something for me to do. I would have cleaned the car for free. The days in Quesnel were long and boring. After the first exciting day or two of seeing relatives, there never seemed to be that much for me to do beyond walking the local trail.
I had been vacuuming for five minutes when Grandpa came outside again. He approached the vacuum hose and shook it as if it were his dog, Bonnie's tail. I watched him with a small, fond smile. He laughed and wandered off into the front yard.
Another ten or fifteen minutes passed before Grandma came rushing out of the house. She unplugged the vacuum and took it from me.
"Um..." I said, bewildered. She opened the driver's door. "I um... wasn't done yet, Grandma."
"I know." She glanced at me and I froze, startled by her expression. Her hazel eyes were moist and her bottom lip trembled. It was the first time I saw her close to tears. Her voice cracked as she said, "Your Grandpa's wandered off. I can't find him anywhere on the street. We have to go out and find him."
I nodded, but remained silent. I didn't understand why it was so scary. Was his dementia that bad? How could someone who can play a song perfectly, without forgetting a single word or a single chord, forget where he lives?
"I'm worried that he won't be able to find his way home," Grandma explained.
Okay, so it was that bad. "Would you like me to come with you?" I asked.
"Yes," she said after a moment. "I think I could use the company."
After we got in the car and strapped ourselves in, Grandma filled me in the rest of the details. "I've called some neighbours. Some will be walking the trails and others are also driving around town. I've also called the police."
My eyes widened. "The police?"
A heavy sigh escaped Grandma. "I need all the help I can get right now, and this is a small town. They're not that busy. Bill's been getting worse. A few weeks ago he got up in the middle of the night and thought he was still married to his first wife. He said he had to get home and tried to leave the house. I...I had to wrestle him down and convince him that I am his wife."
"Oh..." I murmured, not quite sure what to say as I watched her hands tremble against the steering wheel. I searched my mind, but I couldn't track down a single word that would sooth her. Instead I looked out the window and assessed every pedestrian with a critical eye. None of them had the combination that I was looking for: thick white curly hair, a long French nose, thin lips, a plaid green shirt and faded blue jeans.
After weaving through a dozen residential streets, Grandma pulled over and parked in front of some small family-run shops. We inspected the coffee shop first. A bell chimed as I opened the door.
"Hey Beth," the man at the counter said. "What can I get for ya? An iced hazelnut coffee?"
"Not today, Jake," Grandma replied, her words rushed. "I'm looking for Bill. Have you seen him in the past twenty minutes or so?"
He raised an eyebrow and let out a long whistle. "Bill's wandered off? I'm sorry Beth. I haven't seen him."
Digging through her large tan purse, she pulled out a notepad and a silver pen. She jotted something down on the notepad, ripped out the slip of paper and slid it towards him over the counter. "Call me if you do see him, okay?"
"Sure thing, Beth. I'll keep my eyes open."
The bell chimed softly as we left. It reminded me faintly of glitter. Grandpa once told me that every image came with a sound. Every time I remembered this, I tried to go through my day connecting images with a sound. The motions of these days sounded like the wind on the ocean shore.
"Where would he want to be?" I thought out loud as Grandma and I finished inspecting the last store.
"I'm not sure," Grandma mused. "He could be anywhere. He might even think he's thirty years old again. He could be in that mind frame and be wondering what the heck he's doing in Quesnel." Her cell phone rang and she fumbled to get it out of that tan purse quickly. "Hello?" She said. "Oh, thank God! I'll be right there, Stan. Thank you."
"Where is he?" I asked.
"Two minutes away. Let's go."
Later that day we went to my aunt's house for dinner. A few of us sat on the deck while we waited for the meal. My cousins and I were drinking root beer. Grandpa had a glass of tomato juice in front of him. (Now, whenever I think of him, the distinct smell of tomato juice and beer combined comes to mind. I'm oddly fond of the smell.) I had just finished explaining today's incident to my cousins.
That familiar grin creased his face. "I don't know why you guys were so worried," he said with a light-hearted scoff. "I was coming home when Stan found me."
He wasn't. He was walking in the direction opposite to home, towards the mall, which he thought was the right direction. Even I figured this out, and I only came to visit one or two weeks a year. But when we found him with his arms motioning in that direction towards the mall, trying to convince Stan that was the way home, I realised he was still lost. My cousins stayed quiet. I imagined them spinning aimlessly through their thoughts as they tried to understand what this meant. Grandpa couldn't stand the silence much longer. He entered the house and came back minutes later with my aunt's old acoustic guitar that he bought it for her decades ago. I bet he'd played it more than she had.
He smoothed his hand down the neck of the guitar and stared at his hand for a long moment. Slowly, he picked that familiar rhythm. His rich baritone voice filled the silence with a bittersweet thought.
Love is like a dying ember
And only memories remain
And through the ages I'll remember
Blue eyes crying in the rain.
A/N All rights to this story belong to Tina Pengelly aka behind-these-eyes. I have strong evidence that this belongs to me and there will be serious consequences if someone tries to steal my work. This story is going to be published in the next issue of Pearls, an anthology of creative writing. This is my true story. I can't look, hear or think of a guitar without seeing my grandpa's face at some point. He's the reason why I picked up the guitar and learned to play. I know a lot of you can relate to this with your own loved ones. I hope this comforts you in a way. Even when grandpa got worse, he could still pick up that guitar, play it like a pro, and then he could start to remeber other things as well.
A/N All rights to this story belong to Tina Pengelly aka behind-these-eyes. I have strong evidence that this belongs to me and there will be serious consequences if someone tries to steal my work. This story is going to be published in the next issue of Pearls, an anthology of creative writing.
This is my true story. I can't look, hear or think of a guitar without seeing my grandpa's face at some point. He's the reason why I picked up the guitar and learned to play. I know a lot of you can relate to this with your own loved ones. I hope this comforts you in a way. Even when grandpa got worse, he could still pick up that guitar, play it like a pro, and then he could start to remeber other things as well.