Opening the door the mingled scent of tea and Old Spice met Robert and his mother and as always he couldn't help the smile developing on his freckled face.
His great grandfather was into his nineties but, after his mother's divorce, had become the male figure in the young man's life. Even now, with his health declining and the moroseness brought about by the loss of his wife, he managed to keep going and keep the old school dignity.
The small bungalow was set in a pleasant cul-de-sac and equip with assisted living. He knew his mother had argued hard for it, her grandfather was a proud man and had so often refused intervention.
But it was this or a nursing home and whilst he could still walk, albeit not too far, he refused to become what he termed 'a burden.'
Robert heard the hacking cough as soon as he entered and his posture wilted, a tight vice wrapped about his heart as he noticed the addition of a blooded tissue in the wastebasket. He looked over towards his mother and saw her face had fallen resignedly.
After her parents early demise Jonathan and Jeanette had become her carers. He was a fine and loving man and no better father figure had existed. Neither he nor his wife would see her lost to the system and it was their duty to their lost ones.
"Go and sit with him," Louise said quietly "I'll ring for an ambulance."
Robert nodded slowly, his eyes blurring, becoming unfocused as his mind tried to register the inevitable.
Jonathan was sat languidly in the old, frayed armchair he had always used, the cushions worn and the once clear patterns faded. One could still make out the beige tartan if they looked closely but it was a strain.
He barely looked over when Robert entered but the soft rattle as he breathed confirmed an unseen agony. His lungs feelings as though they were trapped in a vice, fluid rocking angrily within them.
Robert moved over silently, kneeling at the side of the chair without speaking, neither needed to. Even when the flashing lights of the ambulance penetrated the curtains.
The next few hours passed in a blur.
The scent of disinfectant burnt his nose, mingling with the medicinal smell from so many nurses and doctors and the white uniform reflecting the overhead, artificial lighting.
Not to mention the noise, the hustle, the bustle and muffled talking. It was a complete shock the senses.
'Pneumonia…acute respiratory congestion…low blood pressure…'
Robert felt his mother take his hand, squeezing his fingers as the words drifted through his head. Yet he knew they all led to one conclusion.
It felt like hours, and most likely was, before the clamour seemed to fade and he stood with his mother outside the small room, listening to the beep of machines. Looking through the small window Jonathan was still and silent, his tired eyes looking through the slit in the curtains to the cityscape beyond.
Louise let go of his hand to check her buzzing phone, frowning when she saw the text, appearing reluctant as she looked from the screen to her grandfather.
"That was your aunt," she said after a pause "she wants me to go and meet her to show her where to come."
She bit her lip and Robert saw the tears welling in her eyes. Despite having been with him, sat with him, she didn't want to leave, fearful of him leaving the earth alone.
"Don't worry," Robert forced a smile "I'll wait."
He hated hospitals. Death and misery were everywhere, a place where life was brought in screaming and was extinguished in much the same way in some cases. That and the food, with its pungent odour and bland taste added to the grimness.
Louise nodded tearfully, swallowing the salvia gathered in her throat that was choking her. She couldn't verbalise her acceptance of the offer, only nodding again as she turned, heading down the sickly green corridor.
Robert watched her go, her shadow stretching as if it wanted to remain, staring at the place where she should until a nurse brushing past him brought him back to reality.
Reticently he pushed the door, feeling a strange aura hanging in the air as he padded quietly to perch on the plastic chair next to the bed, fearing even the soft tread of his trainers lest they make too much sound.
It was so quiet that when Jonathan suddenly spoke it felt as though the air shattered like glass, jolting his nerves.
"I'm not afraid of death," Jonathan's hand embraced Robert's as he stared at the fluorescent light above him "because I know I'll be reunited with who I love."
"Great Grandmother?" Robert managed to reply, the spiritual side bemused him but he was content to humour the other "she'll be there. Your parents too I suppose."
His voice was cracked, the subject agonising and the constant beep of the monitors only served as a constant reminder of time ticking away.
Jonathan hummed softly, a sorrowful look glazing the watery eyes. It took some time for him to speak again and had Robert not seen the slow move of his chest he would have feared he had passed away.
"She was the best friend I ever had," he said in a whisper "but it was a marriage of convenience, I've never denied it, neither of us did. Oh, we loved each other but just not in the way you'd expect."
"I don't understand," Robert frowned, squeezing the frail hand carefully to avoid the drip protruding from the papery skin.
Jonathan took a rattling breath, squinting as though the air he drew in pained him.
"My diaries, I wrote them all my life, more so during the war. They are in the attic. If you read them then you'll understand and I hope you won't think any less of me," he turned the tired eyes that felt laden with lead towards him and smile "proud of you, boy. Always have been and I'll always be there."
The monitor nearby began to beep, the heart rate erratic as his head fell to the side, a peaceful expression finally falling over him as his eyes followed someone Robert was unable to see.
"And you're right, I see all four…"
Robert did not get to ask what the last words meant as his blood ran cold. Jonathan's hand hung limply in his own and the monitors lost trace of any heartbeat.
Hurriedly he scrambled to hit the alarm for the nurse, hoisting his phone from his jeans to try and type a frantic text to his mother at the same time, biting back a swear word as the mobile slipped from his grip and skidded under the bed.
Finally he gripped it, his hands sweating as he hit the button, immediately pressing to ring her as the whoosh sounded to deliver the message.
Everything blurred in one once again, combined with nausea, tears and anguish.
Note: Whilst the story is based on actual events the characters and regiments are fictional.