Saturday, May 02, 2020



by David August - horror/sci-fi short story

cover image for the story Heartbreak by David August - a tree in a field surrounded by trees

"Grandpa?" Tommy asked his grandfather, holding his hand, "why don't you want to go for a walk unless there's some wind?"

"Well, back in the first pandemic, the idea was that it could hang in the air from people breathing it out. So if there was some wind, then you could walk a good distance behind them and the wind would blow it away before you stepped through the cloud of their exhalation."

The little boy smiled a little, and felt guilty. He knew talking about the first pandemic was hard for his grandfather. But he also knew that his grandpa's eyes would light up with a twinkle he'd never see otherwise, not even when they had birthday cake or went bike riding. He was glad to get his grandfather to speak about those times, even if it sometimes made his grandfather hesitant. And Tommy felt a little bad for bringing it up. But grandpa's twinkle seemed worth it.

He'd never met his grandma, but in the stories his grandfather told of how they met, their adventures (as grandpa called them), Tommy felt like he could imagine her, moving and interactive, not just the photos and videos he could watch.

"I know it might seem a little silly," his grandfather continued, "but..."

Tommy looked back up at him as they got to the end of the driveway.

"...nothing was quite the same after that, and so I... I don't know. I guess it feels kind of nice, even if it's nostalgia, to keep some habits from then going."

"I think I can understand." Tommy was glad he hasn't seen one of them yet. The shortages, the lockdowns, the way his grandpa and the TV describe it all seems kind of scary even if old fashioned. "Do you miss it? You know, how things were?"

His grandfather paused. Tommy would realize years later it was like his grandpa was reliving it. "Yes, I do. I miss the time before. I miss the thousand little things that no one even thinks about now."

"Like what?"

"Well, there's the architecture for one."

"The architecture?"

"Yeah. They used to build stadiums and theatres and everything with people way closer together, and no screening corridors at entrances. Don't get me wrong, they are a great way to ease into the space, and they make good use of them. And who doesn't like having more personal space during a game or a show, but..."

Tommy waited, hoping he'd continue.

"There is not a great way to explain the way it is to be there now, with people just...together. Spontaneous and planning, let you really enjoy it, get into it and connect with the players."

"Uh huh."

His grandfather looked him in the eye. "You could really feel it. Like at a ball game there could be a wave started, people standing up and raising their arms in unison, and following the people next to them as this whole, wave I guess, would go all the way around the stadium. You'd feel the people starting to stand near you, so even if you weren't paying attention, like you weren't watching the stands, you were looking at your food or something, you'd feel it. People try to do it now. In stadiums now you can't get that close to feel it the same way. Even at Wrigley, after the renovations it's not the same,"

Tommy knew his grandpa loved Wrigley. His grandpa and grandma had their first date there when his grandpa had been given two free tickets. That was before they'd won the last time, and before later when tickets got hard to get for in-person.

His grandpa continued, "or at a concert. I remember once on this beach, I wasn't that much older than you, this festival. It was a total free for all. I mean they had the trucks set up with speakers, and vendors and this big dinosaur thing you could just climb up and get your pictures on. And there was this one camper that was converted into a sort of bar and dance club thing, right out in the open. People dancing and trading places with a DJ who was playing the music that you could feel through the speakers, and the ground. I swear you could feel the ground moving because of all the people's feet dancing with the rhythm. Dancers just freely moving among each other."

"That's weird." Tommy had never seen that except in an old black and white movie. "People don't do that now."

"No...they don't. And for good reason."

"I know, my teachers tell us that. Tell us about how it was and can't be. That that's why we can't play with our classmates, just our brothers or sisters."

"Yeah..." grandpa fell silent and Tommy could sense it was not necessary to say something, just hold grandpa's hand while they walked.

A delivery vehicle passed by and the wind gently moved the branches of the trees.

"Grandpa?" Tommy wanted to ask, and it seemed like now was a good moment. "Do you miss grandma?"

"Yes...every moment of every day."

"How did you, do you...I don't know, how did did you..."

"Well..." grandpa stopped walking and looked at Tommy. "Why do you want to know."

"Well, daddy says Wilson is getting old, and I can maybe prepare myself for when he goes." His grandpa smiled; losing your dog is hard for anyone, but especially for a little boy.

"Well, you probably can't perfectly prepare for that kind of thing. But your dad, he's a planner."

"Yeah. But he said you might be able to help me get ‘as ready as you can be.'"

"Right." His grandpa took a breath and let it out slowly. "Well, with your grandma we...I didn't have any real warning. It looked like we were out of it. We'd made it through. Vaccine was getting traction, and there was light at the end of the tunnel." Tommy saw his eyes turn wistful, like they always did when he talked about grandma. "And your grandma, she smiled, really smiled again."

Tommy tried to egg him on to keep going, "Uh huh."

"We went to the beach where we lived, well five or six blocks away, the day they opened them up. One of the last things to open up. First walk since it had started where we didn't feel like we needed to zigzag to keep away from everyone else. The sidewalks allowed two-way walking traffic then."

Tommy didn't see why they would have let that happen, it would put people passing too close to each other. "That's weird."

"Yes, it is. It was. Your grandma, she smiled when we got to the beach, and I hadn't realized how long it had been since I'd seen her really smile, her relaxed smile. You could light the world with it."

Tommy smiled. He'd seen her smile in pictures, but it was easier to see in his grandpa's eyes. "That sounds nice."

"It was. People were swimming, together, no lane markers either. And the waves and sand, the sound of kids playing. It was such a good way to celebrate being able to come outside and be with people again."

"I'll bet," said Tommy. He could hardly imagine but it all sounded very exciting.

"It was there she suggested we have your dad."


"Yeah. She was putting on sunscreen, and she said, totally frankly, ‘let's start a family.'"

Tommy saw his grandpa's face change. It was like storm clouds crashed into it and tears came from both eyes. Tommy had never seen this before. His grandpa's face was hollow suddenly, it was alone.

"Grandpa? You ok?" He was quiet. His eyes met Tommy's and they lit up again.

"Yes. I'm here with you."

Tommy felt good that that made his grandfather smile. "She never met me did she?"

"No. You were born a lot after she was gone. So was your dad. I'm so glad we'd frozen-"

"Popsicle Kid!" Tommy knew that well. Tommy knew that when his dad had asked his grandpa about where he came from when he was a kid, his grandpa told him and his dad had started calling himself Popsicle Kid. He'd even made his grandpa get him a cape that had PK stitched on the back so he could run around the yard like an old superhero. Tommy's dad now lets him play with it too.

"Yeah, your dad was a popsicle kid."

"So she never met dad either."

"No. She didn't. She would have really liked to."

His grandfather was quiet. The wind blew gently.

"What happened after the beach?"

"I never saw her smile, not really like that. Then..." his grandpa swallowed. "I didn't see it again until your dad was born. You and him have it."

That made Tommy feel happy inside. He was sure he would have liked to know his grandma. Could you miss someone you've never met he wondered.

"What happened after the beach?"

His grandpa paused. Breathed in and then out again.

"It mutated."

© copyright 2020 David August, all rights reserved.

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this posted by David August at 4:42 PM 

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