The man sat in his recliner and stretched out his feet. He was tired. It seemed as if he was tired more often than not anymore, but he supposed, correctly, that such fatigue was the payoff for continued living. He hardly believed he was now 64 years old. He had not thought of retirement until later than others his age, and now that he so desired it, retirement was ever receding before him, elusive. He often predicted to his wife that he would die one day, standing on the line at work, a senior citizen among young men, and that his coworkers could just lift his body onto the production line, box him up with all of the other goods, tape the box shut and ship his remains to wherever.
He was a grandfather, and today was Thursday, and Thursday meant his grandson would be over after school for a few hours. He checked the clock. 2:40 pm. He didn’t have to go into work for nine hours and twenty minutes. Not very many men in their sixties still worked the graveyard shift. Nine plus hours until he’d be on the line. One hour until his grandson arrived after school. He reached over to the adjacent table and picked up his book, “Days Of My Sojourn.” He opened it up to the third short story, checked that he had indeed finished the second one, and quickly realized he couldn’t read the words.
He let out a sigh. Where were his glasses? He rubbed his eyes and tried to make out the blurry words, so small and far away. Too much work. He laid the book over on his stomach and let his head fall back completely. Soon he was fast asleep, his breathing slow and regular.
“Grandpa! Grandpa!” the words a bellwether call. The man opened his eyes and pulled himself up to a seated position. He blinked a little. Sure enough, there he was, running toward him, a five-year-old miniature man with his same last name and fondness for these shared Thursday afternoons. He knew that wouldn’t last forever. He had seen it too many times. The bell curve of a grandchild’s love. Forced familiarity until about two years old, then a growing affection that peaked around age ten, then the mirrored descent back to the stale familiarity. Finally, the flat line until the grandparent passed away, fading into nothing more than a name on a family tree.
How he wished it wasn’t so. He thought of these things and figured he had about seven, possibly eight, good years left with his five-year old, and the years were good.
Before long, cards were played, a couple of favorite TV shows watched, and the dog fed and tussled with. Both old man and young boy now rested comfortably, the grandfather back in his recliner, the boy seated in his lap, a recently purchased toy car in his hands.
“What’s that book?” the boy asked pointing to the dog-eared book the grandfather had opened earlier.
“That? Oh, that’s just a book I’m reading. I don’t think you’d like that book too much.”
“What’s it called?”
“Days Of My Sojourn.”
“What?” the boy smiled. “Days of my sojer?”
“What’s a sojer?”
“Umm, kind of like a trip.”
“A trip to where?”
“Are you going on a trip?” the boy looked up over his shoulder at his grandfather.
“Nope, just getting back.”
The boy held his car out in front of him, waving it around on invisible and impossibly steep and curvy mountain roads.
“Where did you go?”
“Under a bridge.”
The boy knitted his brow and studied his car. “Did you drive there?”
“No, I lived there.”
“No, you didn’t!”
The grandfather laughed. “I didn’t?”
“No! You didn’t live under a bridge.”
“Well, where did I live?”
“Right here with Grandma!” The boy twisted and turned his face up to his grandfather again. The grandfather lifted his leg up, the boy upon it, and let both fall, bumping the boy with a shake. The boy laughed.
“I say I lived under a bridge… at least …”
“…For a little while.”
“What did it look like?”
“It looked like a big metal contraption.”
“A con-trap-tion?” the boy worked the word out.
The grandmother called out “Cookies!” from the kitchen, causing the boy to immediately slide from his grandfather’s lap. The grandfather grabbed the boy.
“I am the troll under the bridge, and you cannot leave! You can never leave!” he growled.
The boy tightened up and wriggled and laughed, throwing his car over onto the couch so he could better push away.
“I’m gonna get a cookie!! I’ll bring you one!”
“No, you won’t! The troll says you don’t get any cookies before supper!”
“Grandma says I can have one!” The boy continued to laugh as the troll tickled him.
“No!” the troll growled. “I say you’re a cookie!” he growled even louder while taking an exaggerated bite out of the air.
“You’re Grandpa! You’re not a troll!”
“I am, and I live under a bridge!”
“No, you don’t!” the boy yelled through his laughter as he finally gained his escape and ran toward the kitchen. “Grandma, Grandpa’s a troll and he’s trying to… he says he lives under a bridge!”.
The man leaned back in his chair. “I have lived under a bridge.” He rested his hands on the armrests and sighed. “I certainly have.”
The boy peeked back around the corner at him. He growled back at the boy. The boy disappeared with a squeal.
“For it has been a long and difficult trip, the days of my sojourn,” he continued to himself. “Longer than I ever could have known, yet it has passed in moments, in instants, in snapshots and reels of film.” The man looked at his hands. “Not photos or home movies I would rewatch with delight, but ones I would keep stored away in a box and hidden under the bed.”
He heard his wife speaking with their grandson. He pursed his lips.
“For I was under the bridge, and yet I escaped on the other side. The ‘finally’ has come. It had to. For I live in too beautiful a country and my kith and kin be too fair for me to tarry longer under the great steel girders.”
He looked back at his hands, turning his palms upward. “The rust has soiled my hands, yes, but they shall come clean of a time.”
He closed his eyes, picturing his wife and kids. “These crossed with me, and they are glad with me that the far shore is gained. Would I could cross again, I would have stayed the top and natural course. Even so, the far shore has been gained. I regret the difficult passage, but let us not keep looking back. If we do, let’s only see the topside, the clean and beautiful and smooth, the graceful arch, and as it recedes in time, perhaps ours will have been the better passage yet.”
The boy returned, running at full speed. “Are you still a troll?”
This is it – for awhile at least. Ciao. – JWB