FOGGY DAYS • by Austin Gray

Your great-grandson Justin is coming over. You pull out the secret candy stash, hidden from your daughter who worries after your diabetes. Your hands creak and crack as you shuffle cards onto the spotless oak table Jack bought you. The door opens and in comes the clumsy kid, flashing you a missing tooth-grin that could thaw a Pennsylvania winter. He hugs you before plopping himself down at the table. You meet his adoration with your own, pinch his cheek, and deal out the cards. You play a few hands and he tells you all about his day. Once his mother picks him up, it is time for dinner! You wash the dishes and settle down with your new copy of the latest Patterson novel, opening its green and black cover to pick up where you left off.

Your grandson Justin is over. Your bones ache and your mind feels a bit hazy. Good thing he is such a damn cute kid. You turn on Law and Order; the kid loves crime shows. You pass the bag of peanut butter cups back and forth. In the slower scenes, the two of you talk about Jack. Justin calls him “Grandpa Greats” just like he calls you “Grandma Greats.” Justin misses him, but he keeps a strong face for you. You miss Jack too, every single day you feel the hole of his absence. Even after three long lonely years, you hurt. A few episodes later and your daughter is there for Justin. Solitary silence once again. Grab two forks, put one back. Dinner for one, pasta and a pork chop. You only get through two chapters before your eyelids droop and you head to the large, empty bed.

When Justin comes over you know it’s another TV day. You bat aside the fog in your head and turn on the television. The poor kiddo dropped his lunch on the way to school and is starving by this point, so you put his favorite pizza casserole in the oven. You return to the living room, then walk back and grab the candy stash you almost forgot. Justin complains that he saw this episode last time he was over. Probably forgot it was with his parents. You switch the DVDs and sit down, feeling more tired than you have any right to at four o’clock. Justin starts to tell you about his latest boyish fascination, “magic crystals!” Cute kid. You get through the third episode when you smell it. Shit! You hobble to the kitchen, the fog in your head as thick as the black smoke clouding the air. The orange oven light breaks through the haze like hellfire. You turn the oven off and make sure nothing is still on fire. It isn’t, the casserole is more akin to steel wool than food at this point though. Justin is crying, you pull him up in a hug and tell him everything is okay. His mom is late and now you are both hungry. Hot dogs it is! You eat on the porch, while the kitchen airs out. Once your grandson leaves you head straight to bed. The smoke stains around the oven can wait for tomorrow.

You really hope Jack gets back from his business trip soon. When did that damn fool leave, three weeks ago? You feel guilty forgetting where he went to, but that was Jack now wasn’t it? Always off on some important business. Pain fills you just thinking about how much you miss him. The boy will not be over today, it is a weekend and your daughter has the day off. That gives you time to finally get things done around here! You take the laundry out of the washing machine and head to the backyard to hang it to dry. Each line is already filled. Huh? Your daughter must have tried to do you a favor, then forgot to take them all down. Typical Laura. You strip down the clothes and fold them neatly, moving mechanically and contemplating just how many times you must have folded laundry in this exact spot over the years. You fold the clothes and head back inside. You warm up leftover hot dogs. Who got soot all over your wall? You want to get back to that book Jack bought you. He always makes sure you have Patterson’s latest novels. The  worn green and black cover opens in wrinkled hands and you begin to read late into the night, unearthing a masterful twist ending!

When did you get here? White walls in a tiny room, a red hummingbird feeder on a post outside a single too-small window. A curtain lies open that would normally separate you from your spare bed which has some old crone in it. Why the hell do you have a guest? Some man is in the wheelchair by your bedside, your wheelchair. Is that Jack? No, it’s Justin. He looks so much older now. You are angry. You feel stupid, and clouds thick as a broken heart choke your thoughts. Why is there a wheelchair in your house? You don’t trust yourself to say anything, your cheeks flush in frustration as you try to think. Here is Justin, going on and on about how he wishes he could visit more often. He says he loves you, and you say it back. You mean it, but who is he again? He leaves. You crack open Jack’s book and read the final chapter; the twist ending catches you off guard.

A stranger in your room. You ask him to leave you alone, he starts crying. He says he loves you, says he misses his “Grandma Greats.” What a nutter. When he leaves he forgets his book on your nightstand. You call after him but he is long gone down those blank white halls. Typical. You hold the book in hands far too wrinkled for someone so young. The battered black and green cover reads Patterson.

Wonder if it’s any good?

Austin Gray is a musician and author. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music performance and spends his days writing, hiking, and performing.

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