“How long do you think until the sun goes down?” My voice warms with the golds and reds of tonight’s impending sunset.
Thoughtful silence fills the front porch. Grandpa announces, “Fifteen minutes.” I reach to his left arm, taking his large hand in my slender fingers. My other hand works to liberate his metal watch. Removing the watch requires careful attention so I don’t catch his papery skin in the elasticized metal band. I slide the timepiece over his wrist and around his arthritic fingers; he holds out both hands letting me place it secure in his grip.
Flat Kansas horizon stretches the rest of eternity before us. Purples and pinks join where blue used to reside. We watch the sun slide under the split rail fence, and start to fall to the horizon. I hear his steady breath mingle with the buzz of summer insects and the occasional clang of gravel against the bottom of a passing vehicle. My bare toes wiggle in the dry dirt at the bottom of the porch, the dust refreshing after a day of work, high heels, and corporate America.
His raspy voice stretches across the front porch, finding me on the cement steps where I sit. “Honey, there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just going crazy.”
“I know Grandpa.” I stifle a laugh as I turn over my shoulder, looking to his face. In less than half a second I know my real Grandpa is here. His ash blue eyes register my mom’s front porch; slot me into the appropriate part of his brain as his granddaughter. There is only clarity. I smile; it has been so long since he has seen me.
“I got a new car.” I tell him, “It’s the same color Grandma’s Oldsmobile was.”
“What kind did you get?”
“A Mini Cooper. BMW makes them.”
“They used to make jet engines, for the war. That’s how they got started.”
“The speedometer says it’ll go 130. I got it up to 117 in California. Don’t tell Mom.” I turn back to the horizon, not wanting to miss the last hot sliver of today fade unrecognized.
Sadness creeps into his voice, “You don’t need to worry about me telling anyone, honey.”
I catch my breath trying to decide what to say next, there are a million memories I need to hear again, to make sure I know the stories right. Ninety years of stories, and he’s the only one left who knows them.
“Where’s the red dog?” he asks.
“Back yard. He went swimming in the pond today. Smells awful… During the war, when you were on the planes did you guys have BMW engines?”
“No, ours were being made over here.”
“What’d Grandma do, while you were flying?”
I spoke up, slower this time, “GRANDMA. GOLDIE.”
“Goldie. Your wife.”
“Goldie…” his voice trails off, as he tries to place the name.
We sit and wait. Him clutching his watch in both hands, observing the round gold face as the minutes pass. Me clutching his memories, in charge of reminding him of tonight’s chosen time for dusk. When the sun finally sets we will compare the clock to the world, and that will be the end of our game. The only prize the memory of our last shared summer sunset.
First published in The Best Times , May 2011