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Hands
Dave Clapper

I remember, quite some time ago, the smell of Dewar's wafting down on me. I was settled
deeply into my grandfather's lap after a long day. The house was quieting down finally, many people in
black having made their ways home. My grandfather was quiet, but for the occasional tinkling of
ice cubes and the light rasp of his breath. I could feel sleep stealing over me, and although I
resisted it, I didn't fight hard. Of the places I've slept, few were as comforting as his lap. Through
a drowsy haze, I heard my mother's voice.

"Here, Dad. Let me put him to bed."

"No. Let him stay a bit. I'll put him down later."

And I was asleep.

The day had been a confusing one for me, the first time I'd heard the phrase "Grandpa's house"
rather than "Grandpa and Grandma's house." Linguistically, they had always been linked together, even
more than such stand-bys as peanut butter and jelly or hide and seek. Yet at the end of the
funeral, the place we went was Grandpa's house.

It was the first funeral I'd ever attended. When I noticed other children at all, they seemed
fidgety in their unfamiliar suits. Mine didn't bother me. Too much of my attention was focused on my
grandfather, trying to place the something unfamiliar about him.

I don't recall, in the funeral home, whether the coffin had been open or not, whether I'd been
allowed to see my grandmother at rest. The lack of memory in this leads me to believe that I didn't
see her that final time. Or perhaps the lifelessness of her was too alien for me to grasp, even as
I tried to absorb the changes in the man who was Grandpa.

His face had always been one of great expression, his wrinkles and jowls sending more meaning in
their creases and movements than any words ever could. His eyes, too, had always been a dead
giveaway. When he was happy, which was often, he couldn't hide his delight. He'd ruined more surprises
with those eyes. I could always tell when something special was in the works just by looking into
his eyes. Grandpa, I suspect, was a terrible poker player.

On that day, however, the wrinkles seemed set in place and his eyes reflected nothing, except
possibly bewilderment. He had always quietly had the answers, had been someone to rely upon at
uncertain moments; but on that day the answers eluded him. He occasionally mumbled thanks to
well-wishers, but it was clear that his mind was elsewhere.

It took me a long time to understand what had happened to him that day. While the coffin was
lowered into the ground, I finally saw a solitary tear fumble its way down his nose and onto his lip.
The tear itself didn't scare me so much as the fact that that he didn't lick it away, seemed
unaware of it. It wove its way down around his mouth to his chin and fell to the ground. He blinked once
and reached out his hand to his side.

Grandpa and Grandma held hands everywhere they went. Now, suddenly, the hand he expected to find
wasn't there and the bewilderment overtook his features again. He looked to where she should have
been, to regain his bearings, to make some sense of things. And found only acquaintances clad in
black.

He turned his head again to center, and across the hole in the ground, saw me staring at him. He
managed to smile at me, even to summon a small spark of joy into his eyes, and I breathed a heavy
sigh of relief. This man I knew.

Releasing his eyes from mine, he tossed a single rose onto the coffin and blew a kiss. He worked
his way around the plot to my parents and me. He placed a hand on my shoulder and said, "Let's go
home."

I remember all of this some sixty years later, my grandson nestled in my lap after a very long
day. A glass of Dewar's and water perspires in my hand. The breathing of the child in my lap is
getting slower, deeper, and my daughter offers to put him to bed.

"No. Let him stay a bit. I'll put him down later."

I set down the glass of scotch and look at the hand that held it. Strange to feel it empty after
so many years. My grandson is asleep now and I gently take his hand in my own.

Dave Clapper lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two sons.  He has been published in various online publications and is a founding member of the online writing collective Criminals from the Neck Up
(http://untruecrimes.com).  He is also the Publisher of SmokeLong Quarterly (http://smokelong.com).