The eyes that had once glistened with suppressed laughter had grown misty over time. The bright blue had faded into a dusty grey and, as ivy grows around forgotten doorways, the lashes had become tangled, webbed by the many woes of age. Around them, deep crevices ran up and down the withered skin, crossing one another and then joining into older, much deeper cracks.
As I gazed into my grandfather’s wasted face, I felt a pang of remorse ring through me. I would give almost anything now to pull back the years and reveal the joy that had once radiated from him. I know that I should have talked to him more. I should have learned all that I could of his past, but it was too late now. Those memories were lost.
I clasped his feeble hands in mine and, as he turned his head towards me, I thought, just for a moment, that a spark of memory had stirred behind those clouded eyes. In the very next moment, however, it was gone, and he returned to staring placidly into space, his expression empty of emotion.
Sighing, I pushed myself up from the floor beside his bed and placed a hand on the door, wishing I had more to say. During my time with him, I had opened my mouth to speak almost a dozen times, but I had no words. I wanted to offer comfort, as my mother did, but how do you comfort a man who does not know you?
As I pushed the door ajar, however, a slight scuffling sound made me pause. Glancing back at my grandfather, I saw, to my utter astonishment, that he was sitting upright, suddenly alert. His eyes were wide and his left hand was wrapped tightly around his bedsheets, the knuckles white from the effort of sitting up. His right hand, meanwhile, was held out in front of him, pointing towards one of the boxes at the end of his bed.
I took a few steps towards him, hesitating. A part of me wanted to run downstairs to fetch my mother, but my curiosity held me back. I instead followed the line of his pointing arm and pulled out, from the end of his bed, a heavy, dirt-encrusted box. I set this on a side table and, as I did so, my grandfather’s arm followed its progress through the air. I attempted a swift smile, but the urgency in his wide eyes seemed to wipe it from me.
The box was made of a dark wood that could have been oak. Around its corners, thick pieces of a soft, golden metal had been nailed in place, preventing, I supposed, the wood from wearing away. At its centre, sat an ornate lock that was made of the same metal as the box’s edges. My fingers stroked their way along this lock, feeling the history that seemed to emanate from it.
I tried raising the lid, but the lock only rattled, and I stopped, looking at my grandfather. He was still sitting bolt upright, his hand still directed at the box.
“I can’t open it, grandfather,” I said, pulling his hand back to the sheets. “I need a key.”
It was as if I had uttered some kind of a password; at the word ‘key’, my grandfather’s wizened hand shot to his neck, where he fumbled at a golden chain. I had seen this chain many times before. My mother had told me that it had belonged to my grandmother, and I had never thought to ask more. After all, I had never known my grandmother.
Shaking slightly, he lifted the chain from around his neck to reveal, hanging from its end, a small, golden key. He handed it to me, nodding with an enthusiasm that I had believed to have left him many years ago. I took it, my hands shaking almost as much as his, and inserted it into the box.
Inside, I found a crimson cloth that was nearly folded around…
I stopped, staring at my grandfather.
“What is this?” I asked, my voice strangely high-pitched. My grandfather only nodded in the same, desperate fashion, gesturing towards the box.
My heart thumping wildly in my chest, I took a few steps back. Wrapped neatly inside that crimson cloth, lay a bundle of bright white, tightly bound, bones.
For the second time that evening, I considered calling my mother. My hand was actually on the door when, once again, I stopped myself. There was nothing to be gained from scaring her.
I stepped back up to the box, and, trying not to look at the bundle, I pulled it out and tried to hand it to my grandfather, but he shook his head.
“Look,” he croaked.
It was the first time that he had spoken in almost three years.
I blinked away the tears that had risen at the sound of his voice and returned to the box once more. Underneath a second layer of the crimson cloth, sat two feathers. They were so large that they filled the entire underside of the container, bright gold and shining. I picked one up, and my grandfather clapped his hands together, his eyes shining.
“Grandfather, what bird is this from? The colour… it’s so bright. Are they painted?”
He shook his head distractedly, now pointing again at the bones. Returning to them rather reluctantly, I unbound the course leather that tied them and allowed them to tip onto the carpeted floor.
Most of them were thick and heavy, as though they had belonged to some large mammal, like a horse, or even a human. Alongside them, though, lay a thousand tiny bones that could easily have been suited to the wings of a bird. I glanced back at my grandfather and, to my surprise, I saw that he was smiling.
“Not a bird,” he croaked. “Graiathan was my friend.”
“Gr-Graiathan?” I repeated. “Grandfather, these big ones… they’re not human bones, are they?”
He really laughed then – powerful, joyous laughter that seemed to fill the whole room. He threw back his head and laughed so loudly that, if I hadn’t been in the very process of witnessing it, I wouldn’t have believed any such sound could issue from my grandfather’s mouth.
“No, not a human,” he gasped once the laughter had subsided. “Graiathan was my griffin.”
My grandfather passed away two weeks after our exchange. It was quite peaceful; he died in his sleep, my mother sat by his bedside. He never spoke again, but he didn’t need to. In the weeks that followed, I had spent my time pulling out more boxes and revealing strange drawings and objects that had taken many hours to understand.
I will never truly know the adventures that my grandfather once had, but a griffin feather now sits upon my desk, and a smile is painted across my heart.
Word Count: 1153.
Believe it or not, the events depicted in this little story were based roughly on a dream that I had last night. I very rarely dream, but when I do, they feature locations and characters that are completely unrelated to me. People often tell me that this is my ‘storyteller’s brain’ at work, but I think it more likely that my imagination is just a little overactive.
I hope that you enjoyed this story. It is one that I really enjoyed writing, especially as it is the first longer piece that I have written for some time. Thank you for reading!
Picture Credit: Pixabay.