This post is part of Fiction Friday, a series born out of my ongoing desire to be a novelist. These stories are meant to be read independently. They are fictional vignettes inspired by glimmers from my life.
My grandfather owned the only gift shop on the island. On Mondays, Ma had been dropping me off there to stay out of trouble while she stretched and sighed her way through her physical therapy appointments at Dr. Pitt's clinic. I didn't like being dumped at the gift shop, but Ma promised it would only last a few more weeks.
"My shoulder's been feeling a lot better," she said, and then added quickly, "and, besides, the insurance will only cover another two sessions. You have your books with you, right?"
I nodded. The faded gift shop sign was coming into view. Further down the street, cars were being directed into lanes for the next ferry. Ma put the blinker on and glanced over at me with tired eyes. "I know grandpa can be kind of…funny," she said, in the way someone says that expired milk smells funny. "But try to humor him. And, Lee, for God's sake, brush the hair out of your face."
Inside, my grandfather was bent over the counter, testing pens one by one on the obituary page of a newspaper. They were the kinds of pens that had tiny, flat boats in them that shuttled through the water when you angled the pen back and forth.
"Huh!" he cried. "All in working order."
He looked up. It seemed to take him a minute to recognize me as kin instead of a customer. He pushed himself off his stool with his big, pale palms and grabbed the pens.
"So it must be Monday," he said. "Your Ma's still taking that art class?"
"For a couple more weeks," I said quickly. He didn't know about the car accident, or Ma's torn tendons, or the physical therapy. It would just make him angry, Ma had said. My grandfather had an unexplained hostility toward driving, and hearing about something like that would send him through the roof. Instead, she'd told him that she'd enrolled in an Adult Ed class. "Just to do something different," Ma had told him over the phone, cradling the receiver between her cheek and her good shoulder.
She was good at lying. I was not. Before my grandfather could dig for more details, I mumbled, "I've got homework," and ducked into the cramped office in the back of the gift shop.
It wasn't long before I was interrupted by voices arguing. One was my grandfather's; the other belonged to a woman. I cracked the door open and pressed my ear against the sliver of cool air. "Is accident!" the woman was saying. "Mister, is accident."
"Look," my grandfather said. "That doesn't matter to me. Someone's gotta pay for it, 'cause it's broken."
"But is accident!" she tried again. "I just looking around."
"Lady, this ain't a museum!"
I closed the door. I had just remembered about the earphones buried somewhere in my backpack when the door flew back open, and my grandfather forced his way into the tiny office. With the two of us in there, the room felt warm.
"Tourists," he grumbled. He grabbed the broom that had been leaning against the wall and slammed the door shut. I stared down at my notebook paper, at the messy handwriting, the letters slanted as if cowering away. I couldn't even make out the words.
When I emerged out of the office, he wasn't sweeping. He was standing at the front window, his back toward me, steadying himself against the broom as if it was a cane. I stepped over the pieces of fractured ceramic from the mug that had been knocked off the shelf. One piece had half a whale painted on it, its eye black and beady.
"Can I – do you need help?" I asked. I heard Ma's voice in my head. "Or," I said, "I can test some pens, or something."
He didn't reply. I walked up to the window to see what he was looking at. The ferry had just pulled away from the dock. And on my grandfather's face, the look of sorrow was unmistakable: regret that he wasn't on that boat himself, that he was stuck here, so close yet so far away. I didn't know how, but I understood that much.
"I want to go over to the city someday," I said. "I mean, it's what, a twenty minute ferry ride? But Ma doesn't want to take me."
"You do?" he asked. His face softened. He seemed about to say something else, but instead he broke his gaze from the dock and turned away from the window. With the broom still in hand, he started to make his way over to the fragmented mug. I followed him.
"Hold the dustpan, will you?" he asked.
"Okay," I said, and we huddled around the broken pieces.