Say This Instead
On the stroll back from Spencer’s Cove, Kate calculated years and ages. It had been ten years since they’d cast Grandpa’s ashes over the bluff at the cove. Grandpa passed at 90. It had been 45 years since he’d told her not to say goodbye to him, ever. She had been ten. She was now, at 55, the age that Grandpa had been then. Of course she didn’t say goodbye to him when she sat by his bed at hospice. When he closed his eyes, his paper fingers in her hand, she didn’t say goodbye. She didn’t say goodbye at the rattles and heaves, or at the single tear that rolled from his open left eye.
She shook herself and looked around the kitchen. The green chair felt hard beneath her. She felt the wrinkle in the carpet under her feet.
“Why not say goodbye, Grandpa?”
“Serves no purpose, Kate.”
“What do I say instead?”
“Later, alligator. In a while crocodile. See ya soon, Katy-Moon. Those’ll do.”
“How about, ‘until we meet again?” She had been reading every Victorian novel she could find in her grandfather’s bookcases.
“That’ll do, too.”
So that was what she said in the morning when she raced out the door to catch the school bus. That’s what she said when she left for college. That’s what she said at the end of every weekend visit, for decades, when she left for the city and her Monday job.
That’s what she said, ten years ago, at his bedside in hospice.
She said it after the single tear, and after the final rattle, and months later, as the ashes swirled out over the cove.
The others said goodbye, the great aunt, bent over her walking stick; the grandnieces and nephews, standing formally, even in the wind; the little second cousins, shouting at the gulls. She had been, apparently, the only one he forbade to use it.
She looked towards the lighthouse, as she and he had done for forty years. A white feather–was it a tern’s?–caught up in the wind and circled, circled, rising. She watched until it blew out of sight, the clouds white behind it. The others had turned back by then, the children racing ahead, the cousins walking in clusters of two and three, the great aunt alone, stabbing at the path with her stick.
“Until we meet again,” she said out over the cove. She stood alone on the bluff, until the others disappeared, and then she remembered, it was her house, now, that they were returning to. She’d be the one expected to make the tea.
After they all left, she thought about how comforting it might be to say goodbye. Final. She didn’t quite imagine herself saying it, for she was obedient, even now that she was grown, even now that he was gone. But she considered what someone else might feel if they said goodbye to the person they loved the most at the final parting.
Ten years had passed without that word crossing her lips.
She’d walked there today because it was Sunday, and she always went there on Sundays. On Mondays, too. And often, any other day of the week, for, still, it was her favorite walk, and the cedars lined the path, the same ones that had bent towards her when she was a little girl, racing along ahead of her grandfather. She always called to them, “Hello!”
Standing at the edge of the bluff, she missed him, suddenly, even after ten years. She felt his hand in hers, the callous of his thumb hard against her palm. And his voice sparked inside of her, “Friends aren’t everything, Kate. You’ve got me.”
The sun shone–only, no. It was still cloudy. But what was this sudden warmth? Like wearing a sweater in June. A tern circled over the cove. She knew then, at that moment, why she hadn’t been allowed to say goodbye.
She walked home, calculating. Sitting with her tea in the kitchen, the chair hard beneath her, the carpet wrinkled under her feet, she realized that she was now the age he had been when he’d forbidden that word.
It’s not needed. Love is an energy that escapes the laws of time and space–it continues, boundless, in a moment.
It takes a good many years of life to know that. But once you do, you realize that goodbye serves no purpose.
Prompt for May 4: “Set a timer for 40 minutes, write a story” from StoryADay.org
Author’s note: I stretched the prompt a bit–I took a look at the prompt the night before, selected the picture, slept on it, then thought about it off and on during the day. Actual time writing behind the keyboard: 40 minutes. Actual time that the story steeped before pouring? Closer to 24 hours! Steep till done!