upstream

Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Pexels.com

“It’s cleaner these days,” Malphy said as they walked the trail that had been widened and paved in the years since it was his stomping ground.

The path followed a winding creek on the right, and was bordered by many tall, dying trees on the left. Aidy felt sorry for these trees. Once, long before even her grandfather’s time, they had grown happily on the bank of a stronger river.

“I had my first kiss behind that tree.” Malphy raised an arthritic hand, letting it linger while he played through the memory.

Aidy looked at the Hawthorn, its thick trunk now supporting mainly dead branches. She imagined her grandfather: youthful, self-conscious, hiding behind this tree to sneak a secret kiss. If he had been younger, she might have had more trouble imagining him this way. It was as though he had regained his innocence in these later years.

“When I lived here as a kid, we used to watch the fish swimming upstream to spawn. They would rest on the banks, then dash a few feet at a time. I was mesmerized. It was crazy to me how determined they were. I knew about instinct, of course, but it still seemed crazy that they should try so hard. Back then, I hadn’t met anyone who was as determined as that. I didn’t understand.”

Malphy stopped and sat on the edge of the pavement, letting his long legs stretch over the uncut weeds of the steep bank.

“Nobody was as determined as those fish,” he continued. “I thought that to myself. I really did.” He paused here, and began twirling bits of the long grass between his thin fingers. Aidy sat beside him and tucked her legs underneath her skirt.

“Your grandmother was in physiotherapy the first time I saw her. She was using the parallel bars. I was a med student, and I was running an errand in that wing. She’d been in a car accident; she couldn’t even stand. I remember thinking, wow, her upper body must be awfully strong, cuz her legs aren’t doing any of the work. I didn’t want to be caught staring, so I took off, but I kept walking by every day, hoping I would see her. And I did. About once a week I’d pass and she’d be there. She never saw me. A couple of months went by, and she didn’t seem to be making much progress. I thought, she’s going to be in a chair forever. But then I remembered the fish.

One day, I wasn’t even going to stop, but something was different. Her weight was on her legs, and I could just tell something was about to happen. I got so close to the glass I steamed it up. Then it happened—she took a step. A whole, real step, all on her own. She smiled this enormous smile, and I was smiling too, just as big—then she looked at me. It was the first time she ever saw me. She didn’t stop smiling, and neither did I. I fell in love with her, full stop.

Apparently she asked the physio therapist who I was, and they asked the head nurse on the floor, and eventually they got it so we would be in the same room as if by accident. Angels, every one. In no time, she was able to get around with a walker, so we walked together. She’d come to her appointments early, and leave late. We spent hours falling in love walking those halls.”

Malphy took a long look up and down the creek, reacquainting himself with the present. The sun had dropped quite low in the sky, and the air had cooled.

“She was the most incredible person I ever met,” he said.

Aidy smiled quietly at her own bittersweet tears. She placed a hand on her grandfather’s shoulder. Suddenly, he half stood and let himself slide down the bank. He remained upright as he splashed into the water, which covered his shoes and shins. Addy tried to grab his arm as he went, and cried out, but he seemed unhurt.

Malphy stood shaking slightly, and staring into the moving water which reflected the evening light in glimmering ribbons. Aidy sloshed up to him and touched his goose-pimpled arm. He turned to her and grabbed both of her hands so abruptly she was alarmed.

“You have to keep trying, Aidy.” He was almost shouting as he searched her face for recognition.

“Even if success seems impossible. Keep fighting every single day.”

Aidy nodded. He shook her hands, squeezing them with emphasis. His eyes looked wild, but tears were falling from them.

“Promise me.”

“It’s alright, Grandpa,” she said. “I wont give up. I swear.”

Malphy checked her expression for sincerity, and was satisfied. He softened his grip on her hands and looked away.

“Good,” he said. “Me neither.”

He dragged his soggy feet to the bank and let her help him back up to the trail. Their shoes squeaked in unison as they walked back toward the hospice holding hands.

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: