Grandfather died. Sunday he did not answer the phone, so Monday we paid him a visit. The apartment was locked (key left in the lock, a precaution against imaginary thieves) so we had to call the firemen and the police. They had to force the door open. His apartment smelled of old furniture and inaction, of rigid habits and dead grandmother’s forgotten smells. The TV was on.
The kitchen and bathroom were empty and clean, which came as a relief, for we feared he may have somehow stumbled and fallen. Imagine blood, a sprawled corpse, a ghastly wound… Far from it.
We found him stretched on his bed, the remote control on his chest. His mouth was open, his lips smeared with spit. His bent arms with clenched fists rested on his chest, leaving no doubts about the cause of the death, which the doctor later confirmed – heart attack, probably during a nap.
Seventy-four years old.
Retired police officer.
One eye brown, the other milky green.
(Many years ago, during a night shift, a vagabond stabbed him in the eye through a hedge, with a screwdriver.)
Heavy smoker — 1 pack of cheap cigarettes a day.
Physically inactive — at least eight hours a day of lying on his bed, watching TV.
Liked to eat meat and fat, sometimes even in the evening.
Widower. Grandmother died last year from lung cancer. (She never smoked.)
Grandfather was the sort of person who grumbled every day about the corruption of the politicians and yet once a month he sought out gypsy traders from whom he procured smuggled cigarettes because they were cheaper than the imported cigarettes in the shops.
He was also the sort of man who, when I was little, he used to give me a small sum of money for toys on the day when he received his pension.
I could tell you about how he did not call all the people he should have called for grandmother’s funeral last year to minimize expenses, or how, while I lived with him and grandmother, he used to buy me ice tea and pizza and chocolate every day, or how he did not attend my parents’ wedding, or how old age had mellowed him, or how he had his share of blame in my father’s death from liver cancer, after a lifetime of alcoholism, or how he bought me things to pacify his conscience, or how we failed to have a deep connection based on love or at least some sort of connection based on understanding, or how he was not my real grandfather, being only my father’s stepfather, but I am hungry and must go to eat.
I did not cry when we found him, nor during the uninspired religious rites, which here in Romania are anything but heartfelt, nor when they lowered in the crypt the solemn black casket I had chosen for him. But then I did not cry when my father or grandmother died, either. Could it be that I have a brain tumor causing ataraxia? It’s more likely that there was not enough love in my family, not enough understanding.
I did love my grandfather, a little, and I did feel pity for him, for he was one of those men I fear I myself will be, a man who never truly loved anyone and whom nobody truly loved.
Oh, one more thing.
Before I hurried to grandfather’s apartment Monday, before we found him stretched on his bed with the remote on his chest, I had to fill my bag with the necessary things for the journey, which meant I had to remove a certain noose from my bag, which I had made a while ago, and which I kept there, just in case I did have cancer and lacked the funds for treatment (uninsured). Now it seems I am to inherit grandfather’s apartment, whose sale should cover the cost for a lymphoma treatment. Thus, the destiny of the short and frail boy with a hat takes an unexpected turn.
Yes, old people die so that young people may live…