Kai Oberhäuser photo
A large orange maple leaf stuck to the middle of the windshield as if clinging to it in its final death throes. Patrick turned on the windshield wipers which only flattened the leaf against the glass even more as the wiper blades skimmed over the leaf. He pushed a button on the car’s dashboard and cleaning fluid squirted onto the window and the leaf as the wipers swooshed back and forth, but still the leaf remained plastered to the glass.
“That’s one tenacious leaf,” Patrick said, stopping the wipers. He looked in his rear view mirror at his grandfather who was sitting in the back behind the front passenger seat. The window was down, and as the old man looked out the warm breeze tousled his thinning snow white hair and was playing with his beard.
“You doing okay back there, Grand?” Patrick said.
Grand didn’t answer. His gaze was fixed on the train passing slowly on the tracks that ran along the right side of the street.
“We should take him out more,” Patrick said to Bryan who was in the front passenger seat with his head bowed and staring at his ipad’s screen.
“I’m talking to you Bryan,” Patrick said, not hiding his annoyance.
Brian looked up. “There’s a leaf stuck to the window,” he said.
Turning onto the driveway that entered the Spring Grove Cemetery Patrick slowed the car as they went through the opened large, ornately designed, black iron gates. A young man in green overalls sitting on a golf cart-like grounds maintenance vehicle parked near the entrance gave a brief wave while he talked into a walkie-talkie. Patrick steered the car to the right fork in the road and slowed to only a few miles per hour as they began to drive alongside a large pond. A pair of large swans were gracefully gliding along on the pond’s bright green surface.
“You see the swans, Grand?” Patrick said, turning his head briefly and seeing his grandfather looking at the large headstones and garage-sized mausoleums as they passed them.
“This looks like a park,” Bryan said.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Patrick said.
Long strands of leaves hanging from weeping willow trees that lined the bank around the pond swayed gently in the mid-day breeze.
“Okay, it’s a beautiful, but it still seems like a park,” Bryan said. He raised his ipad and took pictures of a square pedestal-like headstone with a large marble angel standing on it. The angel was naked and his wings were spread. The angel was anatomically correct.
“I didn’t know angels could be so risqué,” Bryan said.
A few minutes later Patrick pulled the car to the side of the road and turned off the engine. “We’re here, Grand,” he said.
“Here, where?” his grandfather said, still focusing on the nearest elaborate grave sites.
“Where you and Gram used to bring me when I was a boy,” Patrick said.
“I’ve never been here in my entire life,” Grand said.
A few yards from the car stood the Dexter Mausoleum. Sunlight bathed the large sandstone Gothic style structure. “Look at that, a mausoleum with flying buttresses,” Patrick said as he leaned back against the car and stared at the mausoleum with admiration. “It was designed by James Keys Wilson and it has catacombs beneath it where several generations of Dexters are buried.”
“It looks like a miniature cathedral,” Bryan said as he walked around taking pictures of the mausoleum.
Standing next to Patrick and rocking back and forth, one foot to the next, his grandfather said, “Are we going into that church?”
“It’s not a church, Grand,” Patrick said. “You’ve seen it before. It has people buried inside it. You used to tell me ghost stories about it.”
Grand walked up to the locked gate at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the door of the mausoleum and wrapped his hands around the bars. He stood there, silently, for several minutes looking up at the tall pointed arches above the door.
Patrick came up behind him and put his hand on his grandfather’s shoulder. “You okay, Grand?”
Without looking at him, his grandfather answered, “How long that fella with that camera thing going to stick around?”
“Don’t you like Bryan?” Patrick said.
“Who’s Bryan?” Grand said.
Sitting on a blanket spread out on the grass behind the mausoleum and near the edge of the pond, Patrick reached into the wicker picnic basket and took out three plastic plates and cups and placed one of each in front of his grandfather, seated next to him, then in front of Bryan, seated across from him. He then placed a plate and cup in front of his crossed legs. He then took out a bottle of sparkling cider and removed the cork and poured some into everyone’s cup. Raising his cup to give a toast, he said, “Here’s to fine dining at the mausoleum.”
Bryan took a large sip of the cider without joining the toast.
“What’s this?” Grand said as he stared into the cup.
“It’s sparkling cider, Grand,” Patrick said. “It’s what you used to drink every anniversary with Gram. Go ahead and take a drink.”
Grand raised the cup to his nose and inhaled. “It smells like pee,” he said, then turned the cup upside down, pouring the cider in the grass.
Bryan let out a short laugh, spraying Patrick with the cider he had just put into his mouth.
Trying to repress his aggravation with both of them, Bryan took a linen napkin from the basket and wiped the cider from his face, then put the cork back into the bottle and set it aside. He took out three sandwiches neatly wrapped in wax paper and placed them on the plates. “Roast beef on rye with brown mustard, simple but elegant,” he said.
“You’re not going to continue pretending this is different than a sack lunch all the way through the Hostess cupcakes, are you?” Bryan said as he hurriedly unwrapped his sandwich then took a huge bite of it.
“What’s wrong with a little pretending?” Patrick said. He unwrapped his grandfather’s sandwich and placed it on his plate. “There, Grand. You like roast beef.”
“I do?” his grandfather said, lifting up the top slice of bread and eying the meat with suspicion.
Watching, Bryan said, “Just eat it for God sakes.”
Grand slammed his fist onto the sandwich and glared at him. “I don’t like you,” he said.
“Grand!” Patrick exclaimed. “That’s nothing to say to someone I care about.”
“It doesn’t matter, Patrick,” Bryan said. “I’m not too crazy about him either.”
The cicada filled the afternoon air with their raspy screeching.
Patrick lay on his back next to Bryan on the blanket watching a jet leave contrails across the bright blue sky. Grand was at the bank of the pond feeding bread to ducks and swans.
“He and Gram raised me,” Patrick said. “I can’t put him in a home.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that before I moved in with you?” Bryan said.
“I didn’t think it mattered,” Patrick said. “I wanted us to be like a family.”
Bryan rolled onto his side looking away from Patrick. “There you go pretending again,” he mumbled.
Patrick rolled over also and draped his arm over Bryan’s torso. He closed his eyes and before he fell into a deep sleep, said, “You’re not going to leave me are you?”
Later, he awoke with a start, rolled over and saw the young man in green overalls staring down at him. He quickly sat up. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” the man said. “I found the old man wandering around alone up by the Johnny Appleseed memorial. He seems kinda confused. I recalled seeing him in your car when you came in.”
Patrick stood up and said to his grandfather, “You shouldn’t wander off like that.”
“Johnny Appleseed’s responsible for there being apple trees in several states and part of Canada,” his grandfather said.
Patrick stared at him with a mixture of surprise and bemusement. “You sound like your old self, Grand.” He turned to the young man. “Is Johnny Appleseed buried in this cemetery?”
“No, but there’s a small statue of him with some marble benches around it,” he said.
“Imagine planting all those seeds,” Grand said.
“You ready to go home now, Grand?” Patrick said.
“I don’t want that fella at the house anymore,” Grand said.
Patrick looked down and saw Bryan staring up at him. Right then he knew Bryan would be leaving soon.
Steve Carr began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over sixty short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies including The Wagon Magazine, The Gathering Storm Magazine, Fictive Dream, Visitant Literary Journal and Rhetoric Askew anthology. His plays have been produced in several states. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He lives in Richmond, Virginia and writes full time. He is on Facebook and Twitter.