Story of an Age

            The old man’s joints creaked as he sat with a groan on the smoothly aged rocking chair that had supported him and his worn joints for so many years now. He reached over with a worn, callused but gentle hand to the small table next to him, lifting an old war medal off of the weathered wood. The aged award faintly gleamed in the fire’s light. His creased face smiled ever so gently to look at it as he slowly polished it with the corner of his shirt. His peaceful reverie was broken when the quick pattering of bare feet danced across the floor and bolted over to him, two little children half attacking him, climbing on him like he was a tree made of the same wood of the chair he had been resting in.

            “Whatever happened to respecting your elders?” he demanded of the rambunctious twins, both boys blue-eyed with bright red hair, their eyes what his used to be before they were hidden behind his spectacles.

            “Sorry grampa!” they both chirped in the ways of five year olds. The sheen from the fire reflected upon the medal caught the elder twin’s eye, and he grasped it from his grandfather’s hand. “Is this from the war?” he asked in awe, the other twin snatching it from him. “It’s old and not that shiny,” he decided. “Why do you keep it?”

            “Eeeehhhh!” the grandpa groaned, grasping the medal from his rambunctious grandchildren. “Be careful with that. Why, if it weren’t for the war I never would have met your grandmother; then you wouldn’t have been born.” He snapped, reaching over to set the medal down.

            “Did you fight for her? Show off your big muscles and show her a sword?” the twin asked excitedly, bouncing on the old man’s knee and causing him a little pain.

            “Silence now, and quit your wiggling, and I’ll tell you… bunch of energetic whelps. Why, in my day, children were to be seen and not heard, and not to disrespect their elders in such a way!” He rambled before he cleared his throat and began his story. With a glance out the window he noticed it was dark. Maybe a good story would get them settled and he could put them to sleep so he could rest his own weary bones.

            “It was the middle of the war when–I said quit your dad gum wiggling!–when I had well enough of this blasted war. Too much blood was shed, too many of my greatest chaps perished, and I’d had enough of this. The generals didn’t care how many of their troops died on the front line, so long as they won and there were other lads ready to replace them and win the honor and glory of becoming a solder!”

            With a sigh he continued, shaking his nearly hairless head, his old blue eyes pale and starting to water at the thought of the war.  “Yes, too many men died. I didn’t want to be the next one. I had five, no, seven! Yes, now I remember, seven sisters and a ma waiting at home for me to return in one piece. I wasn’t going to come home smashed to little pieces. So, I had to find a way out. I couldn’t just hurt myself. No, that would break my ma’s heart to know her young lad was hurt. So, I decided in the thick of battle, weapons flying everywhere, the fierce melee, I would escape. They would label me a prisoner of war, no doubt, or give me up for dead. It wasn’t the most honorable thing, but if I hadn’t done it, I never would have met the love of my life.”

            Here the former soldier had to stop, sigh, and recover his thoughts to remind himself that he was talking to five year olds. If he bored them they would get off his lap, wander elsewhere, and then return when he was trying to doze off. But, he found as he glanced down at the children, they were paying rapt attention to him, clinging to every word. They fancied themselves little warriors in their play time, making swords from sticks and such. His old chapped lips turned into a little smile as he continued.

            “So there I was, in the heat of battle, crawling on my belly to get to the nearby trees, not knowing what awaited me. I just knew I had to get out, so I went as fast as I could. Sometimes on my hands and knees, sometimes just running with my head down and hoping there were no trees in my way. Aye, it wasn’t easy, but I had to get home somehow. I wandered for what seemed like hours after the last cries of war had died out from my ears–which used to be quite good, mind you–when I stumbled upon a huge lake out in the middle of nowhere. ‘Ah!’ I had thought to myself. ‘Here, here I can finally rest my battle weary self and catch a few fish to stave off my growling innards.’ So that’s what I set about to do. I’d hardly found a grassy spot to rest my aching bones when an enemy soldier appeared and demanded to know my allegiance. I hadn’t realized it but by now I was covered in mud. You couldn’t even tell what uniform it was! Oh, the disgrace was awful, but I wasn’t about to lie. No, I had to escape him or he’d kill me. I never liked the killing and bloodshed, despite being quite the strapping young man, so I decided to swim for it. I ran to the bank and before he could react I was under the water.”

           Here he paused, his wrinkled brows creased together. “But, not having judged it before very well, I underestimated the depth of the lake. It was, unfortunately, quite shallow here. So, I hit my head. The soldier gave me up for dead when I didn’t resurface. But, that’s where the love of my life came in, the beautiful goddess of the lake!” he crooned.

            “A goddess!?” the twins chimed in quickly, grinning.

            “Children are to be seen, not heard!” the old man cried. “Now let me finish my story or it’s off to bed with you both.” He cleared his throat again, licking his chapped lips. “Now, where was I? Oh yes, the love of my life, the goddess of the lake! I was out cold, sliding to the middle of the lake I suppose. I don’t know, the idea was I was unconscious, but I imagine that’s how it was. But anyways, there I was, slipping towards death when the fates smiled upon me and the breathtaking goddess of the lake took it upon herself to aid this fading soldier and rescue him from the dark clutches of death. Death! It is the great thief of laughter and happiness that no man or woman can run from. Nay, not even the gods can escape the thief, for eventually even their human brethren will be taken from them one by one.

            “She wrapped me in her arms and laid me upon the embankment, surely protected me from the enemy soldiers. She dried my clothes to save me from cold, saved me from death and all other illnesses. A single caress of her lips and even my aching bones were lively once again, ready to march another thousand miles if I could but taste her lips upon mine one more time.” The old man’s eyes watered as he regaled his story not of triumph or heroism but of fantastic love that brought him back from the brink.

            “When I awoke, there she was. Gazing down on me with those bright golden eyes, her pale hair flowing around her face like an angel’s, her soft hands gracing me to make me feel so comfortable that I would not have to move a muscle to feel I was as comfortable as the mightiest of kings! Oh, it was truly love at first sight. I was at a loss for speech, my tongue tied within my mouth, my eyes could do nothing but gaze upon the beauty that had surely saved me from such an ignominious death. A goddess, to be sure!” The old man let out a big sigh, his eyes full of watery tears that threatened to spill over and trail down the wrinkles he had from smiling so many years.

            The twins, the opposite of being sleepy, were excited now, struggling to not squirm so much that their grandpa would yell at them again, but anxious to hear what came next. “And then what!?” the older peeped.

            “What do you mean, ‘and then what?’” the old man asked. “That was how I met your grandmother. We lived happily ever. I took her home and married her.”

            The twins looked confused. “What? But no big battles, no sword fights, no rescuing her from the bad guy?”

            “Now, now, what’s all this nonsense about bad guys and sword fights? I was getting away from the battle, don’t you two listen to a blasted thing I say? Young little overeager whelps, its bed time for you two,” the old man decided.

            Both twins chimed in a chorus of groans, but perked up when they heard the footsteps of an aging grace walking into the room with a tray of cups, steaming with the sweet smell of hot tea. “Come on my boys, lets get you your tea and then you can all go to bed.” The aging woman said with a warm, knowledgeable smile that exuded kindness.

            The twins hopped off their grandpa’s lap to swarm to her. “Grandma, you’re the goddess of the lake!?” they demanded, but the silver haired woman seemed confused before she looked at her husband. “Oh, pooh. You’re telling that story again? Getting their little imaginations going just before bed isn’t going to help them sleep. Come sit by your grandma children and I’ll tell you how it really happened.” She said with a little smile, giving them each a mug of tea, the old man’s pale eyes bright now as he watched her.

            “I’ve heard your old grandpa’s story many times, and it’s downright wrong.” The old lady decided. “He was hallucinating from lack of sleep. He didn’t see an enemy soldier, I was just there bundled up in a jacket and wanted to know what army he was in. When he jumped in the lake and hit the bottom I thought he was a plain fool and hauled him out before he could drown in front of me. I’ve always been a good swimmer, you know. He was such a handsome young man, I couldn’t bear to see him drown, so I fished him out and got my little brother to help me drag him back to my house. I gave him clean clothes and made sure he was ok before shipping him off to a hospital. He came back and hunted me down and practically dragged me off to marry him. He’s not much of a gentleman, but he was good looking in his prime.” She chuckled a little, putting a hand over her mouth and ending it in a little cough, but she was still smiling. “I’ve loved him ever since.”

 

 

Abby Dunehew

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