Twenty-nine year old Melanie Snyder stood sobbing at the shore of the lake where her Grandpa’s ashes had been scattered two years ago. She purposely had one hand inside her coat touching something precious she was wearing around her neck. The first rays of the April sun were just now creeping over the eastern horizon illuminating reflections of thin clouds, a pale azure sky, and the gnarled, barren tree under which he had taught her how to fish when she was five.
“I’m sorry I…” sobs shook her slender frame which was enveloped in the dark blue pea coat that sheltered her from the cold. “I’m sorry I didn’t visit…didn’t call that last year. I was so afraid of what I’d see…of what the cancer had done to…”
Long blond hair being slightly fluttered by the breeze, Melanie lowered both arms to her sides and clenched her fists in resolve, determined to finish her confession.
“You were always my hero, always strong, brave, kind. After Mom and Dad divorced, I could talk to you about anything, how I felt, how mad I was. You always understood. I thought you’d live forever, that you would never leave me.”
Bitter, lonely tears streamed down her blushing cheeks and onto her jacket collar, dampening the wool. She closed her eyes as if in prayer, and when she opened them again, something was happening to the lake.
For a moment, she tried to explain it away to herself as the breeze crossing the water, but it wasn’t like that at all. The lake’s surface was covered in black, animated shapes, like a million iron filings being pulled, pushed, twisted, and swirled by a million impossible magnets beneath them.
Then the reflection was different and in the reflection, the summer sun was high above, there were only a few gulls circling in the sky, and there was a man and a little blond-haired girl of about five sitting under the tree, now in full bloom, both of them holding fishing poles.
And then Melanie was the reflection and then the little girl.
“That’s it, Mel. Try not to pull too hard. Give the fish some slack. It’ll tire itself out and then you can…”
“Oh no, Grandpa.” Stark disappointment crossed the child’s features as her fishing line went limp. “He got away.” Tears swelled in her eyes and she almost let the tip of the fishing rod fall into the water.
“Let me take that for a second.” His voice was soft, kind, compassionate, and his hand was gentle as she took the rod from her and put it in the nearby stand. Then he draped both arms, strong and protective, around her. “It’s okay, Mel. They get away sometimes. That’s all.”
“You’re not mad at me?” Her head against his chest, she could hear his heart beating as she looked up at his chin in hope.
“Mad? Oh, of course not. Why would I be mad?”
“You were going to teach me fishing. I wanted you to be proud of me.”
He pulled her away from his chest so he could see her face. Hands on her shoulders, Grandpa smiled, his three-day old growth of salt and pepper beard was how Melanie would always remember him. “I am proud of you, and I love you so much. I’ve loved you since the moment you were born, I will love you all of my life, and if the good Lord permits, even after that.”
She rushed at him again, tiny arms encircling his large, muscular frame. Then his arms went around her tiny body again.
“I love you, Grandpa. I love you so much. I’m sorry I didn’t visit you more. I just got so busy with life and things.”
“It’s okay, Mel. I understand. No matter how far away you lived, I always loved you and I will always love you, even after I had to go away.”
“I’ll always love you, Grandpa. Thank you. Thank you so much for being my Grandpa. I miss you so much.”
Twenty-nine year old Melanie blinked once and then twice and then the reflection of a summer’s day long gone vanished. She was sitting under the old tree, right where she’d learned how to fish with her Grandpa. The water was just the water again, and the reflection an early morning in spring had grown a few minutes older.
Reaching inside her coat, she pulled out the chain and ran her fingers over her Grandpa’s dog tags. Dad had found a bunch of them from his days in the service when he was cleaning out the house after Grandpa died. She never took them off, and whether there was a little bit of him left in the metal or the letters, or whether some other magic was in the water, she finally got a chance to say one last goodbye.
I wrote this for the Thursday photo prompt: Beneath #writephoto hosted at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. The idea is to use Sue’s original photo above as the prompt for crafting a poem, short story, or some other creative work.
I’ve written a number of “Dark Mirror” tales before including The Pit Fiend Promise, Dark Mirror, Darfur Misspelled, and Encounter at Muxnar. They all tell the tale of a mysterious, black, reflective surface that suddenly appears and offers the person present an opportunity to relive some moment in the past, to say a last goodbye, or right some wrong.
Next April will mark the second anniversary of my Dad’s death. My children adored him, and when he died they were all devastated. He’d been suffering from cancer for a few years, and as it is sometimes, my children didn’t call or visit him very often. I suppose they didn’t want to face his mortality. I should know. He was always a big, strong, capable person. Growing up in his shadow wasn’t an easy thing, but I eventually came to realize that I wasn’t a disappointment as a son, I was just good at different things. He liked to hunt and fish, reloaded his own ammo, was good at car repairs and carpentry. I liked to draw and write.
My Dad did take my children fishing when they were little, and he was the Grandpa every kid would want. He spent 20 years in the Air Force, and, being a child of the Depression, he never threw anything away, including his dog tags. He had tons of them. I gave a pair to each of my children along with other things of Dad’s as reminders. To this day, my daughter wears Dad’s tags around her neck and never takes them off.
I’ve written stories like this before, so this tale is nothing new. I suppose being a Dad and now a Grandpa, I tend toward missives like this one.