Are soulmates forever?
"Your Gong-gong and I celebrated our golden anniversary last year," Paw-paw said one day while I was visiting her at the nursing home. "I think it's time we did something adventurous!"
I smiled. It had been a long while since my seventy year old grandmother lit up like a toddler at the park on Easter Sunday.
I arched an eyebrow, wondering if my grandmother and I were thinking the same thing. "What exactly were you planning on doing?" I asked, pouring the second cup of tea. "Bungee jumping? Skydiving? Or maybe just getting into the back of Dad's car?" She was absolutely terrified of speed.
"Oh," she said, nonchalantly, "I don't know..." her voice trailed off. "Maybe we'll get a divorce!"
I coughed, tea escaping through my nostrils.
"Oh," she exclaimed, hurriedly offering a rescue napkin. "Are you alright, dear?"
"Yes," I replied, "just tea in my..." I circled my face with an index finger. "Nose."
My place was all over the head. I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to tell her about my grandfather. I didn't want to bring up everything that she'd spent all these years trying to get over. Maybe I should just pretend she didn't say anything, I thought.
"Fifty years," she finally said after refilling my cup. "I think it's long enough for two people to know they're ready to do something else. Don't you?"
I smiled and sipped my tea. "I don’t know Paw-paw, I haven’t been married as long as you have.” I watched her closely, seeing if there was any tells on her face—anything that would give away her real intentions—but there were none.
“Getting married to your grandfather was wonderful, don’t get me wrong. But after the first thirty years…” she paused as though trying to remember something important.
“Paw-paw?” I said after a few moments of silence between us.
“Oh, sorry.” She recomposed herself. “Where was I? Oh yes, I remember. After this many years, it gets a bit much you know?” She then lowered her voice, “Besides, your Gong-gong hasn't really been around these last few years, always off on his own, on some adventure. One time he was gone for months on end!”
I bit my lip. I could feel my stomach in knots.
“So,” she said with a firm voice. “I decided that I needed a change.”
“But Paw-paw,” I said, setting my cup down on the table and shifted in my chair.
“No,” she had had a palm up, facing me. “I’ve made up my mind. And I’ll tell you why.” She looked directly at me. “I’ve met someone.”
My lips were pursed, and my fists were clenched. I wanted to burst out, tell her everything about Gong-gong, but I saw the glimmer in her eyes as she continued talking with expressive hand gestures and I held my mouth firmly shut.
“...he brought me flowers the other day,” she said. “It was just the loveliest bunch of ruby red roses I had seen in awhile. Of course I told him I was taken.” She held up her ring finger.
“What’s his name again?” I said when I realized her lips had stopped moving.
“Kenneth,” she replied. “Ken for short. He’s actually quite the gentleman.”
She radiated warmth, her skin reflecting the morning sunshine, lips curling spontaneously like a young woman in love. I haven’t seen her like this since my daughter Karen was born. This was my grandmother, my Paw-paw, the one that had disappeared that fateful night, the night our worlds came crashing down on us. It took us what seemed like forever to get past the tragedy, but Paw-paw was sadly not the same woman. Imagine having your soul sucked right out, against your will, ripped from your flesh and bones. Then, whatever was left, the empty husk of a body, shucked, discarded, forced to endure an existence in between nowhere. Simply floating away, withering, diminishing. Everything would seem bland, all colour from the world drained, taste buds paralysed, and kittens would just be miniature cats.
In essence, I lost both grandparents that day. But watching her then… was this a better outcome?
“Your tea’s getting cold, dear.”
“Oh,” I jolted myself back. “Sorry,” I said.
“You know,” she said, “it would be really nice if you’d supported me.”
The smile hadn’t left her face. I lugged my chair closer, then filled my fingers into her hand. What about Gong-gong? I wanted to say, but the words evaporated at the tip of my tongue.
“I do,” I finally said. “I want you to be happy Paw-paw, and if this makes you happy, then I’m on your side.” But.
“Thank you, dear.” She squeezed my hand. “It means a lot.”
I reciprocated the smile. “So, when do I get to meet him?”
“Funny you should mention that,” she said. “Ken’s visiting me today.”
“He is?” I said. “When?”
“Oh…” her voice trailed off as she peered at her wrist. “Right about now.”
Part of me was excited. I wanted to know more about this man. Was he good-looking, has he aged well? Was he jovial? Would he smell thick with aftershave? Was he passionate about organ donation like Gong-gong? I turned around to look. My eyebrows furrowed when I saw him walking toward us. It couldn’t be right. That couldn’t be him. He was young enough to be my brother! No, the man that I saw had to be…
“Ken!” Paw-paw chirped. “How lovely to see you!” Still, I was in disbelief. My eyes were playing tricks, even when he leaned in for a kiss on the cheek, and stood behind her, hands on her shoulders. I knew I was staring, my mouth was wide open. She looked at me, then back at him, and said: “I’d like to introduce my granddaughter, Cora.”
“Hi…” my voice was weak. “Hello,” I tried again, this time extending my hand to shake his.
“Hello, Cora. I’ve heard so much about you,” he said. “I won’t say how I know where you got your good looks.”
“Surely you know that line doesn’t work anymore,” I blurted, then cringed inwardly. It was as though my filter had gone missing.
Paw-paw’s expression dampened a little, but she quickly recomposed. She was about to say something, but Kenneth piped up. “And I won’t say how I know who you got your fire from!”
“Perceptive,” I said. “For a twenty year old.”
“I’m actually closer to thirty.” He smiled cheekily, seemingly unfazed at the apparent hostility.
We spent the next half hour chatting. I threw all sorts of curly questions at him, it was a mix bag of obvious in-your-face and subtle ones. From politics, to global warming, to Donald Trump, and finally to same-sex marriage. There was a brief moment when I saw him shift uneasily. When Paw-paw excused herself to use the facilities, I decided to act.
“What’s your story, mate?” I asked, looking him directly in the eyes. “I’ll have you know that my grandmother isn’t a gold mine.”
He stared at me for a few seconds. Not a twitch in his body. Then, suddenly, he erupted into laughter.
“You…” he said after several moments. “You really think I’m after her money?”
“Explain yourself then,” I said and folded my arms.
He started unbuttoning his shirt. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“Explaining,” he replied.
I started to feel uncomfortable, but held my tongue when I finally understood what he was trying to convey. On his chest, from just below his clavicle to the top of his diaphragm, was a deep scar. “I had a heart transplant,” he said. “Five years ago. The 23rd of November.” He emphasised the date, as if it was significant to me.
I observed him from afar. The cogs in my brain spinning furiously. Why was that date so familiar? I should know it. Oh my God!, The light bulb came on. That’s the date of the accident! I searched his face. There was only kindness and love. My eyes welled up as he nodded.
“How?” I said softly, my knuckles removing the excess moisture from my cheeks. “How did you and grandmother—”
“That’s a long story in itself,” he interjected. He gazed past me in the direction of the main building, then re-buttoned his shirt. “But suffice to say, I’m not a gold digger. Look, I’ve thought about telling her the truth, but I know that would break her heart all over again. It’s my decision."
He looked at me and said, "I will never hurt her. I promise.” His intense grey eyes spoke volumes.
I took the time to churn everything over several times. Weighing the pros along with the cons. The current situation was untenable. Someone would slip up eventually. I’ve been in similar situations before. It was impossible to maintain a lie without telling even more lies. Perhaps not for my grandmother in her current state of mind, but it would be living a lie, especially for Ken. How could we ask this of him? This was crazy!
Paw-paw came back not long after. She sat down next to him, and he poured her more tea. They started chatting, like best friends from lifetimes ago. It must be the air, the fresh scent of flowers, or the crispness, or even the singing of the Silvereyes; but I understood why she was drawn to him, why she fell for him. My Gong-gong had a heart of gold, and this same heart now resided within him, beating strongly for both of them.
“You’re a good man, Ken.” I said to him when it was time to depart.
He smiled back, nodding, one arm around her shoulder. Maybe she’ll find out, maybe she won’t. My grandfather had managed to find a way to be with my grandmother even through death. Who was I to tear them apart again?