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Sunday, Two O'clock
This routine should have been boring for a man of his age. In actuality, it became more engrossing each time. One could think that a grandfather would have absolutely nothing in common with his grandson, but nothing is ever as it seems is it. Every Sunday, around two o’clock in the afternoon, Dorian would arrange a game of chess in the park with his eight-year-old grandson, Blaine.
“Blaine,” he thought to himself, “What a ridiculous name for a child! A fish maybe, but not for a boy!”
He could not believe that he allowed his only daughter to give her first son that horrid name. He justified that it was probably on the insistence of her husband, a man he never particularly liked but was good to his daughter. Though he hated the name, he loved his first grandchild more than life itself. He saw a lot of his late wife in him. They were both so loving and considerate of everyone around them. His wife Ellie, had been taken from him sooner than he anticipated.
The doctors said she had only sixteen months to live when the prognosis came in. He’d seen the commercials, been witness to the charity walks and heard stories of people who’d been affected by it, but he never thought that breast cancer would take his Ellie away from him. She passed away after eight long and gruelling months of suffering, during which she never complained. Ellie never had to say anything though, Dorian just knew. The same way he knew that Blaine was Ellie reincarnated as a young boy when he first held him in his arms at the hospital.
“Grandpa, grandpa,” exclaimed little Blaine. He hugged the boy, hoping that some of his youth would permeate through his jacket and into his body. Blaine hopped into the seat across from him and began lining up all of his “guys” as he called them. His grandson was too young to understand the point of the game, and Dorian never bothered to explain it. Instead, he let Blaine move his characters all over the board in whichever way he felt that day. This went on for about half an hour, when the ice cream truck pulled into the park.
“Hey Blaine,” the grandfather said. The boy looked up, eyes wide and sparkling – just like his grandmother.
“Yeah gramps,” he answered with anticipation and excitement in his voice.
“Do you want an ice cream?”
The grandfather curled his aged, rough hand around the boy’s smooth, youthful one as they walked hand in hand to the edge of the playground where the truck was parked. Dorian suddenly realized that he didn’t feel as young as he thought; the usually quick walk to the truck seemed to drag on for minutes and though it was lovely outside, he found it quite difficult to catch his breath in attempts to keep up with his grandson. He ordered two rocket pops and grabbed extra napkins because Blaine was a messy eater.
Fragrant syrup dripped down the wooden popsicle sticks as the two walked back to their chess table under an immortal willow tree. He watched Blaine’s imagination churn out elaborate storylines for him to act out with the chess pieces. Dorian was very observant and took special interest in memorizing every small detail about his grandson. He had dark chestnut hair that shone in the sun, framing a round face with an impeccable complexion. Two huge blue marbles for eyes, a button nose and small pink lips; now circled with half-dried flavouring syrup. Blaine’s gene pool certainly worked in his favour, but those eyes! It was as if God had removed Ellie’s eyes and given them to Blaine while he was still in the womb. Though he was young, his eyes showed a certain maturity and perceptiveness that few eight year old boys have.
“Grandpa, my chest feels weird. It’s kinda bumpy on one side,” the child spoke.
“That’s because your mother doesn’t feed you enough, you’re much too thin! And she gets mad at me for buying you a popsicle, heck I should buy you the whole truck!”
Dorian and Blaine giggled and went back to their regular routine of him playing with the pieces, and Dorian observing. Before they knew it, Blaine’s mother Marnie walked over and greeted her father with a hand on his right shoulder and a kiss on the same cheek. She asked how their afternoon had been and Blaine told her all about how the king and queen got into a fight because he didn’t put his socks in the hamper so everyone in the manor started taking sides.
Marnie was wondering if she remembered to take the towels out of the dryer and fold Tom’s work clothes when Blaine told her that his grandfather said she didn’t feed her son enough.
“Oh really? I don’t feed you enough? Maybe if you sat down for five minutes to let the food settle into your stomach then maybe grandpa wouldn’t make those kinds of comments,” Marnie directed towards her father.
“Yeah, he said that’s why my chest is all bumpy, ‘cause you can feel all my bones. It’s gross and cool at the same time,” exclaimed the boy.
Though his eyes spoke of wisdom beyond his years, his actions did not; they revealed that he was just like any other young boy, energetic and inconsistent with his behaviour. Dorian, Blaine, and Marnie said their goodbyes and went their respective ways.
Another week passed and here he was on another Sunday at two o’clock, waiting for his grandson. Ten minutes passed, but Dorian thought nothing of it, his daughter was prone to tardiness. Another ten minutes passed, and he grew more concerned. At half past the hour, Dorian began the short journey home. He greeted Greg, his doorman who tipped his hat to him, pushed the corresponding button for his floor and went up to his apartment.
The lock had always been a pain, but the difficulty opening it was attributed only to Dorian’s digressing eyesight and negligence to wear his glasses. He put his keys on the hall table, and blew a kiss to the framed photo of Ellie as he passed by. He sank his aging body into the couch and clicked on the television.
“Television shows aren’t good anymore. They’re all about twenty-somethings drinking, going out and dating everyone in their circle of friends. No more ‘M.A.S.H’ or ‘I Love Lucy’ or ‘Gilligan’s Island,’” Dorian thought.
He passed out on the couch and awoke at seven o’clock in the evening, stomach grumbling, and mouth dry. Dorian sauntered into the kitchenette and fixed himself a sandwich and a glass of cranberry juice. The night proved to be uneventful, as so many of his previous ones had been since Ellie passed.
Under the comfort of the willow tree’s shade, Dorian awaited the arrival of his beloved Blaine. All the pieces were set out on the board and ready for play-time. He watched as young parents chased after their kids with disinfectant wipes and bandages while thinking to himself,
“Can’t kids just be kids anymore?”
It seemed as though society had become more and more afraid of germs. When he was a child, he played in the dirt daily and nothing bad ever happened to him! Dorian soon caught on to the fact that his grandson still had not arrived for their date. He slowly became more absorbed in watching the other patrons at the park. When Marnie had still not arrived with Blaine, he walked home.
Dorian carefully pressed the digits of his daughter’s telephone number into the keypad, and anticipated Marnie answering on the other line. Instead, he was greeted by the family’s voicemail. He tried her cell phone, but merited the same results. Not thinking anything of it, he retired to the couch and spent another evening asleep in front of the television.
He tried various times over the next few days to get in contact with his daughter. At last, he received a call from Marnie’s husband Tom; he had a very somber tone to his voice.
“Hey Dorian,” Tom said.
“Hello Tom, you guys must have been busy this past week. I’ve been trying to get in touch with Marnie but she’s impossible to find,” voiced Dorian.
“Yeah, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Blaine’s been in the hospital…”
“What? What’s going on,” Dorian asked.
“Do you remember Blaine complaining about bumps in his chest?”
“We took him to the doctor to make sure everything was alright. The doctor took some x-rays and did some tests. The results… they weren’t good,” said his son-in-law.
“What, what is it? It can’t be that bad, he’s only eight,” exclaimed Dorian.
There was some gentle sobbing on Tom’s end, and hyperventilating coming from Marnie. Dorian grew more worried, not only for his daughter’s sake, but for Blaine’s health. What could possibly be wrong with his angelic grandson?
“Those bumps Blaine was complaining about… they turned out to be… tumours. Dorian, he has breast cancer.”
He couldn’t believe his ears. The same illness that took his Ellie away was about to wreak havoc on his only grandchild! His world spun out of control and crashed around him. Fragments of the life he once knew in disarray all around him; they were all there in front of him, and he couldn’t figure out how to put them back together. He was speechless. He could hear his son-in-law calling his name on the other end but the sound didn’t register. His vision became a blur and everything lost its colour. Nothing would ever be the same again. That night was unlike his others; he went into his bedroom, turned down the sheets, climbed into bed and cried himself to sleep.
St. Jerome’s Hospital: the hospital with the state’s best cancer ward. Dorian hated every aspect of this place. He vowed after Ellie’s death to never set foot in that cold, unwelcoming, tiled foyer and never look that tired old receptionist in the face again. Every man breaks a promise to himself every once in a while, right? The ominous second-guessing game that was terrorizing Dorian’s elderly mind was beginning to take its toll and then he saw it. Tall, round wooden desk with some new receptionists alongside his favourite gal. He looked down: the same tiles with grout at the beginnings of crumbling apart; a fitting metaphor for his current state. Dorian drew his head up and met the eyes of Maryanne, the receptionist he knew oh so well.
“Who are you here to see,” she asked robotically.
“Uh, Blaine. Blaine Grove. He… he’s, he’s my grandson,” he squeaked out while fighting back tears.
“Room 134. Go down this hallway, turn right at the hand sanitizing station, left at the bulletin board and it’ll be on your right have a nice day,” Maryanne said without looking up from the monitor.
He said a quiet thank you and moved on to the room. He made all the necessary turns and arrived at the door of room 134. Dorian stood there, silent and contemplative; a state he found himself in quite often these days. He knew it was the right thing to do, to walk in and spend time with his grandson but he couldn’t even look at him without being overwhelmed with memories of Ellie. His vision blurred and for a second, it was Ellie lying in the hospital bed. Dorian regained control of his sight and was peering at Blaine yet again.
“Excuse me sir,” said a young girl in a candy striper’s uniform.
“Oh, sorry, go ahead,” he spoke
The girl turned around and took a quick look at Dorian then asked, “Are you here for Blaine?”
“Uh, yes. Yes I am. He’s my grandson.”
“You are one lucky grandpa. He is such a great kid! One of my favourites actually. I haven’t heard him complain once,” the girl exclaimed.
“Thank you very much young lady. What is your name?”
Elena walked over to Blaine’s bedside and placed his lunch on the tray. She said goodbye to Dorian and left to attend to her other patients. He sat down in the chair to the right of Blaine’s bed and stared at his grandson. His angelic little face was hard to see through the masks and tubes, but he knew that his Blaine would pull through.
About fifteen minutes later, Blaine’s eyelids fluttered open. He rubbed his eyes, making a twisted pouty face, turned over and said hello to Dorian. The two of them ate lunch together and Dorian asked him how he liked the hospital.
“It’s kinda cool. The bed moves up and down, I like that. And I have a TV in my room! Mom and dad wouldn’t let me have a TV in my room. I also don’t have to clean my room or make my bed or anything! And Elena thinks I’m a cutie patootie,” said Blaine.
“Looks like you have your grandfather’s charm kiddo,” Dorian said with a slight smile.
“She’s so pretty. I’m gonna marry her.”
Dorian chuckled to himself; Blaine really was just like Ellie. Not even cancer could keep him down. Maybe it was because Blaine didn’t really know what was happening. How do you even begin to explain cancer to a little kid?
“Gramps, why am I here? I feel fine but those people in the white coats and heart-listener-thingys won’t let me. Can you tell them I’m fine and that we can go to the park and play with the guys and eat popsicles on Sunday?” asked the child.
“I’m sorry Blaine, there’s a little more to it than that. But I’ll tell you what: if you’re still here on Sunday, I will bring the guys and the popsicles to you. Does that sound okay?” Dorian bargained.
“Can I have two popsicles?” he asked with bright eyes.
“You can have three!”
“That’s a deal!”
Blaine and Dorian shook hands, and Dorian remarked the time. It was time for him to go home. They said their good byes and Dorian walked the oh-so familiar path out of the hospital and to his car. Greg the doorman greeted him with a smile and a tip of the hat, and Dorian went up to his apartment. He spent most of his night rummaging through old boxes looking for his personal chess set.
Sunday, two o’clock. Same time, same people, different place. Dorian breezed past Maryanne and her desk minions on his way to room 134 for his regular Sunday afternoon with Blaine. Elena was there reading to him when Dorian walked in.
“Hi gramps! This is Elena, my girlfriend. Elena, this is my grandpa Dori. You’ll like him. It’s important that my girlfriend and my grampa get along because they’re the most important people ever in the world and…”
“Okay Blaine I think we got it,” Elena interrupted.
“Hello Elena. How are you?” asked Dorian.
“I’m good now that I have my man with me. How’s life?” Elena returned.
“It’s been okay. Would you like to join Blaine and me for our Sunday afternoon?”
“Thank you, but I’m going to have to pass. I have a few more patients to see and then I’m going out with my actual boyfriend, but don’t tell Blaine.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell a soul.”
Elena said goodbye to Blaine and went on her way. He was playing with his hospital bracelet until Dorian set down a cooler with lots of popsicles and an old cardboard box containing an antique chess set.
“Does that have popsicles in it?” asked Blaine
“Of course it does! And look what I brought…”
“Yes, but today, you’re going to learn what all these guys do.”
Blaine looked at him with those blue eyes and all Dorian could see was Ellie. She loved to learn new things and would get so excited when she finally mastered it. He hoped that Blaine would feel the same sense of excitement that she did. Though his eyes were wide, they were not bright. He asked Blaine if he felt okay.
“Yeah gramps, I feel fine.”
“Are you sure? You don’t look like your regular self. Maybe I should go get one of the doctors.”
“No. I want to play with the guys and eat popsicles with you if it’s the last thing I do.”
There was Blaine’s grown-up side. It didn’t come out very often, but when it did Dorian knew he meant business. With that, they spent the afternoon playing chess and eating popsicles. Blaine’s tongue was all kinds of colours after eating so many popsicles and the chess pieces were sticky from his fingers. They played a few rounds of chess, and Dorian let Blaine fiddle with the pieces as he usually did. He wondered if this would be one of their last Sundays together. Suddenly, Marnie and Tom walked in with balloons for Blaine.
“Hi sweetheart, how are you feeling?” asked Marnie
“A little better, but a lot better at the same time because me and gramps played chess and ate popsicles like we always do. It was fun, but I like the park better,” said Blaine.
“Well that’s good to hear. Hi dad,” Marnie said to her father with a kiss on the cheek.
“Hello darling, hello there Tom.”
“Hi Dorian, Marnie, we have to go speak to Blaine’s doctors,” said Tom.
“Alright. Dad, do you think you’ll be good for a few more minutes with him,” asked his daughter.
“For Blaine, I’m always free.”
Tom and Marnie left to meet with the doctor, while Blaine and Dorian remained in the hospital room.
“Gramps, do you think I’ll ever get out of this place?” asked Blaine innocently.
Dorian thought to himself for a moment, silently wondering what his answer to Blaine’s question was. He knew in his heart what his answer was, but the science would determine whether he had the wrong or right answer.
“Of course you will kid, you’re my checkmate,” Dorian said with a wink.
Blaine smiled sweetly and stared out the window. The tell-tale clicking of heels on tile signalled that Marnie and Tom were on their way back to the room. Marnie looked worried, so did Tom. When Dorian asked them what the doctor said:
“He said that the tumours have shrunk, and they’re small enough to remove through surgery. They don’t seem to think that there should be any complications, but I’m still worried,” Marnie said.
“Well honey, they are professionals and Blaine’s in the best cancer ward in the state. I think you should take their advice,” Dorian spoke encouragingly.
“You really think so dad?”
“Whatever’s best for Blaine.”
“Okay, then. We’re doing it.”
Beneath the all-encompassing shade of the weeping willow, sat an old man anxiously awaiting the arrival of his grandson. The old man observed the other patrons at the park as he reflected on the past fourteen months of his life. What a journey it had been, and it amazed him how he ended up right back where he started. He checked his watch; it was two o’clock on Sunday afternoon.
“Hey gramps! Sorry I’m late,” said Blaine with a smile.