This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 11. I spent two hours on this story; this is the third draft. The prompt: “Write about a holiday.”
I was waiting at the bus stop listening to Maria and Jonas argue about which Pokemon was the most powerful when Grandpa’s tan car pulled up.
He rolled down the windows, smiled at the three of us, and said to me, “Hey Lindsey. How are you doing today, kiddo?”
“I’m doing okay, Grandpa.” Maria and Jonas looked at me, confused. I shrugged. Sometimes Grandpas just showed up. I walked up to the car. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to pick you up.” Grandpa was short but broad shouldered with a round, clean-shaven face topped with a gray buzz cut. He was always happy and smiling.
I tilted my head. “But I have school today.”
“Not today,” he said, shaking his head. “Today’s a holiday.”
“Yep.” He nodded to the backseat. “So hop on in. We have a fun day ahead of us.”
I looked back at Maria and Jonas. They shrugged. I hopped in the car, putting my backpack on the neighboring seat. Grandpa and I waved goodbye to Maria and Jonas before driving away.
“So what Holiday is it?” I asked after we’d turned onto another street. Mom didn’t say anything about a holiday, and neither did Maria or Jonas. Summer was over so it wasn’t 4th of July. Halloween was two weeks away. Columbus Day had come and gone, though we didn’t celebrate that holiday.
“It’s a very special holiday,” Grandpa said.
That wasn’t helpful. Sometimes grandpas are unhelpful like this.
A few minutes later, he glanced at me in the rearview mirror and asked, “You ever been to the game shop on Main Street?”
I shook my head. Mom didn’t like Main Street. “Driving down there is a nightmare,” she always said.
“Well, you are in for a treat. I used to go there all the time as a kid with my friend. We’d play card and board games for hours and hours. Kept us out of trouble, which let me tell you, my friend and I got into all sortsa trouble when we weren’t in that game shop.”
I nodded. It made sense. Mom always said Grandpa was a handful.
So we went to O’Connor’s Games Shop, owned and operated by the O’Connor family since 1959. At least that’s what the woman who ran the store said when we arrived. We spent a few hours there. I taught Grandpa how to play Settlers of Catan, and we played it with the owner lady and her husband—neither of them mentioned why they were working on a holiday or why all the other shops on Main Street were opened too. With the largest army and longest road for the army to march on, I won the game.
After promising to return soon, Grandpa and I left and returned to the car.
“Next up: the movies!” Grandpa said, starting the car.
“What movie are we going to see?”
“That new animation film by that lamp company.”
It took me a moment before I asked, “Inside Out from Pixar?”
Grandpa snapped his fingers. “That’s the one!”
I didn’t tell Grandpa that Mom and I already went to see Inside Out back in the summer. I really wanted a cherry slushie.
Arriving at the theater and after getting a large cherry slushie and an extra large popcorn, Grandpa and I sat in the dimly lit theater waiting for the movie to start.
“My friend and I used to come to this theater all the time,” he said, smiling. “Whenever we could scrounge up enough change for tickets and popcorn, that is.” He peered at me with a mischievous look in his eyes. “And if we couldn’t do that, we’d sneak in through the back.” He winked.
The movie started, and the few people in the theater fell silent. The movie was just as good as the first time. The slushie was awesome too!
Walking out of the theater a few hours later, Grandpa cracked his back. “Don’t ever get old,” he said, wincing. “Or spend an entire career sitting at a desk.”
“I already have a career sitting at a desk.”
His eyebrow rose.
“It’s called school.”
Grandpa laughed. It was a deep, barking laugh that filled the entire lobby. “You, kiddo, are too young to have such a dry wit. Reminds me of my friend, actually.” Grandpa fell silent as we left the theater and returned to the car.
“Hungry?” he asked after we buckled in.
I nodded. Unlike Grandpa, I wasn’t a big popcorn fan, so I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
“I got just the place,” he said, and we sped off. “A burger place over in The Outlets. Me and my friend would race our bikes over there on the weekends. I always won!”
“Course, same people don’t run it anymore,” he continued after a few silent moments. “A chain gobbled it up when I was overseas. Burgers never tasted the same afterwards.”
It didn’t take long to get to The Outlets. Traffic was light today.
We arrived at the burger place, made our orders, and sat at a booth shooting each other with the paper sleeves covering the straws. Then Grandpa had to use the restroom.
Something was off about today. Something was off about Grandpa. He seemed . . . well he acted happy, but that happy seemed like it was hard for him or something. It wasn’t Grandpa’s normal easy happy.
Our order was announced, so I walked up to the counter to get it from a bored-looking man.
“What holiday is it today?” I blurted.
The man’s face pinched into a frown. “I don’t know. I don’t think it is a holiday. Wish it were. I could be playing video games right now instead.” Then someone else walked up to get their order and I was forgotten.
I returned to our booth and Grandpa came back shortly after. I ate my burger in silence. Grandpa ate his, but he complained about it every other bite; the burger just wasn’t as good as when he and his friend came here.
After lunch, just like Grandpa and his friend would do, we went to the park to play catch and feed bread to the ducks and catch tadpoles—we put them back when we were done.
Then we had soft serve ice cream in a vacant lot. The ice cream came from a cooler in the trunk of Grandpa’s car. “Used to be a soft serve parlor in this lot called Marly’s. Made the ice cream themselves and it was the best in the country. My friend and I would come here and eat ice cream until we were sick. I always got chocolate. He always chose vanilla.”
We went to the river last. From the trunk—Grandpa had a lot of random stuff in there, just like his house—Grandpa pulled out two carved wooden boats. Grandpa enjoyed making things out of wood. “These are just like the boats my friend and I would make,” he said.
We walked down a well-trod path to the river. It had only rained a few times recently, so the river was more of a creek.
“Stay here, kiddo. Bit dangerous this river is. I’ll just go ahead and release these two boats myself.”
Grandpa continued walking.
“Did you and your friend do this too?” I asked. “Release boats in the river?”
Grandpa froze, his shoulders tensing. He looked back at me, his happy gone. “Yeah. We did.” He turned away and continued to the water’s edge.
Grandpa released the boats and watched them float lazily down the creek for a very, very long time.
Then he took me home. The drive back was silent.
At mine and Mom’s house, Grandpa walked me up to the door. “I don’t think I’m gonna come in. I suspect your mom won’t be all that happy with me about today.”
“Because today’s not really a holiday?”
“Yeah . . .” He looked down at his toes, his face fallen.
This was wrong. Grandpas were supposed to be happy. Not sad.
I threw my arms around Grandpa’s torso and squeezed him real, real hard.
He returned the hug, squeezing me real, real hard.
We stayed that way for a long time.
“Thank you for the holiday, Grandpa.”
Pulling away, he ruffled my hair. “Thank you, kiddo.”
He walked back to his car, gave me a wave goodbye, and drove away.
Walking into the house, a very frantic and then very angry Mom greeted me. After telling her I played hooky with Grandpa, Mom said, “You should have told me.” Then she signed and pinched her nose. “No, Grandpa should have told me. He’s the adult.”
“Grandpa was very sad today even though he said it was a holiday.”
Mom frowned. She pulled her phone from a pocket and peered at it. Her eyebrows rose and her mouth became an O. Then she looked sad. “Today is the anniversary of your Grandpa’s best friend, Todd, passing away, after drowning in the river.”
Image from Wikimedia Commons