A Winter’s Tale
The old man held his wrap tightly about his shoulders. He despised anyone calling it a shawl; women wear shawls. It was, in fact, a wool shawl. He preferred “wrap” or even the archaic “shoulder rug”, actually, that was the term he liked most. Rugs were not always strictly for floors… they were garments before they had been consigned to entryways, most likely by some lazy so-and-so who dropped his in a doorway, was too lazy to pick it up, and told people it was a new type of floor covering. As the old man thought those thoughts, he pulled his “rug” even tighter, rendering it nearly useless as an insulator – no air space to keep warm. He made a half-hearted attempt to scoot his arm chair closer to the fireplace with its old man thawing flames slowly receding like a tide.
Seeing his dim-witted nephew, sitting across the hearth from him and apparently engrossed in watching his fingernails grow, was not about to do anything but let the fire go out, he sat up a little taller in his chair, though the effort caused his spine to make sounds somewhat like a popular breakfast cereal, and cleared his throat.
The effort had been futile, eliciting no response whatsoever from the thick-skulled boy.
Summoning even more energy–likely all he had remaining for that evening–he actually leaned forward, grasping the cane which had been leaning against the side of his chair and, leaning forward until he wasn’t quite sure which way he’d end up falling, back into his chair, or flat out on the floor, where he would surely lie until his son returned from the store. Not that the boy was completely incapable of thought; he actually got good grades in school. He was simply quite apathetic to anyone’s needs but his own. In other words, a teenager.
Raising his cane brought the old man precariously close to falling onto the hearth–at least he would be warm in his recumbancy–and gave the boy’s knee a shove with the rubber tip. The action, in accordance with physical law, caused him to fall back into his heavily padded chair. But the effort had been worth the discomfort, for the boy was now staring at him as if he were a bug in a glass jar.
The boy, 14 years of age, was in fact quite intelligent, but at the cost of a certain amount of empathy. Having been jarred out of the world he had created in his mind, to relieve the torturous boredom of visits to grandpa’s house, he now regarded the intruder with that sort of curious malice he normally showed to bugs he often caught in glass jars.
“You like my stories, don’t you?” the old man rasped. He knew the boy could not resist the lure of his stories from The Great War. He always payed particular attention to the most gruesome details.
“Yeah,” the boy said, trying to affect a sense of indifference, “They’re alright.”
I’ve got him now, the old man thought, a slight gleam in his deep set eyes.
“Well, I’ve got one for you I’m quite certain I’ve never shared with anyone. It’s simply too horrid–I hesitate to bring it up, but the time is passing so slowly, and I’m afraid I’ve told you all the others I have worth telling. If you have difficulty sleeping tonight, you mustn’t let on that I told you a story that caused it.”
“No way! I won’t say anything. I’ll even stay right in my bed and pretend to be asleep.”
In fact, the boy was fairly sure there was nothing the old man could tell him that would even sate his darker inclinations, let alone scare him.
“Very well, then… you’re sure?”
Abandoning any pretense of indifference, the boy nodded in the affirmative quite vigorously.
“Before we get started, we don’t want to be interrupted by the fire going out at just one of the, uh, most interesting parts,” said the old man, “Be a good lad and stoke that fire up a bit with the brass poker, right there, then put another log or two in. That’s right. Not too vigorously or you’ll spread the coals out too much. Good, just like that. Now a couple of logs.”
The boy placed the logs into the fireplace as if conducting some religious rite, shifting them just a bit, to be sure they caught, then returned to his seat. His face was all expectation, but when he turned, anticipating a story of horrific screams and dismemberments, all he saw was the old man, rug pulled around his shoulders, napping in the glow of the newly blazing fire.
“Son of a bitch!” he hissed.
As he drifted off to sleep, the old man chuckled silently to himself, His father used to fall for that one too!
He had not survived The Great War without a certain degree of cleverness.