Authors: Heather Graham
For Mary Walkley, with many thanks for many things,
and with very best wishes to Leigh Collett
hristie opened her eyes.
Everything seemed to be as it should be. The small porcelain clock on the mantelâGran's favorite, brought over from Irelandâsat in its place, the seconds ticking away softly. A night-light burned in the bathroom, because she didn't like total darkness.
The air conditioner hummed.
The clock chimed softly.
It was midnight.
Then she realized what was wrong. Granda was in the room. He was watching her from the old white rocker that faced her bed. He was smoking his old pipe and rocking gently, and he smiled as she opened her eyes.
“Granda?” she murmured.
“Ah, girl, I woke you,” he said. “I didna mean to do so.”
“It's okay, Granda,” she told him, curious. “Is anything wrong?”
“No, my girl, just the way it is,” he said, and he leaned toward her. “I want you to be good to Gran, that's all, Christie. Be there for her.”
She almost laughed aloud in protest. She was twelve years old, and she didn't even live near Gran, so she could hardly be much help to her. “I'm a kid, Granda,” she reminded him. “I can't even go to the mall by myself.”
She was rewarded with one of his deep and endearing smiles. “So y'are young, girl, so y'are. But children can give a lot of love.”
She frowned, surprised suddenly that he looked so good, and that he was so calm, just sitting there, rocking, the pleasant odor of his pipe tobacco so strong. Gran had been on him about that pipe lately. And he had tried to stop smoking it to please her, which had been easy enough, since he'd been sick in bed so much lately. That was why she was there then, actually, when she should have been back home and going to school. They had come up to help Gran. Of course, Gran wasn't alone. Christie's uncle, her mother's brother, and his wife and two sons lived in the area, but Christie suspected that her grandmother needed her mother. Certainly her mother believed that daughters had more of a bond with their parentsâor maybe daughters were just more useful.
“She should know it, aye, she should, but you make sure she knows I love her, eh?” Granda said.
“Oh, Granda. She knows.”
“And your mom, too. But she has your da, and he's a good man.”
“Mom loves you, too, Granda,” Christie said firmly, feeling it was important that he really understood that.
“Aye. And you love me, too, eh, moppet?”
“Gran is the one who will miss me most.”
“What are you going on about, Granda? You're not going anywhere!”
“Be there for her,” he said, then rose and set his pipe on the mantel. He came to the bed, sat by her side and scooped her into his arms against his chest, and held her as he had often done when reading her a storyâor making one up. She seldom knew what was true and what wasn't, because Granda had, so Gran told her, the gift of blarney. But she loved him and loved his stories, and all her friends loved him, too, because he had such a way with the tales he'd brought over from the old country.
He smoothed back her hair. “The Irish are special,” he told her. “They have the gift of sight.”
She remembered one time when Granda had said so in front of her father. He had remarked dryly, “Ummhmm. Special. Give 'em a fifth of whiskey and they've got the sight, all right.”
Granda hadn't been angry; he'd laughed right along with her father. Her dad hadn't been born in Ireland, like her mom, but his parents had been born there. And even though she wasn't quite a teenager, she was very aware of what went on around her.
A lot of their Irish friends did have a habit of consuming whiskey.
“Guard your gift,” Granda said softly to her.
“Oh, Granda, I'm too young to drink,” she told him. “Honestly.”
He laughed. “I mean the gift of sight, y'little sass,” he told her playfully. “I have to go, Christie. But I'm all right. You let Gran know that, okay?”
“Where are you going?” she asked him.
“Somewhere beautiful,” he said. “Where all wars cease, where God sees goodness, not religion. Where the grass is as ever green as that I knew in Eire.”
The way he spoke was scaring her. She hated when anyone talked about death. She knew that her grandparents were older, that things happened. But she always thought as long as she was cheerful and convinced them that they were still young, nothing could go very wrong. “A place that beautiful?” she teased. “We should go with you.”
“'Tis not to be, not now,” he said. “All in time. Gran will meet me one day. Till then, you give her what she needs.”
He smoothed her hair again. Then he frowned for a moment, looking around.
“What is it, Granda?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Ah, well, 'tis all new to me, but it seemsâ¦well, there are many doors. Indeed, I have opened a new door. No reason to worry, moppet.” He held her close, smiling tenderly. “You just remember all I've said to ye, me little girl.” Cradling her, he began to sing an old lullaby. Granda had a great voice. He'd never been a performerâexcept in pubsâbut he could have been, she thought proudly. He didn't think a thing of his talentâall Irish men could be tenors, if they chose, in his opinion.
As he held her, singing, she drifted off to sleep.
In the morning she heard the soft sound of tears coming from the parlor. It was a parlor in this house, and not a living room, like she had in Miami. Her grandparents had bought the place before so much of Orlando had been bought up by the Disney Company, then hotel and restaurant chains, and other mega-entertainment companies. It was one of the really old houses in the area, one of the very few that had been there before the Civil Warâor the War of Northern Aggression, as some of Granda's friends liked to call it. It had been falling to ruin when they had found it, which was why they had been able to afford it. They called it a Victorian manor. Christie's two cousinsâeven though they were boysâfound it creepy. She loved itâbut then, she loved her grandparents, and they never insisted that she turn off all the lights.
Now it was daylight. But even from her upstairs bedroom, she could hear the soft sound of sobbing down in the parlor.
She stepped from the bed and hurried to the top of the stairs. She heard her father's voice first. “Mary, Seamus is at peace now. He's at peace.”
“Hush now, Sean,” her mother said to her father. “Mom knows that. We'll all be crying just because we miss him so.”
Gran suddenly looked up the staircase, looking sad but strong. Gran always looked strong. She held out her arms. “Christie, girl.”
Christie ran down the stairs to sit on her grandmother's lap, and hugged her, frowning. “Gran? What is it?”
“Granda. Heâhe's gone.”
“Gone?” Christie said with a frown. Then her memories of the night washed over her like a wave. “Ohâ¦he told me that he had to go.”
There was a strange silence. “When you were at his bedside, Christie?” her father asked.
“No, Dad. Last night. He was in my room, smoking his pipe, sitting in the rocker. He told me that he had to go, and that you'd meet him in time, Gran. He said that I needed to be here for you. He said it would be green, like Eire. Andâ¦”
Again there was silence. Moments later there were people at the door. Her grandmother set her down as the paramedics and police entered. Christie frowned, wondering why the police were there, then found herself forgotten as the paramedics hurried up the stairs. She followed. Someone asked Gran what had happened; she explained that she had awakened to find him cold.
“He's been dead for hours, since at least midnight,” someone else said. Then someone got on the phone with Granda's doctor, and Christie realized that since he had “passed” at home, they had to make sure Gran hadn't killed him.
Christie was appalled.
But it was only then that she realized the rock-bottom truth of it.
Granda had gone.
Granda was dead.
But he had been in her room!
Her mother saw her and took her hand. Her mother was sobbing, and Christie felt her pain, her own sense of loss, but somehow, hers wasn't as bad. Granda had been at peace, ready to live in a land that was as green as Eire again.
“Mom, it's all right, it's all right,” she said urgently.
Her mother was distracted and didn't seem to really hear her. “He was ill,” she whispered. “In pain. And nowâ¦he's not.”
“I saw him, Mom. Last night. He loves you all so much. He said he's fine, and he wants you to be fine, too.”
“Out of the mouths of babes,” her father said gently. “Hey, it's cold today, young lady. You need slippers.”
“I'll take her,” her mother said.
Her mother walked with her to the room, still distracted, crying, quietly now, the tears sliding down her face.
When they reached Christie's room, her mother paused and stared at Christie, frowning. “Iâ¦I can almost smell his tobacco in here.”
“He was here. With me. I told you that, Mom.”
Her mother looked at her then as if hearing her for the first time. She forgot all about slippers as she paled and walked away.
That night, the Irish of the area came. First and foremost the family, of course, her uncle and aunt and her cousins, all in mourning, the boys, who were slightly older than Christie, looking very mature and somber, and being tender and even courteous to her.
Granda had left explicit instructions. He was not to be mourned. His life was to be celebrated in the old way. So his cronies also came, and they drank beer, and they lamented, but they celebrated, too, telling stories, drinking more beer. Granda's family did him proud, hosting all those who had loved him the way it was done in the old country.
Seamus Michael McDuff was buried three days later.
At the gravesite, everyone cried. He had been seventy, had had a full life. He'd come from Ireland to the United States with his wife, his daughter and his son, and he'd created a good home for them. He'd been a pastry chef, and he'd worked very hard and saved his money, and finally he'd opened his own restaurant, where he also employed his Irish knack for a ditty and blarney, entertaining as well as feeding many people. He'd loved God and his family; he'd been a good man.
It was while the ancient Irish bagpipes were emitting the mournful notes of a lament that Christie saw him again.
Most people were standing, but Gran was still seated when he went to her side, touched her hair and whispered into her ear.
Gran looked up, startled, frowning. Then it seemed to Christie that the hint of a wistful smile shone through her tears.
Granda turned, as if aware that Christie was watching, and winked. He looked so healthy. So much younger. His playful Gaelic self.
She couldn't help smiling, too.
The service was coming to an end, the bagpiper playing “Danny Boy.”
It was then that she looked up, across the expanse of the cemetery.
There was another funeral going on, small in comparison to her grandfather's. There were a man and a woman and a priest. Just three people. The woman was crying her heart out. The priest was speaking, obviously trying to comfort her. Strangely, it seemed to Christie that they were in a hurry, as if they didn't want to be seen by anyone else.
There was something so terribly sad about it.
She saw her grandfather again. He was eyeing her with a touch of wistful humor.
“Love is all we can take with us to the grave,” he murmured. “It is the greatest part of any existence, and in that, I have died so rich.”
She wanted to speak to him; she also wanted to scream.
Because he couldn't really be there.
She heard him whisper. “If y'would, girl. Kindness to others, in me honor.”
She realized that his service had come to an end, and somehow she was holding a rose. She followed the others' lead and dropped it down on the coffin. She turned away and noticed that one rose had fallen on the ground. She picked it up and, without thinking, started walking over to the other funeral, which had ended. The priest and the distraught couple were gone. Only the caretakers were there now, getting ready to lower the coffin into the ground.
“Do you know this man?” the caretaker asked as she drew nearer.
She set the rose she was holding on the coffin. “Go with God,” she murmured.
“Christina!” She heard her mother's voice, calling. She turned away from the sadness of the grave where so few had mourned and hurried back to her family.
Later, thinking that it would make her grandmother feel better, she told Gran that she'd seen her grandfather. Gran stared at her, then said, “Aye, lovie, I sensed him there, that I did.”