The pint was cold, but his hands were colder, and his eyes were coldest. Or at least I thought they were, until I heard his voice.
“Sit.” It was a command, and he thrust a beer across the table at me. Ice chips detached themselves from the rim and floated under the frothy head, brushing my lips as we both took a sip.
There are moments for questions. There are moments for hysterics. But when your grandfather, dead from liver failure for ten years with dirt still in his hair shows up as the sole person in your go-to bar, there are moments for silence. And listening.
“I came here,” He said, “To have a beer with you. Something I never got to do.”
“And I apologize for that.” His voice was still cold, haggard around the edges, but the ice softened in the air with the whisper.
“It’s not your fault.” I said.
“That’s where you’re wrong, son. I did a lot of things wrong back in the day. Treated your grandmother wrong. Raised your father to be the low life he is today. And I hated myself for it. Drove me to drinking, and smoking, and a host of other things a man does when he likes to chip away at this life bit by bit because he wants to watch himself bleed. The alcohol wrote the papers of the divorce before it killed me. And it gave you father cauliflower ear on the outside, and a lot worse on the in.”
“Dad’s doing better,” I said, but he cut me off.
“Better my ass. It’s a lot easier to do better when you’ve got the law lookin down your back, and you wife has left you, and you spend your days alone where no one can see the bad. I know you haven’t called him in years, or he called you. But listen here, son. I’ve been watching you. I’ve seen the way you started to act. Thinkin you can only be what we were.”
“It’s not that way,” I said, but the words faltered. At least, it hadn’t always been. But times had been rough. It was hard to find a job. My girlfriend had moved in, and with money problems I’d felt myself getting more and more hostile. I’d started taking it out on her. There was no father to help me, and all I could remember was the way he used to handle situations when times grew tough. Usually with a bottle- drinking till it was dry, and smashing it after, often in my direction.
Then my grandfather spoke again.
“You see, purgetory’s a lot like jail, son. You get your one phone call. I’m making mine, and I still don’t know if I’m going up or down after. Don’t be like me. Or your father. Be better. We could have been, but we weren’t. And that’s my regret.”
He pushed his chair back, and headed for the door.
“Wait! Grandfather, stop, have another beer with me. Tell me more.”
He met my eyes with his again. I felt the cold.
“I only drink one nowadays, son.”
And the door shut behind him.