The Grandfather


Once, there was a very old grandfather who every night would read to his grandchildren. They were young and just beginning to open their eyes to the world, to perceive the boundaries between illusion and reality, dreaming and truth. One evening, this grandfather picked a book off his ageing shelf and sat down to read to his audience. The story was one of those classic tales that children love about a hero, a princess, ending with true love. The tale was old. Older than the grandchildren, older than the grandfather, older than anyone could remember. It had passed down by word of mouth, was the culmination of a thousand re-tellings, a thousand grandfathers adding their own dash of colour, or autobiography, or humanity. The grandchildren gazed up at this man - at that strong, scalable shoulder, the rough stubble that always made their hands feel so soft, and that voice that made them feel so drowsy. Gradually, bit by bit, the frames of sleep closed in and muddled themselves with his silhouette until neither man, nor story were distinguishable. That night they were alive with the story of that hero. A hero of a bygone age. Their hero. Their grandfather. Through their minds flew a thousand words and a million worlds, coalescing into the multitude of stars in the sky - a mass as innumerable as the sand on the shore, or flying foam bubbles deep out at sea. Plots and fragments dashed through their heads like shooting stars brandishing themselves across a sky, leaving a trail not just of light, but of something far more memorable. Something that in days, weeks, years to come, they would remember. Meanwhile, the grandfather breathed a sigh of relief as the two faces relaxed in sleep. He slowly left the room, anxious not to undo the magic, and then sealed them within their cocoon of night to the flighting fancies of their imaginations. Downstairs he went, consciously stepping on the sides of each step to avoid those penetrating creaking sounds. He poured a glass of wine, and sat next to his silver haired wife. She berated him for being so long as with frail left hands they raised trembling forks. At this point, our story ends. It is set long ago, neither here, nor now, yet it raises an intriguing set of questions. Who was the author of this tale? Who were the grandchildren that were so easily led in by this story? Who was the grandfather when he told this same story? Who was the grandfather as he left his grandchildren and went downstairs for dinner?

The truth is that the real author of the story was long forgotten, buried amid decades of dust settled on the book's title page, or worn away by generations of thumbs. No, that author is dead. Only his work survives, and it is this work which the grandfather picks up from the aged shelf and inhabits, colours, enhances with his voice, his life and with his awareness of quite a different audience to that audience for which it was first intended. And of course, the smell of stewed beef emanating from downstairs also wrote this story, even if just in its brevity. So the grandfather writes this story, taming it, fuelling it, and finally tailing off as the grandchildren fall asleep.

What the grandfather becomes as he leaves that room is like what that first author of the tale had become at the moment of its first telling - ultimately unimportant. For as he picks up his glass of wine, and shuffles the peas around his plate, another author is at work. The tiny mechanisms of his grandchildren, roaming in the largest playground possible, in the infinity of sleep. There, they assume that hero is their grandfather, they concoct a web of stories based on this fact and swim in the silky concoction this creativity affords them. Nothing they dream and write is wrong. It is bred out of the exact situation of the tale's telling - a peculiar, unique set of situations, a melange of beef, drowsy eyes, white stubble, deep voice, written folklore, improvised colour. Their story is their own. It will never - never - be anyone else's. That night is pristine. If told, like this story does, it changes and becomes susceptible to another defining milieu. So the grandfather continues eating. The grandchildren continue sleeping, dreaming and writing. The story keeps changing and the message - the meaning - never settles, but like the butterflying minds of those two children, it keeps flying on, resting, flying. Yet unlike the transient sleep of these children, this story will never have to give up soporific shackles. It will keep on forever.

#Prose #Writing #Family #Storytelling