Wednesday, 17 March 2021

The Same Old Story

 

by L. F. Roth 


teabag tea, reheated

 

‘Of course, when I grew up, we had no TV.’

          My daughter gave me a suspicious glance.

          ‘In your cave,’ my grandson filled in.

          He was six. I’d joked with him once about having grown up in a cave, with a fire at the entrance to keep the wild animals out. Afterwards I showed him a book with photos of cave paintings.

          ‘Wow,’ he’d said. ‘Did you paint those?’

          But I wouldn’t take credit.

          ‘It was my sister,’ I’d told him. ‘Your great aunt Brenda. I knew better than to paint on the walls.’

          My daughter had put on the exasperated look she has practised to perfection, ever since her teens. Grow up, it said.

          But the wild animals had clearly had him worried.

          ‘Why didn’t you shut the door?’ he’d asked.

          I’d improvised.

          ‘In those days, most caves came without one.’

          ‘You could have made one. Your dad could.’

          The boy is nothing if not practical. He can create the most astounding structures out of Lego. Not doors, perhaps.

          I’d explained that we had no saw, which he accepted. I’m not much of a handyman.

          But although I forgot about it, the missing door must have remained on his mind. He brought it up a few weeks later, as I cleared the table after a memory game. I’d referred again to the lack of a TV set. Entertainment had been scarce. Actually, he might have found the absence of a laptop more exciting. He never watched TV.

          ‘What happened when the fire went out?’ he wanted to know.

          I picked up my four pairs, added them to his twenty-two and shuffled the pack. Recognizing the kind of question my daughter and her friends had passed among them at his age, I smiled. They must have filtered down through the generations. Like elephant jokes.

          ‘It got dark,’ I answered. ‘Right?’

          But I was on the wrong track. The face he wore showed his exasperation. I apologized. ‘Sorry. I’m not with you.’

          He sighed.

          ‘Did they attack? The animals?’

          And then I caught on — and was tempted, naturally, to give free rein to fantasy. Or should I simply claim that we took turns keeping watch? Against what? A pack of wolves? To do what? Pelt them with stones? Did we have some sort of primitive dart board for practice? Was I the champion? I peeked at my daughter, who stood ironing.

          ‘We hired this elephant.’

          I broke off and made use of a gesture to hint at its size. It filled the kitchen. More than filled it, in fact. The kitchen wasn’t all that large.

          He wouldn’t buy it, would he?

          ‘To stand guard. After dark.’

          The steam iron hissed.

          ‘Wow! Did you get to pat him?’

          ‘Her. It was a she.’

          ‘Did you?’

          Do eyes shine like stars or is that just a saying? His did.

          ‘No.’

          ‘I would have. I would have fed her peanuts.’

          I backed off a fraction.

          ‘So would I if I’d seen her.’

          My grandson blinked from concentration.

          ‘I only heard about her. I was asleep when she appeared. Of course, you shouldn’t believe everything you hear.’

          ‘No.’

          His tone lacked conviction.

          ‘It could have been a joke.’

          He pecked at a spot on his shorts.

          ‘There would have been footprints,’ he suggested.

          ‘None that I saw.’

          He frowned. Then his face lit up. He grinned.

          ‘Maybe you didn’t look in the right place.’

          I realized that the old jokes were still going the rounds.

          ‘That could be it,’ I said.

          And we burst out together: ‘In the butter!’

          He grabbed the cards and threw them up in the air. ‘Yippee!’

          I tousled his hair.

          While my daughter put her ironing away.

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