Grandpa Jack disappeared one day. He popped in for lunch, made me a tuna sandwich and laughed when I wrinkled my nose at the glass of milk he put before me. I wanted blackcurrant squash, and told him so. Instead he ruffled my hair and kissed me on my forehead, before heading out to his garden.
That was the last time we spoke but I watched him for a while, gently pulling the weeds out of his flower bed.
Spying on him through my bedroom window was one of my favourite things to do. It made me feel safe and secure even though he only lived three doors down from us.
At first he just got smaller and smaller. He had always seemed a giant when I was younger, but now I was nearly 8, he seemed to shrink. Clothes that used to stretch around his shoulders now hung off him, as though borrowed from an larger, older brother. It made him seem frail as if his strength was slowly leaking out from him. But I knew my Grandpa was the strongest man in the world, he told me so, and when he picked me up and rested me on his shoulder I felt tall. At least I used to. It had been a long time since he had done that and now even his head looked shrunken. What little hair he had was wispy like candy-floss adorning his skull it.
I remember trying to tell my parents.
“Mom, Grandpa Jack is getting tiny.”
“Simon, away with you now. If I don’t get these dishes washed now, I’ll not have time to cook dinner later.“ Chasing me out with a soapy fist I fled to the living room.
“Dad. Grandpa Jack is so small now, if I cup my hand into a telescope, he barely fits in it. I’m worried, he’s the only Grandpa I’ve got.”
“Jaysus Simon, I’m watching the football, if your gonna watch it with me, sit down and shut up. If not, go do your homework.” He didn’t even look up at me when he spoke.
“I’ve done it all yesterday Dad. But Grandpa Jack, he’s…”
“You’ve finished it already? Wheest lad, it’s Saturday. I never finished mine till Sunday night, no wonder you don’t like sports with your nose always stuck in a book. It’s unnatural. Go find something else to do, collect some bugs or whatever you bookworm’s do. But leave my Dad alone, d’ya hear me boy? Leave him be, he’s an old man. He’s been through enough lately.”
So out I went into the garden, with my magnifying glass, plastic containers, tweezers and paper. All afternoon was spent checking my traps but I didn’t find anything of worth. Just worms, beetles and woodlouse in the small patch of earth.
The best things were always in Grandpa’s garden, when he let me go into it. Creepy crawlies loved to roam in the dirt and loam around his flower beds. I used to spend hours, catching centipedes, caterpillars and fly larvae. Once I snuck out at night just like he suggested and we chased snails and slugs around the garden. In the morning the pathways were streaked with their slime, and their tiny bodies were shriveled up by the salt we had poured over them. We never told anyone about that, Dad would have gone nuts.
Grandpa always said that he’d lost more than any man had a right to. I didn’t need to eavesdrop on him like with other people to find out stuff.
He shared his secrets, saving me the trouble of collecting them. When he let me into the garden with him, we spoke about my uncles that I’d never seen, lost in the war.
“It was stupid them fighting,” he had said, ” A daft war, not about land, not about religion but all for a little bit of oil in the desert.”
Granny Patsy had gone a year ago and his sister had died of pnemonia. All of his brothers that still lived were lost around the four corners of the earth. Except the Earth didn’t have any corners. Mrs Johnson told us all in class.
“It’s round,” I said and took him my globe one day. “Surely if you went in a straight line you would find them one day.” He just chuckled and tousled my hair.
Even when he came to dinner, he seemed alone, Mom hardly spoke to him and Dad just played on his phone.
That afternoon I watched him from my bedroom window as he worked in his garden. Watering his plants and slowly filling up his watering can.
As he walked back down the garden path to his roses he seemed to shrivel within himself. With each step, Grandpa Jack slowly shrank until his clothes dragged along the slabs, his arms lost within the sleeves of his jacket and just the wisps of his white hair sticking up where his head had been.
As air scattered the leaves along the grass, it blew him about like blossoms on the wind. Then he turned to look at me, except I couldn’t see his face, not even his kind brown eyes. Waving back at him I noticed his empty sleeve had stopped moving and the watering can had dropped to the floor, spilling the liquid onto the lawn. His jumper and slacks joined his shoes on the floor, crumpled in a heap.
Grandpa Jack disappeared and I was the only one who saw him. I was the only one who cared.
Neil Sehmbhy is a born storyteller, and has been writing for a year now. He loves cheese toasties, thinks maps are fiddly and hopes for the day that teleportation is real. Author of the forthcoming Sunder and Corporation novels you can follow him on twitter @neilsehmbhy.