Billy
Reuben G. Brewer

 

"When the sun sets in the west over the still ocean, and the clouds linger gently over the water with a light purple tint," the old man told the young boy next to him. "This is what my world is all about Billy. Do you understand?"

"Yes," answered Billy, though he really didn’t.

"When I was a little older than you I used to sail across that ocean in a little boat I made with my own hands. I wanted to chase the sun so I could watch it set forever." The old man looked out across the water with a calm gaze. "This is my legacy to you Billy. All the stories I’ve told you, all the walks we’ve taken. I have given you my life. I want you to remember what I’m telling you. Can you do that for me Billy?"

"Yes Grandpa, I can do that. I remember all the stories you tell me," Billy replied with love in his voice. After all, this was his grandfather. He loved this man more than any other. Grandpa would tell him stories so amazing they seemed like lies. Stories about a time without electricity, without running water. When you had to make your own clothes or, in this case, boats. "I’ll never forget your stories."

"Good, as long as someone remembers my stories, I’ll always be alive." He put his arm around his grandson, leaned back, and sucked deeply on his pipe. "This is what it’s all about," he said lightly, letting his words float like soap bubbles—gently drifting until they hit something and explode. "Look, can you see the mast of that ship on the horizon?"

"Yes Grandpa."

"Beautiful isn’t it," he asked rhetorically.

"Its time for bed Billy," a voice from inside called.

"Aw Mom, I don’t want to go to bed.," Billy moaned into the house.

"Listen to your mom, Billy, and run off to bed."

"OK Grandpa."

"Always remember that I love you, and never forget what I’ve given you."

"I won’t forget Grandpa," he said as the two of them hugged and Billy ran into the house.

"Don’t stay up too late Grandpa," the voice of Billy’s mother rang out from the house.

"I’ll be just fine, you all go to bed."

That night, Billy slept soundly until, early in the morning, when a loud sound woke him. He didn’t know what it was, but he heard his parents go running downstairs and out on the porch. Shortly after the screen door slammed shut, he heard his mother start screaming and his father yelling at her to go inside the house, "For God’s sake go inside the house." He would never forget those words. They were the ones that made him get up and walk to the edge of the stairs. That was when he saw his mother on the floor at the foot of the stairs crying. She was covered with red when she looked up and, half crying half pleading, she told him to go to his room. "Is everything all right mom?" "Yes, now go to your room, please." That was when his father came in. His clothing was covered with red too and he was carrying a big gun. "Go to bed Billy," he grunted upstairs. "What’s wrong," his sister’s voice called from behind him, the commotion had woken her as well. "Take your brother to his room and stay there with him. Now," his father yelled as he was picking up the phone. The rest of the night was a blur to Billy, even now, over 50 years later. The lights, the voices, it all swirled together into a din of pain. A pain that encompassed everything in his life, everything since that day, everything before that day. The last day he saw his Grandfather.

"Hey dad, you OK?"

Startled from his thoughts, "Oh, what… yeah son. I’m OK."

"How come you never told us about this place?"

"There are a lot of memories wrapped up in the this old house son, a lot of memories."

"I don’t know dad, the view is spectacular. And all of it belonged to you and your sister. Wow, look at that sky."

"Its fabulous."

"Daddy, can I stay up with Grandpa," Billy’s grandson said, peeking from behind the door.

"I guess you can stay up for a little while," Billy’s son said as he walked back into the house.

"Hey big guy, how are you," Billy asked as he hugged his grandson.

"I’m great. This place is so cool."

"It sure is. This is where all those stories I’ve been telling you took place."

"You mean about Great Grandpa and the ocean?"

"Yes, about how he would sail across the ocean chasing the day as it slowly edged away. About how he used to work on a boat that crossed that ocean. About how he used to tell me all of his stories, so I could tell you." Billy paused, he hadn’t been back to this house since the night his grandfather killed himself. Indeed, the house stayed shut until his parents died twenty years ago. First his mother, then, about a year later, his father—neither one of them ever talked about it. When he and his sister inherited the house he didn’t want any part of it. They owned it jointly, but he didn’t want to come back. When his sister died a few months ago, though, the house became his alone. He had to come back, he didn’t know why, but the time was right. The day she died Billy moved in, and he hadn’t left since.

The memories flooded back to him. The memories he tried so hard to hide from himself. For half a century he hid those memories deep inside of him, never telling anyone about his grandfather. But, the last few months had made Billy realize what his grandfather was telling him the night he died. "You see out there, on the horizon? How the clouds just sort of sit, gently encased in a lavender hue, over the still water? That is what it’s all about; the peace, the tranquillity," Billy said squeezing his grandson softly.

All of his life he fought the truth, indeed, he ran from it. And there it sat, floating on the horizon; a gentle sea. It was so calming. He ran so far from the truth that he joined the army. Stayed in it until they kicked him out at age 65. He married and raised two kids, and never told any of them about the house, about that night, about his grandfather. To be sure, they asked, but he never said anything. He simply didn’t want to talk about the past.

"You have to live for today," he would say. His grandfather told him that and it was the only thing he would say. "Grandpa always said you should live for today, and that’s what we should do. Forget about the past." But he knew that wasn’t what his grandfather meant, it was just another lie. He knew all to well the stories he had in his head. The life he held in his hands, "As long as someone remembers my stories, I’ll always be alive." All his life he felt like he had failed his grandfather, but his grandfather had failed him too.

"What happened to Great Grandpa?"

"He passed on in the middle of the night, little one. It was a shock to all of us. It hurt very much."

"Oh."

"You know, I’ve been telling you all about my father, why don’t I tell you about me for a while."

"OK," his grandson said eagerly, and Billy proceeded to tell his grandson the few stories of his life of which he was most proud. The time he saved his platoon in the war, the time when he married grandma, the time when his son was born, the time when he was promoted to General. Despite himself, he had had an illustrious career and he was sharing his happiest moments with his grandson.

"Big Guy, I want you to promise me three things."

"OK, what?"

"One, you will tell as many people as you can about your great grandfather."

"Sure."

"Two, you’ll always remember my stories."

"No problem Grandpa."

"Three, never run from things that hurt you. Fight through them, don’t let them get the best of you."

"OK," his grandson said with some hesitation.

"I know you don’t understand the last one just yet, but don’t forget it. It was my biggest mistake. I was hurt very early in my life and I have been running from it ever since, I don’t want you to do that."

"I won’t Grandpa."

"What are you two boys talking about so seriously out there," Billy’s daughter in law said as she stepped out onto the porch.

"Oh, just guy stuff," Billy answered.

"Its time for you to go to bed big guy," she said to Billy’s grandson.

"Aw mom, I don’t want to go."

"Listen to your mother."

"OK," he said sadly. He loved his grandfather dearly. In fact the last few days were the most special days of his life. He would write them down in his memoirs some day.

"Give me a big hug," Billy said grabbing his grandson. "If you remember my stories, I’ll always be alive. Now mind your mother and go to bed."

As his grandson ran into the house, his daughter-in-law asked, "Why didn’t you ever tell anyone about this place Billy? Its so beautiful."

"It hurt too much to tell," he said without looking at her, "Goodnight, I love you, and, if you could, tell my son I love him too."

"OK, Billy. Don’t stay up too late."

"I’ll be just fine."

Billy sat and watched the sun set. God it was so beautiful. How the night crept slowly from the east, following the sun down. How the rays of light mirrored off the ocean. This was truly what his grandfather meant. It was the piece of mind that comes from knowing your memory will live on.

In the end Billy knew he had lived up to his grandfather’s wishes. His grandfather’s stories would live on, and in those stories his grandfather. He had entrusted them to his Grandson, and he wouldn’t be let down.

After the sun had set, Billy fell off to sleep and dreamed about his grandfather. About all the tails he told. About how much he loved him. About how much he still missed him. He woke up crying, "I forgot to tell him about the time Grandpa…" he said softly but stopped short. "The time has passed for stories. I think its OK if some stories die with me."

Billy got up from his chair on the porch and walked inside the house. After a few minutes, he came back out onto the porch with a shot gun. He sat down and put the barrel in his mouth. He wasn’t crying anymore, he wasn’t sad. He knew he would live on inside of his grandson. He pulled the trigger.

 

Epilog

That night was the worst night of his grandson’s life. He never understood why his grandfather had killed himself, but he never forgot his promise. Billy’s grandson wrote about everything. He told everyone and anyone who would listen about his grandfather and his great grandfather. He fought through the shock and the pain, and then wrote about that too. The last promise Billy asked him to make was instantly clear to him when he found out that his grandfather was dead.

No, he never forgot the last words Billy told him, "If you remember my stories, I’ll always be alive." Yes, he saw it in his grandfather’s face the night he died. It was all about peace. That was what he saw on Billy’s face that he had never seen before. It wasn’t the sunset, it was that his grandfather knew he would live forever. That he had given his memories to his grandson. It was what he had denied himself for so long. In the end, though, Billy didn’t die that night, only the few stories that he took with him to his grave.

 

 

Copyright (c) 1999 Reuben Gregg Brewer
Published on the World Wide Web by "www.storymania.com"