Palo Alto Weekly 19th Annual Short Story Contest
Teen Third Place

Lost in Thought

by Fiona Wilkes

About Fiona Wilkes

When Fiona Wilkes' grandfather died last year, she couldn't go to his funeral because it was in England. But she did deal with his death by writing "Lost in Thought," a story about a boy at his grandfather's funeral. When the boy sees a man who is dressed in white among everyone else dressed in black, he starts yelling at him -- until the protagonist realizes the person is the grandfather who, even though dead, will always be around.

"It was nice to go back and think about it," the 14-year-old Gunn High said about her writing process.

Wilkes, who started writing in sixth grade, said she never thought her submission would win a prize in her age group.

"I was completely amazed," she said of the day she received the phone call. "I had kind of forgotten about it."

With a British father and a Dutch mother, Wilkes said she's proud to be the first in her family to be born in the United States. She also has a younger brother who is 11.

Besides writing, Wilkes' true love is music. Playing the saxophone, trumpet and guitar, she is on Gunn High School's band and Jazz band.

As for future plans, Wilkes said things are still wide open, but "doing something with music would be really cool."

-- Mari Sapina-Kerkhove

Seated on the floral patterned couch, a boy stared glumly out the window. He grimaced as he heard the pitter-patter of the rain beating against the glass panes. In truth, it was quite a comical sight. He was a small boy, and his legs didn't quite reach the floor. He swung them in frustration as his face stretched into a scowl. Out the window was a very peaceful sight, and it was hard to imagine why he was so depressed, although anybody who has been young once can understand a day full of adventure and fun ruined by rain. However, there was something else troubling him. There was a scowl in his eyes as well as on his lips. He hopped off the settee and squished his nose against the glass. The sight that greeted him was the same as it had always been. The cobbles of the road that led up St. John's Hill were slick with rain. He turned his head to the right, still squeezing himself against the window, and he could see the front walk of The Mount, a name he thought very English, as no American could name their house instead of use a street number and get away with it. Behind the giant pine trees, which triggered a memory of seeing his father trim their tops in some past winter holidays, the steps were easily visible, the slabs of stone having acquired more lichen than he remembered. He gazed as far down the hill as he could manage, before it turned off into the rest of Ellesmere, a town trapped between two eras in time, with its quaint British brick houses and shops now filled with electronics equipment and the like.

He looked expectantly to the left, as if perhaps he would see somebody emerging from the steeper, unpaved lane that climbed up the Hill. It was overgrown with grass and weeds now, but he imagined in earlier times it must have been in constant use. A cat darted out of the rain into an open door, which was quickly shut behind it. At the bottom of the track, there was a gas station, and the main road leading away from the small village. Finally, he turned away and stared across the top of St. John's Hill, straight out the large window. He saw the familiar wall on the right side of the road, the NO PARKING sign's wood and paint being worn away by the weather. He chuckled slightly. His father had a habit of parking their rented cars right next to the sign. The giant navy Land Rover seemed to say, "Oh yeah? What're you gonna do about it?" It was getting harder to see out the rain-streaked windows now, but the boy held his gaze. The church loomed above him, stone and imposing. It was the most powerful structure on the skyline. The blue wrought-iron gates were intricately decorated. They had been, as always, left open, the golden spikes above the blue seeming to line the small path through the graveyard. He shifted his weight slightly as he stared into the graveyard. The stone monuments were old, but still a moving sight. There were some dating back to the 1800s and perhaps further, and there was a large cross atop an obelisk that watched over the men Great Britain had lost in the two World Wars.

The boy stood staring at the church for several minutes. His mother came in and put her comforting, loving hand on his shoulder.

"Grandpa's not coming back, is he?" The boy asked, with a shaking voice.

"No, he's not," whispered his mother, stroking his hair, "but he'll always be with you and me and Grandma and Dad, in our hearts, you know that."

"I...I dunno. I guess so," he had descended into a whisper too.

"It'll be okay." He stared up at her with glistening eyes, and meant to say something back, but he couldn't.

"I have to help Grandma with lunch, but if you need anything, just come into the kitchen," his mother said, rubbing his shoulders, and finally turning around to cross the cold stone floor into the kitchen.

He tried to say, "Okay," but his throat was still too constricted, and instead he nodded. He felt more than heard the door close behind him. He had seen, just a few hours before, the procession of black-clad men and women solemnly carry a coffin out of the churchyard. He had stood next to his mother as she sobbed, and didn't quite understand why, only that all his family had been there except his grandpa. And then it finally hit him. The boy's grandpa had been in that wooden crate. And he hated it. He hated everybody there. And now, staring across the cobbled top of the hill, through the gold and blue gates, he watched the silent, empty churchyard. He hated it all with a vengeance he had never known.

His nose was still compressed against the window as he became lost in thought. His mother was wrong. It wouldn't be okay. All the adults avoided what actually happened when people died with words like "passed away," "gone to a better place," "moved on," but he knew better. The young angry boy knew more than all of the members of the procession. He knew that you didn't "go somewhere else," you didn't go anywhere better. You were just dead, plain and simple. He hated it, but he knew it was true. But it wouldn't be okay. His mother was just trying to be supportive. She was lying, and they both knew it. He had lost his own Grandpa. That was how the boy thought of him, as his own Grandpa, who had, when they were in England, become his father, who had taught him Cricket, even though the boy was sure he didn't quite understand it yet. His own Grandpa had read fairy tales to him to send him into a peaceful sleep, hugged him after his dog died, shared his fears and frustrations, always been there for him, and loved him in a way not quite like anybody else's. He wasn't as sympathetic as the boy's mother, didn't cry with him like his Grandma, didn't tell him not to worry like his father, but was always there and always kind and always honest with him. The boy needed the honesty more than he needed sympathetic loving lies. He had no use for lies. They didn't help him at all.

He stared in livid defiance at the church's steeple. His gaze moved down once again to the still churchyard. There was a glimmer of movement there, on the path that had absorbed his grandfather mere hours before. At first, his eyes lit up with hope. They dimmed, but soon shone again, this time with righteous anger. He hated the man. He hated him for his irreverence, for his white (white! where there had just been a funeral! The nerve of the man!) Fedora style hat, for his jaunty walk, for everything about him that the boy didn't even know. He was destroying the memory of the boy's own Grandpa. His own Grandpa had had a hat just like that. It had been soft, and warm, and when the boy's own Grandpa had slipped the hat onto the boy, it had fallen down over his eyes, and his own Grandpa had skewed it, so the boy could just see out if he tilted his head back. And his own Grandpa had patted him on the back, and said, "You'll grow into it," and they had both laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed until they could laugh no more.

The memory of the hat and the most cheerful laughter in the world brought sharp, stinging, tears to the boy's eyes again, but this time he wiped them away with a clenched fist. He dashed out of the living room, remembering to close the door behind him. He shot up the carpeted stairs, remembering to pause at the landing where he saluted the smart young man in the army uniform. The boy didn't know why he still did this, just that he had every time he came up to this landing since he was four, and had asked his Grandpa who the man was. His ritual complete, he climbed the final three stairs to the second floor. He paused quickly at the doorway of his bedroom, just to make sure that everything was where he had left it, and to look out the window to see that the rain was still pounding. The boy continued across the beige carpet, soft to his socked feet. He sprinted up the last flight of stairs, grasping the carved wooden banister with his right hand, letting his hands and feet and memories guide him up. He paused to compose himself before opening the door to his Grandpa's study. It was the same as it had always been, the black and white photograph of his Grandpa as a young boy, with his classmates sitting on the steps of their school still hanging on the wall, and above it the polished wood of the oar he had won at Pembroke College, rowing on the Crew team for Cambridge. It was adorned with the navy, scarlet, and gilt crest of the College, and signed by all of his teammates. His bookshelves still held all his Grandpa's texts on education, all his various religious books, all his chemistry and mathematical theory. He strode, as quickly as was possible for a boy with short legs, across the sheepskin carpet, to the mahogany desk. And there it was. The fedora. The boy took it in trembling fingers, and stroked it with his nimble hands. He ambled slowly down the two flights of stairs, finally returning to the sitting room. He pressed his nose against the windowpane again.

The boy watched the rain, the cobbles, the overgrown lane, the road, and eventually the churchyard. He started as a flicker of movement danced across his vision. It was the man again. But this time, he was leaning casually on the iron gates. The boy wondered how he had missed him in his first visual sweep. He began to hate the man again. His black overcoat was obstructing his view of the churchyard. He had to see the gravestones. He didn't know why, or how, all he knew was that he had to see them. Boiling with rage at the unknown, impertinent man, he came into the front hall, stomped into shiny black rubber galoshes, making sure to tuck in his jeans, and turned the large key that acted as a doorknob from the inside of the house. The great door opened for him, and he raced outside, down the moss-patterned steps. The man was gone again. How curious. The boy wavered, and then cautiously walked across the cobbles, hard on his galoshes' thin-yet-strong soles, out to the gate. He finally reached the painted iron works of art, and saw the man flicker in and out of view again. The boy placed the fedora on his own head.

"Thanks, Grandpa," he muttered, finally understanding. He stood for a moment in the rain, turned his back on the man, and walked back to the crimson door of the house. He waved a hand, but didn't look back.