Palo Alto Weekly 19th Annual Short Story
Lost in Thought
by Fiona Wilkes
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
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
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
"I...I dunno. I guess so," he had descended into a whisper
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
quite like anybody
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
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
path that had absorbed his grandfather mere hours before. At first,
his eyes lit up with hope. They dimmed, but soon shone again, this
anger. He hated the man. He hated him for his irreverence, for
his white (white! where there had just been a funeral! The nerve
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.
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
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
"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.
Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund
For the last 23 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away more than $4 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. When you make a donation, every dollar is automatically doubled, and 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.