There was nothing subtle about the breathing machine. It sounded like Darth Vader and made Granddad’s chest jerk and rise. It wasn’t elegant and it wasn’t dignified either. The only thing it was doing was keeping the shell of a man alive. Kate could already tell the soul was gone. And maybe that was a good thing. Granddad was a proud man, too proud for his own good. At fourteen Kate knew far too much about her grandfather as a “real man.” She knew about his affairs and his drinking problems. She knew about how he could never let his kids win at basketball or cards because it meant that he was less of a man. And even in death there was no way anyone would call him frail. He was a big man – in so many ways. No, there was no way that proud man was stuck in this body.
Everyone was taking turns saying goodbye. It wasn’t the first time that Kate had seen her Dad cry, but she had never seen her Uncle Pete cry. Neither one of them were bawling loudly. No, they were just shaking and not even trying to hide the tears that were falling. Kate looked first at Uncle Pete on her left, then her Dad on her right, and then down at Granddad.
Kate wanted to be sad. She really did. Sure, she loved her Granddad, but she didn’t really have all that memories of him. She knew things but didn’t remember much of anything specific. She remembered the silver pens he always had in his shirt pocket, and how she would reach for them as a child and how he would pry them from her fingers. She remembered that he smelled of pipe smoke, but that he would stop smoking before she would come to visit – ever since she was an infant the smoke made her eyes itch.
Slowly, but not tentatively, Kate’s hand moved forward, finger extended. And slowly, ever so slowly, she poked her Grandfather’s arm. His skin was still warm. Which she thought was weird since he was pretty much dead. It really was like he was sleeping. She poked him again.
“What are you doing?” Her father’s voice rumbled above her. Kate jumped a bit and glanced up at her father. His face was stained with tears and there were a few more wrinkles than a couple of days ago, but underneath it all he was wearing a curious expression.
“I, uh…” Kate looked over at Uncle Pete and saw him looking at her with the exact same expression on his face that her dad wore. It was freaky when they looked that much alike.
“Well, “ Kate began. “I haven’t ever touched a dead person before and I figured this was the best opportunity.”
The silence that filled the room was even louder than the mechanical breaths of the hospital machine.
“So you just poked your Grandfather so you could touch a dead body?”
It wasn’t that her dad sounded angry; when he was angry there was more inflection in his voice.
“Yes.” She paused. “I mean he’s my Granddad so it’s not wildly wrong…” Kate trailed off. Uncle Pete was glaring at her and Dad was just starring at Granddad’s body.
Then Dad and Uncle Pete were laughing. Which was better than crying.