Saturday Storytime: Grandpa’s Glasses

Sometimes we look at a story and think it has no plot because the stakes and the conflict are personal, as with this story from Carol Otte. Those are often my favorites.

For two weeks I did nothing. I held two thoughts in my head: that I could use the glasses to visit Grandpa whenever I wanted, and that the visions were just a fantasy. In reality the grief of his loss was too new and raw for me to poke at.

But one morning I woke with tears on my face yet also filled with a sense of warmth, a memory of his kindness. I had to be close to him. I picked another pair and found myself sharing the first bite of a juicy ripe peach.

After that, I used the glasses most mornings. The visions showed me primarily everyday moments, but the sort which are precious and treasured despite their ordinary nature. I sat with Grandpa at the family table while his father carved the Sunday roast. I watched a newborn foal take its first steps. I tussled with my brother on the winter’s first snowfall.

Then one morning I stumbled across a rougher part of Grandpa’s life. When he was young, he’d worked for two years as a coal miner. I joined him underground.

I crawl on hands and knees through a side tunnel to set an explosive charge. If the coal vein runs narrow, the tunnel runs narrow, and that’s just how things are. Only the coal gets pulled out of the mountain. No one’s going to blast away worthless rock just so miners can have room to walk upright. The weight of the mountain presses down on me, but as long as I stay focused, I’m fine.

A low boom shakes the earth, and my throat closes in raw panic. The tunnel vibrates as if an earthquake is shaking the ground, but more likely it’s a methane explosion. Pebbles strike my helmet. I have no room to turn, but I can’t stay here. I wriggle backwards as fast as I can. My friends (my Jason) could be dying, could be burned to a crisp and already gone.

I came back short of breath and unnerved. I knew mining was dangerous work, but Grandpa never said anything about being in an accident. I didn’t even recognize Jason’s name.

I had to find out more. By now I’d realized that each pair of glasses showed visions linked to the original owner. That first pair had actually belonged to my Uncle Albert, not to Grandpa. I put the same pair on again. I didn’t end up underground, though.

Sunlight filters gently through young spring leaves. After being underground so much, the fresh air feels heady as wine.

Jason (Janet) is with me. (No, Jason. It’s better if I think of him that way, so I don’t give him away. Besides, Jason says he’s a man at heart, even though he has a woman’s body underneath those floppy clothes.)

The trees shield us from prying eyes. Jason says, “Shall we have some fun?”

I nod, and he reaches for my zipper.

For a moment the sensations drew me along: Jason’s smell against the sharp tang of pine needles, the rich spring air, the sun on his hair as he bent down. But I didn’t want to feel those things, not in relation to my own grandfather and in truth, not at all. For the first time, my own sense of self broke through the vision before its natural completion. I tore the glasses from my face.

I sat there shaking from a strange mix of confusion and betrayal. In Grandpa’s time, coal mines wouldn’t hire women, but as I sorted through the leftover snatches of memory, I realized that Jason hadn’t merely been passing in order to find work. He’d thought of himself as male.

And Grandpa hadn’t cared. If Jason had been born a man, he still wouldn’t have cared. When Jason reached for him, he’d been thinking of other times.

Grandpa had touched men too.

If I’d known while he was still here, I would have been proud of him. Instead I felt a growing fury that he’d kept silent all his life and left me to face this all alone.

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Saturday Storytime: Grandpa’s Glasses