All that matters

His house stood silhouetted against the severe blue of the late morning sky, its cupolas, chimneys, gables and slate roof lines making stark contrast with the cloudless sky. Andrew leaned against his walking stick and stopped to catch his breath. He waited for the faint whiff of pride he always felt when he looked at the mansion. Luxury kitchen, ballroom, ten bedrooms, twelve bathrooms – the crowd this house couldn’t take wasn’t worth calling a crowd.

But the whiff of pride didn’t arrive, drowned out by the thought that the last time this house had seen a crowd was almost out of his memory. There was him and there was Barbara, the housekeeper. There weren’t any crowds.

Might as well move on, he thought, but the walking stick didn’t budge. The chemo was taking it out of him, no doubt about it. He shouldn’t be this out of puff after the short hike up from the stables. He’d known the walk might be a bit of a challenge, but he’d wanted to stroke Satin Sunday’s fine black nose. It was worth the trip.

What was the point, anyway? He had no appetite. Whether it was the chemo or the drab saltfree food he was forced to eat these days, it was too much of a battle to get up the stairs and into the dining room where a lifeless plate of blandness would be waiting for him.

He made his way to the marble steps, pausing half way up to lean against the balustrade. Hell, he wasn’t going to make it to the top of the steps on this lungful, so he might as well sit down for awhile. He eased on to one of the steps, positioning his walking stick where he could lean his chin against it.

Thoughts swarmed in. He was 72 years old; he had a death sentence; he had no crowds in his life anymore. Truth be told, he had nobody, really.

But he had nothing to be ashamed of. Around him lay a good deal of the evidence of his life. There was the majestic house at his back, the sprawling stables and corrals, the immense shed beside which his 45’ SeaWatch catamaran was currently aground, big enough for a good-sized family to holiday in luxury. It had been brought in this morning from the harbour, to spend a little time in drydock while Andrew worked out what to do with it.

He rubbed the end of the walking stick against the stubble on his chin. He turned his gaze inward, looking at how he felt. All he could find was tired, tired, tired.

And bored.

And alone.

I could die right here, right now, he thought, and nobody would notice until Barbara visited that unappealing meal still sitting there mid-afternoon. Further, nobody would care. The boys and their mother would head straight for their lawyers. Yes, the lawyers and the accountants would have a field day and otherwise there’d be scarcely a ripple in the universe.

His life was as flavourless as the food on his table.

He thumped the walking stick on the marble. Just because he’d been told the cancer was still moving fast didn’t mean he was about to indulge in any maudlin reflections. There would be no melodramatic surrender to the ebbing life forces and all that crap. He got to his feet.

That’s when he noticed a car pulling into the long driveway. Ah, son William’s black BMW. Not driven by William, though. By his chauffeur, what was his name anyway? – Mike, yes that was it. What was Mike doing here? Then his heart leapt a little as he saw the tiny blonde head in the rear seat. The chauffeur jumped out and whipped open the back door, fiddling with the devices on the child’s car seat.

Released, a tiny figure bounded out of the car and began racing toward the house. He stopped in his tracks when he saw the old man on the steps. “Grandpa!” he shouted. “GRANDPA! I comed to see you.” He tripped over the first step, then flew up the remainder until he catapulted himself into Andrew’s arms. “I can stay for THIS many days, Grandpa,” he said, holding up a hand with all fingers thrust out.

Andrew hugged him tightly, for a moment unable to speak. The chauffeur approached the steps, a small suitcase in one hand and a large empty cardboard box carried by its flap in the other.

“Hello, Mr Branford; you remember me, Mike Bensall. William asked me to drive Ben over – he thought it would be a nice surprise; he can stay for a few days if he’s welcome.”

Andrew ran his fingers through his grandson’s hair as the little face pulled back to beam up at him. “Thank you, Mike. He’s very welcome. He’s very welcome indeed.”

“Well, I’ve got to get the car back,” Mike said. He dropped the suitcase at the foot of the stairs, then waved toward the cardboard box, grinning. “Ben insisted on bringing his carton along.”

Ben released his grip on Andrew and barrelled back down the stairs. “It’s my boat, Grandpa. It’s my BOAT. Watch!” He clambered inside the box and began rocking from side to side. “Watch out for the big waves, Grandpa!” The chauffeur returned to the car and waved goodbye.

Andrew gazed at his grandson ruefully. He could not help but glance at the other boat on the property: the SeaWatch, elegantly perched on its double hulls, the gleaming brass of its railings visible from here.

He had collected around himself the finest of everything – and his grandson chose the cardboard box.

He had anything a body could want, and no one to share his life with.

– Except this miracle, this spicy little grandson with the shining eyes.

“Come fishin’ with me, Grandpa,” the boy shouted, sliding to one side in the big box.

Andrew walked down the steps, to play with his grandson.

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