Waiting Arms (Short story)

“You stupid idiot, you’re supposed to go back in time and kill me,” said Grandpa.

The sixteen-year-old shrugged. “I thought I did, but obviously it didn’t work because I’m still here.” There was no remorse. “So are you,” he added.

“Yes, I remember now,” said Grandpa. “Your girlfriend left you and you wish you’d never been born. I’ll say it again – you should get on with your life.”

The boy didn’t move.

Grandpa put his hand to his chest and rubbed it. “You’re a lousy shot, by the way,” he said. “The bullet clipped my heart. There was lots of bleeding, but the lady visiting my neighbour came over and helped me after she heard the gunshot. She saved my life.”

Old watery eyes looked squarely into those of his grandson. “You didn’t hang around long, did you?”

“Yeah, whatever,” the boy replied. “I’m close enough now so I can shoot you properly this time.”

“Lovely lady, she was,” Grandpa continued. “Turns out she was a nurse. It’s sad you never met her. She died just before you were born.” He paused, rubbing his chest again, a lifetime’s habit. “Funny isn’t it, that if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t even have met your grandmother.”

“You’re crazy, old man!” The teenager reached quickly into his jacket, pulling out a gun which was too large and too heavy for his small hands. It was more than fifty years, but Grandpa recognised it immediately. He lunged forward and grabbed his grandson’s wrist and twisted it. Hard.

The gun fell from the boy’s hand in the scuffle, and as it hit the linoleum floor the sound of a pistol firing rang in Grandpa’s ears. He tried to hold the boy, but with weak arms unable to support his weight, Grandpa let his grandson’s body drop to the floor.

Exhausted from the effort, his heart, weak from a bullet wound fifty-two years ago, palpitated and stopped. Like his grandson before him, Grandpa had no-one to support him as he fell to the floor – and into his nurse’s waiting arms.

Paul Sterlini

About this piece

I wanted to explore further the human side of the grandfather paradox which is usually explained from the point of view of the grandson. I looked at it from the grandfather’s point of view in Mark Of Achievement. Waiting Arms, in a way, continues the angle and looks at how the grandson deals with the consequences of his failure.

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