Watching the Chairs, by Jack LeBouthillier

The door kept drifting away from me. The pink wall stretched across the hallway, going farther and farther away from me, the door following it. I would turn to face him. They dressed him up today in a nice button up shirt, old worn out jeans, combed back hair, and what seemed to be new shoes. I would turn back and look at the door with all the handprints and wonder how many times it has been fondled. The keypad next to it also had many finger prints allowing users to use the door. Personally I didn’t know how to open the door, I wish I did. My grandmother and sister were in the bathroom on the other end of the hallway leaving me and the man alone. We stood in the little indent of a corner where the windows let in all the light, with all this furniture surrounding us. It was nice there, the cushions were comfy and brightened up the place. We sat down on the pink flowery cushions for about five minutes until he looked lost. He stood up and scavenged around. He picked up a chair and moved it into the middle of the hallway. He went back and picked up another chair, picking it up and putting it in the hallway, taking his time, step by step.

“This isn’t where it should be,” he kept mumbling over and over as he picked up more furniture. “Who would move my furniture? Jack, come help me with this.” I looked down the hallway again at the metal door that was going farther away from me. “Why is this here? There we go” He kept maneuvering everything around, chaos would be the only word to describe how he was moving the furniture, no obvious order, just chairs facing the wall and my chair facing my grandfather.

“Grandpa maybe we shouldn’t m-”

“Who else will move it for us; we need to put everything back in order.”

I just sat there with all the commotion going on. I could smell hand sanitizer and waste in the building. That horrible stench stuck with me. Unmoving I looked at the bathroom door, what was taking them so long?  My hands went into my pockets and I looked up and watched him move everything. My hands grew sweaty quickly and I became very uncomfortable. I felt very scared then, not because of what he was doing but what I couldn’t do. Generally I would ask him a question or ask him to tell me about how he worked at Sikorsky.  I used to be able to talk to him so confidently, so happy but now I had to carefully pick my words, I felt so vulnerable while talking to him. I sat there watching him look around frantically. I never remembered him like this, I remembered him as when he and my grandmother and I went fishing. I don’t know where, or how old I was, maybe around four or five but remembering how much fun it was I wanted to go back.

We got hot dogs beforehand and saved them for the fishing pond. He pointed towards the pond and gave me a fishing pole telling me to go over to look in the water. I ran over, my grandpa taking gigantic steps towards me and we looked over the edge. The water had sticks and twigs in it but I remember seeing all the tiny fish. We sat down and tried to reel in some of the pale fish that swam around.

“Now the trick is to be completely quiet so you don’t scare the fish.”

I honestly didn’t understand what he was going on about. I just ran around with the fishing pole and when I got disinterested I looked in the water to see where the fish have gone. Whenever I saw one I would cast right at it trying to harpoon the fish instead of teasing it with the food. When I got tired of chasing the fish I sat back down next to my grandpa and started to cast like he was.  We didn’t catch any fish; I made too much noise to do that. We walked back to the car and past the two trees that allowed the entrance to the parking lot. We passed some benches, where my grandmother was sitting and we joined her. I didn’t like that bench. It was old all used up and dirty and there weren’t even any cushions on it but I would have to make do. The trees rustled a lot while my grandparents were talking; now he didn’t contribute much to conversations. Looking back I missed those moments, when he would talk and be so active, I enjoyed those days much more than now.

Watching him move the furniture I couldn’t remember what my last full conversation with him had been. But while I was sitting there, near the pond, on the dirty old bench I just grew accustomed to the scenery because I knew we weren’t going to move for a long time, so I let the leaves blow around, I let the fish swim and I sat there next to my grandfather as he talked. Talking about his old job, recent news, old boring stuff that I didn’t pay attention to. I don’t know if his disease affected him by then, or if he even knew about Alzheimer’s, but that’s how I remembered him, a grandpa trying to show his grandson how to fish. Not as the man that stood in front of me trying to move furniture in the middle of the hall way.

When all the chairs and tables were moved into the hallway he moved one back next to me and sat down. He started to play with his hands looking up and down at the bathroom door.

“How’s school going?” he asked me. I was always surprised about how much he remembered.

He grinned a bit and before I could respond we heard the bathroom door open. My grandmother and sister flooded out and stared at all the chairs in the hall way. My grandmother helped move everything back with me and the helpers who worked there while my sister and grandfather stood to the side.

That wouldn’t be the last time I would have to go sit with him. Nearly a year later, we sat in front of his casket while all of his grieving friends and family came in. We sat in the front row next to my grandma who couldn’t look up without weeping. I sat there looking at the empty box. We got up and formed a line. We all got to go down and look at him for the final time before the funeral. When I looked in the box he wore a suit and pants, I think he was wearing new shoes, and his hair was combed back, they made him look nice today. But he looked like a skeleton; he must have lost over half of his body weight by the end. My sister grabbed my hand and started to cry so I bought her outside. It was frosty out and the leaves were coming back just in time for spring.  We decided to sit down on a bench in the middle of the courtyard for a while. She pulled out a bag of blueberry muffins and we shared them. I don’t remember how she got them but they were excellent.

When we came back inside I went to the back row and looked at the casket. I knew that he wasn’t actually in there, he couldn’t be. I watched the repeating video slide that was playing on the tiny TV in the corner of the room of my grandfather before everything happened to him. I watched as the slides played along with “Watching the Wheels” by John Lennon. I don’t know how they set it up to be so perfect but the transitions and pictures of his old life flashed throughout the song. I watched him get married, I watched him and my grandmother sitting in there old white house, then I watched my grandfather and I wearing the same outfit on Easter, with a button up shirt and tie and the same fisherman’s hat. But there weren’t any pictures of him after he inherited Alzheimer’s. I sat there looking back at the casket unable to get back up and look at the skeleton. I knew he was gone before the other day when he passed in his sleep. I just wanted to be sitting on the old bench next to him talking to my grandma, trying to catch fish. But I knew that he was gone, when we had to check him in to the institution and when I had to watch the chairs as he rearranged them. But when he was there, when we were fishing, it was when he was really there.

Jack LeBouthillier


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