When I Dream About Grandpa
by Nicholas A. White
We’re sitting on the couch. He’s a little heavier in the face than the last time I saw him, the round edges of his stomach pressed against his shirt. He’s been eating well. And he’s laughing harder, his eyes bluer than I remember.
“I’m still enjoying the engineering job, believe it or not,” I say. “And it’s been almost six months.”
I don’t remember what we’re talking about, exactly, but we’re catching up on life. More accurately, I’m telling him about my life, and he’s listening. My sister’s down the hall, measuring new curtains for her room, which doesn’t really sound like something she’d do, which maybe should’ve been the first sign.
“Wait a minute,” I say.
I remember the hospital. I remember saying goodbye on the phone. But here he is, sitting on the couch beside me. I realize I’m dreaming.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” I say. “What’re you doing here?!”
He’s been waiting for me to realize this, and he starts laughing when I push him, a gesture better suited for a friend my age—but it still feels right in this moment. I wonder if other people can see him. I decide not to ask.
“You’re talking to me,” I say. “Why can’t you talk to Mom?”
He stares off and brings his hand to his chin to think, reminiscent of the hospital after his stroke. He’s teetering a line between sadness and joy, and I’m not sure how to respond—if I should mourn his loss or celebrate the fact that he’s on the couch with me in a dream.
He doesn’t respond. I’m afraid he won’t respond again.
My sister takes a break from measuring the curtains, walks in and sees Grandpa—whose funeral we attended weeks ago—and runs away screaming, back down the hall.
I understand, somehow, that he exists on a different plane in this dream. That he’s like the Italian godfather now, pulling the strings. He’s not only controlling when we see him but also how we see him. For me, he eases into the transition, first tricking me into forgetting about his death while we’re catching up on the couch. For my sister, he’s an immediate ghost.
“You really shouldn’t haunt her,” I say.
Grandpa knows, but he’s having some fun. Things are starting to get blurry, though. The dream’s starting to break up. But it seems like, wherever he is, he’s trying to show us that it’s okay, that things aren’t as heavy for him as they are for us. Apparently, you’re allowed to haunt a grandchild you love for the sole reason that it’s funny—and if that’s the case, then maybe the afterlife isn’t so bad, after all.
I don’t know the logistics of post-mortem communication. I don’t even know if I believe he’s visiting me in this dream or if my brain is fictionally creating a tender situation from past experience. But that’s the fun part for me: there’s no proof denying the possibility, and when I wake, I tell my fiancée about it, the world still refocusing, my eyes a little blurry from the warmth left behind.
Nicholas A. White lives on the coast of North Carolina, where he works as both a civil engineer and a writer. He recently graduated from the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and his stories and essays have appeared in Cold Mountain Review, Still: The Journal, Pembroke Magazine and Prime Number Magazine, among others. His essay “Gnat Magnet” was previously published in Deep South.
“When I Dream About Grandpa” was selected for our “Separation” theme about feeling disconnected. Read the rest of the stories related to this theme here.