"Yourself suspect first," great grandfather told Boj on more than one occasion. "Your own prejudices inspect and judge before you decide what the other man says."
Great grandfather always nodded sagely when he intoned his advice, as though agreeing most vociferously with himself could make his argument more acceptable. The thin wisps of hair left to his brow kicked up behind where the widow's peak started on him, way back in his forties, not quite premature but not quite on time either.
Boj sat with great grandfather as he lay dying, not long after the Fine China night, when Father had gone berserk, smashing the dish cabinet and every dish in it to bits. Great grandfather has made him stop, chilled him with a single word and a severe look, saving Boj and Mother from greater trauma but the effort was the last the old man had to give. There was just nothing left in him after that night.
The china dishes, after all, and the cabinet and all the other things Father broke that night, belonged to great grandmother. She had left all of them to Mother. Now, they were thick clumps of broken wood and smashed pottery, all over the formal dining room where great grandfather had once laid his right shoe on the formal table, so that God could see he still believed in the presence and the benevolence of God, and he would continue to believe, whether God brought back his other sinister left missing shoe or not.
Father had experienced another triumph earlier that week. His victories always left him bloody. He sported a curious emptiness, Father did, that no conquest could sate. He was like Alexander the Conqueror, who wept upon his last battle, for it seemed there were no more lands to conquer. Naturally, 'Alexander was wrong. He had conquered what he could see but he could only see what lay in front of him.
There was so much more to overcome.
Alexander wept because he did not know he could fight some more.
Father knew how much more there was to conquer. He recognized the insignificance of his achievements. Information was being digitalized at an enormous rate. He fell behind in his own specialty every moment he slept or ate. The very act of letting his mind wander for rest cost him immeasurably. He could not bear the thought, for he could not spare the time to think.
He could not spare the effort to think or feel or play. He could learn, he could hypothesize, he could experiment, he could decide, he could fail. Worst of all, he could succeed. His failures sent him back to the front of his labors. The successes, the fruits of his labor, sent him to the abyss, to sheol, where he could not have eternal rest or punishment, only the better taste of his minimal success.
He was a genius, Father.
He was a raging success. Father.
"Monster," great grandfather called him, on the Night of Fine China and cocked his right eyebrow, arching it high above his dark eye.
In a few minutes, Mother took Father by the arm and led him to the bedroom. Boj was left alone with great grandfather in the midst of the destruction.
"What do we do now, great grandfather?" Boj wanted to know.
"Now, we get you to bed, Bojie," great grandfather replied.
He changed the middle vowel of Boj's name from hard-soft to long and added the diminutive ending he sometimes employed when he wanted to remind Boj of his little boy-hood.
"After all, Bojie," great grandfather told him, "you only get to be a little boy for a little while."
"Do you hate Father?" Boj needed to know.
"No, I love him more each day," great grandfather said.
"He is me, what I made his father, what my father made me, what his father made him," great grandfather added.
"Suspect yourself first," great grandfather often told Boj, rocking back and forth with his prayer book in his hands, tightly gripped, knuckles white against the black leather of the book. "Understand your own bigotry before you judge another man's bigotry."
Boj sat with great grandfather every day the last few days of his life. He would not go outside to play, or be tempted by the games he was offered or the books. Mother could come and sit, repentant before her savior at his dying, fearful of what the future would bring without him but Boj barely noticed her. He held a water glass to the old man's parched lips while he could still drink, put ice chips under his tongue when he could no longer swallow and laid a wet rag over his mouth when he could no longer tolerate even the tiniest slivers.
Boj held great grandfather's hand for hours. He read what he could from the prayer book the old man had written over a period of eighty-five years. He talked to great grandfather about the high fastball, the one that physics declares cannot rise, it is impossible, but the eyes and the hands and the bat say the ball does rise, interrupting your vision at 95 miles per hour, faster than a mind can tell a hand to swing a bat. Boj talked to great grandfather about his shoes, the one he had and the one he missed.
"God," great grandfather whispered.
"What God?" Boj asked.
"God," great grandfather moaned.
"Where do you see God?" Boj wanted to know.
"God," great grandfather smiled.
"Why do you bother about God right now?" Boj demanded.
"Suspect yourself," great grandfather told him and was silent.
Boj spent a few minutes of each hour on great grandfather's hair. He had a silver comb and a large hair brush, burnished silver, so bright the back of the brush served as a mirror. He ran the comb through the old man's thin hair to take out the knots of his thrashing against the pillow. After he untangled the silver strands, Boj soothed the hair back into place, pushed back in the front, just off the ears on each side and down in the back.
When great grandfather tore the top button off his pajama top, Boj ran to get Mother. He insisted she change the old man's shirt and sew the lost button back on for him.
"He already lost a shoe," Boj implored her. "I don't want him to lose a button too."
"You know how he likes to be neat," he added.
Mother obeyed silently.
Boj read to great grandfather from his prayer book, the journal of his spiritual thoughts, some copied from other prayer books but most original thoughts gleaned from conversations great grandfather had with God. He could not pronounce all the words but great grandfather did not seem to mind.
"You keep my prayer book," great grandfather told him one evening. "I can't write in it any more. There are a lot of empty pages left. You fill them in for me."
Boj did not know what to write.
"You will find out what to write," great grandfather told him. "Just listen."
"it is not that hard," great grandfather added. "God may play tricks, like with my shoe, but if God takes or gives anything, it is for a reason and for our good."
"'Trust God," he said. "Suspect yourself."
He died early one morning, before dawn, with Boj sleepily holding his hand, nestled next to him, on
his bed, unafraid of his age, unruffled by his erratic breathing. Boj felt the old man's lungs start to heave. He snapped to attention.
The old man was going. The sun would come up in an hour but great grandfather would not see it for the first time since before man walked on the moon. He was not famous, great grandfather. He had outlived most of his friends and much of his family. The gathering at his memorial would not fill a large room.
He did not seem to mind. Great grandfather did not seem changed much by the dying or after the event of his death. He heaved, the air left him and he was gone. It did not seem to Boj that great grandfather struggled for a next breath to stay so much as he expelled his last breath so he could go. He did not seem to fear.
Since great grandfather was unafraid to go, Boj decided, he would not be afraid to stay. He soothed the old man's hair, caressed his head, kissed his lips and straightened his pajamas for him. He tucked him in more comfortably. Then he left the bedside.
Curiously, he thought, to him, just then, great grandfather smelled like Boj did after his bath. He smelled like a little boy.
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