Grandpa lay in the bed, and said: “I think I would like a tattoo. I never got one before and I think now might be a good time.”
His son sighed. “Dad, your skin can’t handle it. It’ll bleed a lot. I’m sorry.”
“Oh,” Jack said, slapping his gums together like in a movie, “well, isn’t that a shame. “
At that moment, grandpa looked from his son to his grandson. He smiled at Jamie, and Jamie ran out of the room with his little flashing sneakers.
Everyone sat there, on their phones, or swirling the couch fabric with their fingers, or looking at Grandpa with a pity so overwhelming it felt like they’d be sick; a sickness of being unable to help.
Jamie had been the only one to be with Grandpa. To look into him.
But Jamie was gone now, and with him, any comfort that Grandpa was grateful for.
Now phosphorescence lit faces instead of smiles.
Now touches were given to dusty books or pictures instead of needful hands.
Words that screamed to be spoken were silenced by fear and embarrassment and uncertainty.
Palpable tension strained the air as if it were an overtightened string on a guitar. It held like that for a few agonizing minutes until the instant Jamie slammed back through the door. A collective sigh rushed through the room and everyone stopped distracting themsleves with distancing themselves.
Jamie held one thing in each of his hands.
In his right hand was a wet wash cloth.
In his left hand was what looked to be a small picture on a piece of paper.
“I’m glad you came back, Jamie.” Grandpa’s crow’s feet crinkled near his eyes and pulled his cheeks up into a smile.
Jamie placed the small picture facedown on the back of Grandpa’s hands and then set the cool cloth down on top of it. Then Jamie began counting.
After thirty-two seconds, Jamie lifted the wash cloth away and peeled back the wet paper that clung to grandpa’s hand.
“I was always going to come back, Grandpa. I’ll be here.”
Grandpa lifted his hand and looked at the back of it. Tattood there, just permanently enough, was Superman. With his cape whipping behind him, fist outstretched as if it was guiding the rest of his body, and the grand crimson S saying that help was on the way, Superman flew across Grandpa’s weathered and unconquered hand.
Grandpa admired it silently.
“Thank you, Jamie. I think I’ll go now.”
Jamie’s face quivered. He waved, as if Grandpa was just getting on a bus to go to town.
Grandpa waved back. Then Grandpa closed his eyes.