My grandfather was sitting in his lawn chair on the back porch, his watery eyes gazing out over the lawn, into the woods. Once, those eyes had been able to pick off a rabbit at a hundred yards. Now they were feeble and needed glasses just to see the markings on his medications.
He still wore his cowboy boots. Dusty, dented things with a shallow imprint of a rattlesnake on the leather. When I was very little, I used to put the boots on, and they’d come all the way up to my waist. I’d clomp around the house, wrangling horses and stuffed animals.
The old man was dressed in a faded denim shirt and jeans that were tattered and grass stained permanently. He’d been a number of things in life; a janitor, a plumber, landscaper, dairy farmer, factory worker. If there was some sort of job that put calluses on hands and strain on a back, he’d done it.
I sat in the chair next to him and looked at the woods, too. He glanced over and grinned, a million folds and wrinkles in his face creasing upwards. His mouth was a thin line and he constantly licked his lips. His voice was gravel smooth, and vowels creaked out of his throat like a door on rusty hinges.
In his yellow stained fingers was one of his god-awful cigarettes, the kind that were wrapped in brown paper and stunk up the whole house. My grandmother had decreed that her house was a smoke free zone, and he followed the rule with little resistance. He’d been told by every doctor he’d ever had that he should stop smoking, and they repeated each time he ended up in the hospital with a new breathing complications. No matter what, though, he’d return home to his porch and light up another.
“You won’t be any safer here,” he said.
I nodded. “I know. But we feel safer.” The city was tearing itself apart, the world was positively ending, but my grandfather’s backyard looked exactly the same. The sun was setting behind the trees, and I saw a group of blackbirds fluttering around the shed. The end of the world hadn’t reached here yet. Maybe it never would.
I heard Zoey’s voice drift out from somewhere beyond the screen door. “Great Grandma! Great Grandma, we can make cookies! Did you know that cookies have eggs in them? Eggs!”
Grandpa uttered a choking cackle; it sounded more like a throat clearing if you didn’t know him. “That kid knows everything, don’t she?”
He sighed. “Almost doesn’t feel like it’s the end. Feels like every other goddamn day.”
“Maybe the asteroid will miss. The president said it might.”
He gave me a frown; he distrusted all politicians on the basis that they were, in fact, politicians. I got the feeling he was still mad about prohibition, even though he wasn’t born in that era. He didn’t like the “damn government” trying to take his guns, his house, or his freedom.
In the past we’d gone head to head, debating politics. To him, I was a godless liberal city kid, and to me, he was a right-wing hillbilly gun nut. We battled each other constantly, but always in good fun. Despite his ideations, it never bothered him to brag to his friends that his grandson was college educated and could “build a rocket to the moon!”
I was a teacher, and a sociology teacher at that. Rocket’s were beyond me, but to him, a man who’d dropped out of school to help on the farm, a college degree was one of those fables he’d heard about but had never actually seen it.
We sat in the chairs, listening to crickets chirping off in the weeds, smelling grass and the faint odor of horseshit. Fireflies were starting to flicker at the edge of the woods.
“Shame we won’t see the young’un graduate,” my grandfather said. “Your grandma would’ve liked that, y’know how she is with her pitchers.”
Her “pitchers” were framed all over the house; me as a baby waving a spoon, me graduating high school, at my wedding, dancing with Leia. And when Zoey came along, my pictures started collecting dust as the great grandbaby was placed in higher regard.
My mom’s parents had raised me since I was a little kid. They seemed timeless in my mind; it was like they’d always been old but always around. Now that I was in my late twenties, I could see how frail the two of them were, and it scared me.
“It’s hard to believe,” I said.
“It ain’t for me. They’ve been saying the world was gonna end for years. Bound to be one of them telling the truth.” He coughed, then continued smoking.
I glanced sideways, and without looking at me, he said: “I ain’t quitting cigarettes just because the world is about to take a shit, so don’t try it, Jacob.”
There was a dull, thunderous sound off in the distance, and I thought I saw smoke somewhere beyond the trees, maybe in the next town over.
My grandfather saw it too. He smiled with his lips around his cigarette; it was a tiny nub at this point. He lit another and took a long drag on it.
There was another explosion, closer, so close it rattled the windows. I sighed. “Guess you’d better give me one of those.”
He handed over the pack and I lit up. It tasted toxic and terrible, but I kept smoking it.
“You know,” my grandfather said, “none of this would’ve happened if you liberals hadn’t let the Mexican’s into this country.”
I looked at him in shock, and then saw the twinkle of merriment in his eyes. I grinned too. “I figured you gun nuts would pull out a Smith and Wesson and shoot the asteroid out of the sky.”
“You sonsabitches said I can’t carry in public. Besides, it don’t matter, you’d let the rock hit us so you could build another fancy college.”
“At least the liberals went to school.”
“Shuddap you commie,” he said.
“Take it easy Reagan, it isn’t the ‘80s anymore.”
We both laughed as the sky filled with fire and rushed towards us. My grandfather was right; it really didn’t seem like the world was ending.