I don’t even knock. I grip the cool gold handle and push down; the door swings open with a low, familiar creak. He sits in the left corner of the dark couch directly across from the front door, a fresh mug of coffee on the table in front of him. His pronounced jaw is set in concentration; his round glasses reflect the blue and green lights from the tv.
I shuffle around the seating as to not block the tv. With a plop onto his couch, I plant a kiss on my grandfather’s cheek—scratchy from his unshaven, white sideburns and deep-set wrinkles. His belly pooches against his white Lynn Camp Football shirt.
My dad, uncles, and cousins crowd the room upon the couches and recliner; none greet me. I don’t blame them. Kentucky is playing football, and that takes precedence in this household.
“Hey, Shorty!” He coos.
“Hey, Papaw!” I lean back into the cushions. “Are we winning?”
“No,” he huffs in exasperation.
I shake my head. “What are we gonna do with them?”
He shrugged, “I don’t know, but I’m never watchin’ them again.”
I laugh and reach for the Twizzlers resting next to his open bible on the dark wood table before us. Grabbing one, I read his mug: “Eight O’clock Coffee.” The dark brown liquid dances inside of it, steaming.
I shake my head in amusement.
Eight o’clock coffee at one in the afternoon.
The door swings open with a creak, and I stride on in.
He slowly shuffles into the living room from the dining room on my left, his black “Eight O’clock Coffee” mug firmly in his left hand.
His jeans look a bit big on him today.
He notices me and perks up, a smile spreading across his face. “What are you doing in my house? Don’t you know I don’t like kids?”
I smile back, hugging him tightly. The scent of a warm spring night with a hint of firewood radiates from him.
“I’m here to steal your stuff,” I say in an overly-country accent so that he knows I’m messing with him.
He is silent, but his shoulders bounce with laughter. We release one another, and he gestures wide at a sloth-like pace, but he still somehow manages to almost spill his coffee.
His gaze is distant today.
“I…” He searches for his words.
“There’s nothing here worth stealing but me!”
I laugh and shake my head at him, embracing him once again. “I love you, Papaw!”
He hugs back. “I love you, too, baby!”
The door swings open, and I hurry inside. I trail snow in with me and shake it off my black peacoat; It flutters onto the entryway rug.
The whole house has already erupted into Yuletide cheer! The Christmas Story plays as my dad and uncles watch on with nostalgic delight. The tree sits aglow to my right with countless presents tucked beneath it. I carry the gifts in my arms over to rest with their brethren.
Loud voices and the warm smell of roast and turkey waft in from the kitchen.
The fireplace is dim this year. He can’t carry the wood this time around.
He sits in his spot on the couch, nestled against that corner. At a brief glance, he is watching the movie with his boys, enjoying the company of his family. Looking closer, he hardly realizes they’re there. He stares into nothing but his thoughts; I see it in his eyes.
I glide around the merry gathering over to the couch where he sits. I bend over the back of it and wrap my arms around his neck. I’m gentle, for he might snap in half if I squeeze too hard. His spotted, wrinkled hand reaches my arm a few seconds later.
He hasn’t even touched his “Eight O’clock Coffee” mug on the table, the dark liquid kissing the lip of the cup.
I plant a gentle kiss on his cheek.
It’s thinner than it used to be.
“Merry Christmas, Papaw!”
His words find life a few seconds later in the form of a mumble: “Merry Christmas.”
I push down the handle and step inside. The lights are off; they have been for a while. I can’t remember the last time the tv was on. No one wants to watch anything in here without him.
The couch — his couch — isn’t whole without him on it. For a moment, I swear a ghost of him lingers there, but I draw back the curtains to reveal it was merely a dancing shadow toying with my soul.
There are people in the house.
I know there are people in this house.
So why is it so quiet?
I remember it being so loud Granny had to shush us.
There’s no need for shushing today.
I drift to the wooden coffee table, wiped clean, and lace my fingers through the handle of the “Eight O’clock Coffee” mug. It’s empty, but a stain, a ringlet of what used to be, caresses the bottom on the inside. The ceramic cools my warm skin as I rub my thumb across the gold lettering.
“I love you, Papaw,” I whisper.
Kristin Mitchell hails from Corbin, Kentucky. She is a sophomore at University of the Cumberlands pursuing a degree in English with a Creative Writing emphasis. Set to graduate in Spring 2024, she hopes to thereafter pursue an MFA from University of Kentucky. It is her goal to travel the world while writing/publishing Young Adult novels that touch the hearts of readers through the exploration of life’s hardships and conquerable circumstances. She also plans to inquire into editorial opportunities in the years following graduation.