When I walked into my grandmother's room, she was sitting in her rocking chair, staring out the window. I was struck for a moment by the bareness of the room. The ivory walls hung no decorations besides the same old pictures, the bed was neatly made in the corner, her dresser was empty. All this tiny, sterile room seemed to hold was my grandmother and the few possessions she still had.
"Grandma?" I asked gently, "It's me, Liam."
But she didn't turn her head. She did not acknowledge my voice. She only whispered quietly to herself.
"Oh, Jeff," she murmured, "I've missed you so much."
"Grandma? It's Liam. Who's Jeff?" I asked, walking the short distance to kneel by her side.
I sat the small bouquet of flowers in her lap, gripping my grandmother's hand in hopes that she'd look at me. But her deep blue eyes were clouded and distant.
"Jeff, why did you go off to the war? You promised me," She said, sounding a little choked up, "You promised me you'd marry me but you never returned."
My grandmother squeezed my hand tightly, but still did not look at me. I could see tears rolling down her cheeks.
"You said you'd be back by my birthday, do you remember that? Mary-Anne teased me for weeks but still held me when the general came to the door. I still have your uniform, tucked under my bed."
I remained silent, watching in awe as she continued whispering to that small crack in her curtains.
"You never saw Andrew. He was such a beautiful baby. Born only three days after Christmas. He went into the service just like you. He never came back either. But his little boy, his little Liam, He's the light of my life, Jeff." Grandma was smiling through her tears.
"Your brother took care of Andrew and I until I could support us alone. I worked in the factories, down by the bay. It was so hard, Jeff, but we did it. I moved in with my friend, Annaliese. I know you never liked her much but she had such a kind heart. She gave me a place to stay when Andy moved on. She took care of me when the general came to the door."
I was shell-shocked. I didn't know my own grandfather's name. My father was born out of wedlock and raised by his uncle and mother. I had never thought to ask Grandma any of this. I felt like an intruder, suddenly, listening to a conversation I was not meant to hear.
"Ann took care of me after Andy passed. She helped me find his wife, Clara. I nursed Clara through the worst of her labor. I helped her bring my beautiful grandson into the world. Liam looked so much like his father as a child. He's all grown up now. He promised to come see me today, Jeff. It is my birthday, you know? I turn 100 today. It's been 80 years since you promised to return for my birthday. 80 birthdays spent by the window, waiting for you. I'm so glad you finally came today," Grandma took a shaky breath, closing her eyes and letting the last of her tears roll down her cheeks.
"Am I supposed to come with you, Jeff? How could I leave Liam like this? I don't want him to be lonely."
My breath hitched and I clutched her hand tighter, holding on like a lifeline.
"Grandma? Grandma, it's me. It's Liam, I'm here to see you, just in time for your birthday, just like I promised." I felt the tears rolling down my cheeks.
She finally looked at me, her eyes clear once again.
"Liam! You're here," A smile split her face, "I'm so happy you came to see me."
"Happy birthday, Grandma," I said, wiping tears from my eyes, "Who were you talking to?"
"Just an old friend," Grandma said with a soft smile, "Oh, the people I knew."