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George Granger

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George Granger ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

(Published in Short Story America.)

Mr. Peach hired a dozen or so men to clear a large tract of land and then told them they had to have the work done by Saturday. One of them, a nineteen-year-old named George Granger (everybody called him GG for short), got in the way and a tree fell on him.

Mr. Peach bellowed like a bull and threw a tea cup against the wall when he heard the news. He was sorry the boy was dead but sorrier the work wouldn’t be done on time. He got into his car and drove over to the house where George Granger lived with his mother.

The preacher’s wife had heard the news before anybody else and she was sitting next to GG’s mother on the divan, her arm around her shoulder. She was sniffling as much as Mrs. Granger was and they were as nearly identical as two old women could be, with their colorless hair and their faded matronly dresses.

“I came as soon as I heard,” Mr. Peach said, standing before the two women with hat in hand. He shook hands with both of them, feeling stiff and uncomfortable, as he always did in the face of death or sickness. “I just want to tell you how sorry I am.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Mrs. Granger said. “He was just standing where he shouldn’t have been. It was the Lord’s will.”

“I don’t believe it’s the Lord’s will for a child to die,” the preacher’s wife said. When they both looked at her, she said, “Well, I just don’t believe it! I don’t believe the Lord had anything to do with it. That’s just the way I am. I’m sorry.”

“If there’s anything at all I can do,” Mr. Peach said.

“There’s nothing,” Mrs. Granger said.

“I’m going to call Charles Chilton the undertaker and tell him to let you have any kind of funeral you want and send me the bill.”

“Thank you,” Mrs. Granger said, “but we can manage.”

“Is that the best you can do?” the preacher’s wife said. “Offer to pay for the funeral?”

“I would bring him back to life if I could,” Mr. Peach said. Suddenly he remembered what an outspoken woman the preacher’s wife was. She had a reputation for saying anything she felt like saying, regardless of who she embarrassed. He wanted to push her into the river where the current was fastest.

“You should have been there yourself,” the preacher’s wife said. “You should have been there to make sure your work got done without any accidents.”

“I was in town,” Mr. Peach said. “Anybody ought to be able to clear brush without getting hurt or killed.”

“So it would seem!”

“Where is he now?” Mr. Peach asked, looking directly at Mrs. Granger and hoping to end any further discussion with the preacher’s wife.

“He’s upstairs in his room,” Mrs. Granger said. “He’s on his bed.”

“Is it all right if I go up and see him? I was always fond of GG.”

“I think he would have liked that.”

The preacher’s wife drew her mouth into a narrow line of disapproval as Mr. Peach turned his back on the two women.

At the top of the stairs was a landing with three doors. He wasn’t sure which room was GG’s, but he pushed open the first door on the left and walked into the room and there was GG on the bed. He was lying with his head on the pillow and his arms at his sides. All the color was drained from his face but, except for that, he didn’t look too bad.

Mr. Peach sat down beside the bed and breathed deeply and closed his eyes and thought his private thoughts. He sat that way for a while and then he opened his eyes again and, without thinking about it, reached out and put his hand on GG’s forehead and held it there for about a minute.

As he withdrew his hand, he saw, or thought he saw, a tiny fluttering of the eyelid. He watched the eyelid to see if it fluttered again and, when it didn’t, he put the tips of his fingers to the artery in GG’s neck and felt there—he was certain of it—a tiny throb. He listened for a heartbeat and then went slowly back downstairs.

Mrs. Granger and the preacher’s wife were talking and when he walked into the room they stopped talking and looked at him.

“I think you’d better call a doctor,” he said.

“What?” Mrs. Granger asked.

“I said I would call a doctor if I were you.”

“Whatever for?” the preacher’s wife asked.

“GG isn’t dead. He was just knocked unconscious and he seems to be coming out of it now.”

“Praise the Lord!” Mrs. Granger said, standing up.

“Praise the Lord!” the preacher’s wife echoed.

“Whoever said he was dead in the first place?” Mr. Peach asked. “What’s the matter with you people? Don’t you know how to listen for a heartbeat?”

Both the women ran out of the room and up the stairs. Mr. Peach, happy to be away from them, sat down in a chair and took a cigar out of his pocket and lit it, even though he was certain Mrs. Granger wouldn’t want the smell of it in her house. He wondered, as he listened to the exclamations coming from upstairs, if he should wait for the doctor to come or if he should just go on home and eat his dinner as though nothing had happened. He would hold off on that call to the undertaker, though, at least for the time being.

Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp

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