Before the Fall
I spotted my grandfather as I drove down the block. He was standing in front of his ranch-style house, preparing to remove a small tree stump from the ground. A storm had felled the young pine a few weeks earlier, and the sight of the gnarled thing in his manicured yard had driven him to distraction.
As I pulled to the curb, I watched my grandfather use a shovel to loosen the exposed roots. He then planted the blade in the earth, gripped the splintering wood in his hands, and lowered his body toward the ground for leverage. He straightened his legs and heaved with arms that had held me almost too tight since I’d been born eighteen years earlier. The stump failed to budge.
I turned the car off, but remained behind the wheel, loath to break his concentration or posture. He tried to lift the tangle of roots again, but succeeded only in rocking the mass. He brought himself fully erect, hands on hips. Then his arms went limp. He wiped the sweat from his brow and bowed his back. I realized with some alarm that he intended to make another attempt.
I clambered from the car and slammed the door. He looked up. A falsely cheerful greeting caught in my throat. He didn’t speak, but the grey clouding his blue eyes and the set of his bared teeth said it all. “This hurts worse than anything ever has before and ever will again.”