Toby races down the hospital corridor, taking in the smell of disinfectant that fills his nose. His dad said that Granddad is ok but Toby is still filled with doubts. If he’s being kept in the hospital he can’t be that ok. He follows the signs for the ward, getting lost a few times and having a couple of helpful nurses point him in the right direction. He bursts on to the ward, in to the little section that his Granddad is put in, fully expecting to see the old man lying down and filled with tubes.
But Granddad is sitting up, happily chatting away to the person in the bed next to him who actually looks like he should be in the hospital. Toby walks closer and sees that his granddad is a little paler than usual but nothing else looks to be wrong. Granddad looks over and when he spots that it’s Toby a wide smile spreads across his face. Apparently the old guy is just as happy and cheerful as ever.
“What happened Granddad?” Toby asks as he gets closer.
He reaches down for a hug and is surprised to feel that his granddad feels as solid and as strong as ever. As he sits down though he notices that the man’s arms are shaking slightly.
“I’m fine,” Granddad says, waving his hand around, “It was nothing. Just a silent stroke.”
“A stroke?!” Toby shouts, startling a few of the other occupants and earning a warning glare from a passing nurse. He lowers his voice and leans in closer to his grandfather. “A stroke isn’t nothing! It can kill you.”
“It was a silent stroke,” Granddad says, “They’re nowhere near as dangerous, they just make you go a little funny for a while. I’m fine. They’re keeping me in to do a few more checks but I’ll be back home before you know it, you wait and see.”
“It makes you go funny?” Toby asks, “Well we’re not going to really notice a difference are we? You’ve always been funny and weird.”
Granddad laughs loudly, drawing a few inquiring looks. Toby chuckles along with him before his smile drops and he takes his Granddad’s hand in his.
“You’re ok though?” he asks worriedly, “You can walk and everything? Still remember us all?”
“Who are you again?” granddad asks straight faced. He can’t hold it though and he starts chuckling. “I’m fine Toby, don’t worry yourself. They’re just doing some further checks and then I can go home. But what about you? How’s football going?”
Toby breathes a sigh of relief but doesn’t answer his granddad right away.
“It’s ok,” he eventually mumbles, “You know, football-y.”
“Hmmm,” Granddad says, leaning forwards, “You don’t sound too happy about it. What’s wrong?”
Toby looks at his granddad. He knows that he can probably tell the old man everything. They’ve always been close, he’s always felt comfortable confiding in his granddad. He takes a deep breath and goes for it.
“I’ve left home,” he spits out. Granddad’s eyebrows rise in surprise and Toby rushes on, “Me and Dad have been arguing loads lately and I just had enough. So I left.”
“Arguing?” Granddad asks, “About what? You’ve always been so similar. Then again, that could be the problem I suppose.”
“He found out that I want to be a footballer,” Toby says. He takes a deep breath again, “And an actor.”
“An actor?!” Granddad says, “Wow! That’s brilliant. Why would you fall out about that?”
“You know Dad!” Toby says with exasperation, “His dream is for me to become a footballer, and only a footballer. Anything else is wrong. I’m to be a footballer and that’s it, just like he always wanted to be.”
“Oh I remember your dad wanting to be a footballer,” Granddad says, laughing, “He was football mad that boy. Do you know I was the one who talked him out of it?”
“Really?” Toby asks, “I never knew that.”
“Oh yes,” Granddad says, “I said that he couldn’t be a footballer, he had to be something else.”
“What did you want him to be?” Toby asks, then he jokes, “An actor?”
“No! A mechanic,” Granddad says, “That was probably just as bad for him really. The thing was I wanted him to do what I did, what everyone was doing back in those days. I wanted your dad to stop dreaming and start bringing in some money with a proper job,”
“It was kind of a silly dream back then,” Toby says, “I mean, they didn’t exactly make as much as they do now. Hell I think they only made average wage back then. He probably would have made more as a mechanic to be fair.”
“I made a mistake Toby,” Granddad says, “I should never have pushed him to do what I wanted him to do.”
“So…” Toby says, “You wish you’d let him follow his dream instead?”
“Of course I do!” Granddad says firmly, “Dreams are important things. They give us something to work towards, a bit of happiness and hope if we’re bored or sad or tired. It makes everything that we do worthwhile because we’ve got the possibility of something else out there, waiting for us. At least if I’d let him go for it, even if he failed, he’d be off your back now instead of trying to make you in to the footballer that he wanted to be.”
“I suppose,” Toby says with a sigh. “What should I do Granddad? I don’t want to fight with Dad.”
“Follow your dream Toby,” Granddad says wisely, doing his best impression of Mr Miyagi, “If you want to be a footballer, do it. If you want to be an actor, do it. If you want to be both, do it. If you want to be an estate agent…”
“Don’t do it,” they says together.
They both laugh and Toby can’t help himself. He leans over and gives Granddad a big hug. Just getting all of it out there, everything that’s going on in his mind, has made him feel a lot better. And hearing one of his own relations, especially one whose opinion matters to him so much, encouraging him to go for it has made him feel a lot more secure in his choices.
“Will you talk to Dad?” Toby asks Granddad eventually, “I’ve tried but I can’t make him understand.”
“You leave your dad to me,” Granddad says, patting his grandson’s hand kindly. His gaze flicks over Toby’s shoulder and his smile widens, “Argh, talk of the devil.”
Toby turns around and sees his dad and Rebecca walking in to the section of the ward. Rebecca darts away from their dad and rushes over to the bed. She gives Toby a quick hug before she clambers up on to the bed and throws her arms around her granddad, hugging him tightly. Granddad hugs her back, grinning widely. He winks at Toby as Anthony gets nearer and then looks up at his son.
“How are you Dad?” Anthony asks.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Granddad says, he turns to Rebecca and smiles at her, “My goodness, look at how you’ve grown. You’ve got your mother’s eyes you have. How’s the singing going?”
“It’s going really well!” Rebecca says happily, “Do you want to hear it?”
“Maybe another time my dear,” he says kindly, “Right now though I’m dying for a cup of decent coffee. Hey! Dying! You get it? I’m in the hospital but I’m not actually dying,” Everyone groans and rolls their eyes, “Anyway, you wouldn’t believe the rubbish that they’re serving us here. Tastes like dishwater. Toby do you think that you could go down to the coffee shop downstairs and get me some decent coffee? Take Rebecca with you while you’re at it and get her some Fruit Pastilles too.”
“Sure Granddad,” Toby says smiling.
He gets up and takes Rebecca’s hand. Granddad winks at him as he heads out of the compartment. His Granddad isn’t exactly subtle sometimes but at least it’s only Toby and Granddad that know he is after some privacy so he can talk to Anthony. Toby is filled with a rush of fondness and love for Granddad and decides to get him the best coffee he can find, even if it means going down the street.
Anthony takes Toby’s empty seat and stares at his dad.
“Oh stop looking at me like that,” Granddad scolds, “I’m fine for now.”
“Dad…” Anthony says.
“Leave it!” Granddad says. “Listen I need to talk to you. Do you remember when you were sixteen?”
“A lot happened when I was sixteen,” Anthony points out, “You’re going to need to be a bit more specific.”
“When you wanted to pursue a football career,” Granddad says. The light starts to dawn in Anthony’s eyes and Granddad continues, “You were obsessed with becoming a professional footballer. But I managed to convince you to take that apprentice job at the local mechanics instead?”
“Yeah I remember,” Anthony says. He looks somber for a moment before he starts laughing, “Cor, did we ever argue. I think we went an entire week without talking to each other at one point.”
“Yes, we did argue,” Granddad says. He takes his son’s hand, “Look, I don’t know how long I’ve got left on this planet. I’ve had a good innings but this silent stroke has put me on the radar. I’m probably going to have another one at some point and this time it could actually kill me.”
“Stop saying that Dad,” Anthony says, “Why are you talking like this? What’s going on.”
“Listen,” Granddad says, “I don’t want there to be any regrets or secrets between us. I want you to know that I made a mistake back then.”
“What do you mean?” Anthony asks, “What mistake?”
“Making you take that apprenticeship,” Granddad says, “I should never have done that, I should have let you go for it and been there to pick up the pieces.”
“You were looking out for me!” Anthony insists, “You wanted to make sure that I had a future for a long time, not just until I turned thirty or got too old. You were doing what any dad would do.”
“It was a mistake Anthony,” Granddad insists, “One that I’ve had to live with all of my life. I would do anything to change what I did.”
“Nah,” Anthony says, “Forget it.”
“I can’t forget it son,” Granddad says, “I made a mistake and it haunts me.”
“It’s in the past now,” Anthony says, shrugging, “You can’t change it so there’s no point dwelling on it. Anyway, why are you going on about this now? It was like… forty years ago.”
“Because I want to make sure,” Granddad says, “I want to make sure that you don’t make the same mistake that I did. I don’t want you to live with this same regret and feel guilty everyday. I want you to learn from my mistakes and do it right.”
“What are you talking about?” Anthony asks, laughing, “I don’t get you at all.”
“Toby,” Granddad says.
“What about Toby?”Anthony asks, all amusement gone from his voice now.
“You’re on the way to doing what I did,” Granddad says, taking his son’s hand in both of his, “Can’t you see? You’re making the exact same mistake as me. You’re making him follow your dream, not letting him follow his own. It’s wrong and if you keep on this path it will end badly for both of you.”
“It’s different now Dad,” Anthony says, pulling his hand away.
“How?” Granddad asks harshly, “How on earth is you making Toby do what you want instead of what he wants different to what I did?”
“It just is,” Anthony says. He looks away for a moment and then turns back to his dad, taking his hands, “Toby is too young to really know what he wants. I’m encouraging him to do something that anyone else would give their right arm to do.”
“That sounds very familiar Anthony,” Granddad says. “I believe that I said the exact same thing. But what you’re doing is in your opinion. It’s true that you might give your right arm to be a footballer but it’s not everyone else’s dream. Not everyone wants to be a footballer or just play football. Most want to do other things.”
“Were you talking to Toby about this before I got here?” Anthony asks, sitting back.
“Yes,” Granddad says firmly, “He was upset and I listened to him. Something that you should be doing, I might add.”
“You have no business talking to him about this,” Anthony snaps, “He’s my son. I tell him what to do. I don’t want you filling his head with rubbish.”
“He told me he left home,” Granddad bursts out. “Can’t you see that you’re just going to push him away if you keep doing this? It’ll only get worse.”
Anthony doesn’t say a word. He just looks away and won’t meet his father’s eye.
“You forget Anthony,” Granddad continues, “We didn’t speak for two whole years. It was only your mum, God rest her soul, who got us back together on speaking terms. I can’t see Maria helping things along like your mum did, can you? She hates your guts.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Anthony says, waving his hand around, “Look, this isn’t the time to be talking about this. You need to be focusing on getting better.”
“I’m fine,” Granddad says. “And we need to talk about this now, before things get any worse.”
They don’t have time to say any more. Toby returns with Rebecca, a cup of hot coffee in his hand. He hands it to his Granddad who starts drinking it down quickly. He hisses softly as it burns his tongue slightly but makes a small noise of contentment.
“So…” Granddad says once he’s drank his coffee, “What are you all up to tonight?”
Rebecca and Anthony both share their plans. Then it’s Toby’s turn.
“I thought I’d go and see Mum,” he says quietly.
They all look at him in surprise and shock.
“Why would you go and do that?” Anthony asks harshly, “She’s not your mother really.”
“She is my mum,” Toby says sharply, “Even if she’s not been around that much she’s still my mother. With everything that’s happened with Granddad I just want to go and see her, let her know I’m ok and make sure that she is too.”
Granddad doesn’t say anything but he nods. He understands, he would do the same thing in Toby’s shoes to be fair.
Maria, Toby’s mother isn’t the best mum in the world. She’s actually an alcoholic. Once upon a time she was a determined young woman with a dream of her own, much like Toby. She wanted to be a dancer and she could have been. She was at the top of her game, one of the best dancers around and well on her way to becoming a professional who’s name was known by everyone in the business and those enthusiasts and devotees who love dancing. She was driven and she was determined to manage to make it in the big time. She didn’t even let something like having a child stop her, continuing to dance while Anthony looked after baby Toby at night.
But those dreams were all put to bed when she had a terrible knee injury. The truth was that she could have returned to dancing once she recovered and had rehabilitation. But she got hooked on her painkillers, taking them even after the pain from her knee when away. After Rebecca was born she started to suffer from post-partum depression and was placed on Valium to make things better. Pretty soon she was spending every day on a cocktail of prescription drugs and barely looking after her children at all. Everyone told Anthony to leave her, to take the kids and run. But he wouldn’t listen. He loved her, he was deeply devoted to her and the thought of leaving her made him want to curl up and cry.
She was still ambitious though, always dreaming of returning to dancing. Anthony however had no other ambitions for himself, he just wanted to see his kids do well and kept pushing Toby, even as a child, to play football. It was this lack of ambition that drove Maria mad. She got fed up with it and one evening, completely off her head on her usual cocktail of drugs she up and left, leaving both of her small children in Anthony’s hands.
Anthony was devastated but all of their friends breathed a deep sigh of relief. They rallied around him and helped him through the hard times. As the children got older everyone began to see how driven and determined they were and they put that all down to Maria’s genes. They saw the lack of personal ambition in Anthony and knew that the kids didn’t get their drive from him. But in their eyes it wasn’t a bad thing for Anthony to have no dreams. He was focused on the kids, on making sure that they had the best life that they could get. Once the divorce went through this devotion to his children won Anthony full custody of them. Maria only gets to see them at the weekends, if the children want to see her but they very rarely do.
She’s an alcoholic now, having replaced the drugs with alcohol. It’s a bit better, at least Toby thinks so, but in the eyes of the courts it’s still not good enough so she has very little chance of ever getting custody of her children. It doesn’t seem to bother her, at least not to the outsider, but those close to her know that she’s aching for her children inside and trying to cover up that pain with booze. Toby, as he has gotten older, tries to go and see her more often than he used to but even those visits are growing few and far between now. He’s almost an adult and has his own life after all. But he wants to go and see her tonight, things with his Granddad reminding him of exactly how fleeting life can be.