It was his birthday. I was wondering if he was aware of it.
I said, “Happy birthday!”
He was 127 years old and I hadn’t seen him for over three decades.
Precisely since he had died.
He didn’t seem to notice me, although there was only the two of us in the apartment.
I got hold of two glasses and poured some whiskey.
I said, “Here’s to you!” and handed him one of the glasses.
He took it, his skin papery yellow.
He downed the whiskey in one go.
We were in the hall, he was moving his head around with jerky movements, he seemed lost.
He said, “Where’s my toolbox?”
He never looked at me.
I said, “Toolbox?”
He said, “Yes. A box with my tools in it. A toolbox.”
This was explanation, no sense of irritation.
I said, “After your passing, my cousin Tomek claimed it. When your estate was split.”
Still with his back to me he said, “Tomek? He has no use for my tools. He’s useless with his hands. He should have gone to college.”
I said, “Tomek died. In 2003.”
He said, “Too bad. Any surviving family?”
A week later Tomek’s ex-wife called — we’re still in contact for some reason.
She was hysterical.
She said, “A man knocked on the door yesterday morning, around 11, said he was grandfather to Tomek and to you. He said he was looking for his toolbox.”
I said, “Okay, I’m listening.”
She said, “But he’s been…, you know, he’s been…”
I said, “I know. He’s been… what’s the word? Odd. To me it was his silence. Nothing offensive, he was not rude. Indifferent to most of the things around him. Nothing unfazed him, far as I can remember. But then, I wonder if I ever knew him. He kept that distance, always, not outright unkind but certainly definitive. A disconnect with place and time. A vagueness you almost appreciated.”
She said, “You are just as weird.”
I said, “So, did you have his toolbox?”