Visiting Grandpa

I woke up with a strong desire to see my father. “Shall we go and visit Grandpa?” I asked the twins as they tucked into their breakfast cereal.

The six-year-old boys looked up in unison. “If you like,” William said.

“Cool,” Thomas added.

“OK, I’ll phone up and see if we can get in today. There might be a cancellation.”

In the back of the car, they were whispering and grinning. I wasn’t sure whether they understood the concept of the virtual mausoleum, though I had tried to explain it several times. We were lucky; I had managed to secure thirty minutes, as there had been a cancellation. We were in suite seventeen. It occurred to me that it was ironic how families seemed to visit their dead relatives more often than they had visited them when they were alive.

The suite had a row of comfortable chairs for the visitors. Everything else was holographic. It hadn’t been too expensive to have them visit Dad at home before he died. They had filmed everything, sampled the air, interviewed him, and had him fill out a sixty-two page secret questionnaire.

The virtual room looked exactly as I remembered it, down to his favourite mug filled with weak milky tea on the old table that we’d eaten off for years. The smell brought the memories rushing back – a combination of his aftershave, a faint hint of pipe tobacco and the unique smell of his house – the house that I had grown up in.

“How are you, Dad?”

“Oh, fair to middling son, mustn’t complain, no point complaining anyway,” he grinned at us. We had entered our names into the seats we had taken. The expert system that ran the simulation was quite capable of running multiple conversations. It was like stepping back into the past and being with him again, except that you couldn’t kiss him or hug him or even shake his hand. The lack of physical contact always brought a tear to my eye. The latest newsletter had said that the technology for physical interaction was only a couple of years away. Maybe the twins would eventually get the chance to hug their grandfather.

We chatted about inane things and wasted fifteen minutes. The twins were quiet, but grinning at each other throughout. We all sat quietly for a few moments. There was no compulsion to speak, but the silence seemed to build up a pressure in me. We hadn’t really talked in life, but I couldn’t bear the silence now he was dead. “Would you like to ask Grandpa anything?” I asked the boys.

“Grandpa,” William asked in his cheeky voice, “Are you gay?” I almost choked and I expected my father to splutter on his tea.

He didn’t. He smiled and put down his cup. “I’m glad you asked that, lad. After your father was born, well your grandma and me we weren’t intimate anymore. A man needs to satisfy his urges. I had a few special mates, if you understand what I mean.”

I understood, but I doubted that my six-year-olds did. Embarrassed, I said a quick goodbye and ushered them out of the room.

In the back of the car, the boys were quiet. I knew that they were communicating with each other as only twins can.

“Dad,” Thomas eventually asked quietly, “Are you gay?”