Every time we passed that graveyard, you would ask me the same question:
"What kind of stone do you want?"
On reflection, it might have been a morbid thing for a grandfather to ask a seven-year-old boy, but that was part of your charm. It was one of those eccentric things that made you, you. You didn't mean anything by it.
Every time you'd ask, my answer would change, and yours would stay the same.
"When I'm worm food," you'd say, "I want one of those really tiny stones. The kind people trip over when looking for someone more important."
You'd wink at me and every time I would laugh, even though you said it every time. It was always my favourite part of riding with you in the car -- just a little opportunity to think about the future, when I was too young to understand what the future really meant.
Eventually you stopped asking. When I was nine, passing the graveyard meant a fog of silence would fill the car. I knew you were sick, even if the grown-ups wouldn't tell me. I wanted to ask you the question myself, but every time I opened my mouth the thick air would rush in and fill up the gaps so I couldn't choke the words out. Eventually I stopped trying.
You died in your sleep a year later. I heard about it the next morning. I wasn't sure how to feel. I couldn't feel anything. When you were buried in the graveyard, I didn't visit.
At sixteen, I learnt how to drive a car the old-fashioned way. My dad took the shotgun seat and we drove through the countryside, going sixty on old roads. I was a quick learner; dad told me where the gas was, where the brake was, how to shift gears -- and we were off, after stalling in the driveway a dozen times. He nervously held onto the emergency brake the entire way, but I was doing fine.
Until we passed the graveyard.
I didn't even realize where we were: I'd long since forgotten where exactly the place was, and why exactly it mattered. It was just off the emptier side of a small town out in the middle of nowhere; the car started to swerve, and a sudden jerk of the hand that should have corrected the movement proved to be too much. A tire blew off one side, and my dad's itchy wrist yanked the brake at barely the right time. Tires screamed against the pavement as the car skidded and dropped five feet off the side of the road.
One bounce, two bounce, and two deep trails of torn-up dirt and grass told the rest of the story. A wrought-iron fence was erected inches from the front bumper. One more bounce and we would have been in the graveyard itself.
As we waited for the police to arrive, my dad started laughing.
"What's so funny?"
He pointed to your tiny stone, a foot in front of the tires. It was barely a bump in the dirt next to the giant rock that marked my grandmother. It was one of those eccentric things that made you, you.
Dad wiped a tear away, but I knew he wasn't laughing hard enough for his eyes to water. I couldn't help it: I laughed too. The police thought we were nuts when they got to the scene.