The room wasn’t dark. Grandfather always had a light on, as if he was afraid of the dark. Timmy didn’t like having to sit with grandpa, since he smelled strange and was so old he wet the bed. Timmy didn’t anymore, and didn’t understand why no one was angry grandpa did. He felt that, at the very least, it deserved a spanking. He had been spanked over it often enough, and seem mommy spank daddy with words over other things.
But grandpa was old and maybe no one spanked old people. Or maybe they went wrinkly from too much spanking; Timmy didn’t know, and people tended to think he was joking when he asked questions like that. Timmy didn’t understand how a question could be a joke; why’s were important.
“Your mother says you ask too man questions,” Grandpa said, breaking the silence of an hour in his hoarse voice, like a crow in a room of men. “Do you?”
“Mommy says you don’t talk much,” Timmy said, wary. Mommy had told him not to talk to strangers, and while Grandpa might not be one, he was weird. Which, Timmy gathered, was the same thing as strange. Which meant all strangers were weird. Daddy hadn’t agreed, and just said that Timmy was weird, which just confused things. “Why don’t you talk much?”
“Why should I?”
Timmy thought about that, gnawing on a fingernail. “Because you have to ask questions to learn stuff?” he offered.
Grandpa laughed his strange laugh mommy called a death rattle. “You don’t learn things by asking questions, boy. You learn them by finding out answers.”
Timmy switched fingernails. “That sounds stupid.”
“Do you know why the sky is blue?”
“Because I piss on the clouds every night, and the rising sun changes the colour to blue,” grandpa snapped.
“You said piss!”
“Mommy washed my mouth out with soap for that two months ago,” Timmy said.
“The advantage of being old,” Grandpa said, “is saying whatever you want.”
“But you don’t say much.”
“The disadvantage is no one listens.”
“So you’re just like a kid. Except old.”
“Or mad. No one listens to the mad, boy, even when they are right.”
Timmy considered that with the gravity of childhood. “Like the evangelists on TV? Mommy says they are all mad and stuff. She says it’s like foaming at the mouth.”
“Heh. Madness for profit is different.” Grandpa looked over from the bed, staring at Timmy from his good eye. “Do you know how I lost my other eye, Timmy?”
“Mommy said you lost it in the war. I asked her.”
“And was the answer she told you true?”
“She thought so,” Timmy said slowly, gnawing on his lower lip. “She said granny married you because you looked dashing.”
“She did, boy. But I lied to her. I never fought in the war. Real heroes don’t fight in wars. They prevent them.”
“That sounds kinda silly. Who’d know if you stopped a war?”
“No one, most of the time. It’s not something done for glory; if you do the right thing because it is right, no matter who stands against you .... all you’ve done is the right thing. It doesn’t make you better than other people. Are you smart, Timmy?”
“Mommy think so.”
“Heh. All mothers think that. What do you think boy?”
“I get beat up at school a lot, so I guess so.”
“You guess? Are you stupid?”
“No!” Timmy stood, barely aware he’d done it.
“Sit down.” The voice was still hoarse, but somehow scary.
He did so, the command registering before he had time to think about it. “Daddy never talks like that,” he said.
“So are you smart?”
“I gu - yes.”
“Stupid! Smart and stupid aren’t opposing poles, boy. Everyone is stupid about some things, smart about others. being smarter than other people doesn’t make you better than they are. If you want to be better, boy, help them. It’s why I became a diplomat.”
“It’s not because you’re good at lying?” Timmy demanded, stung.
Grandpa laughed. “A diplomat never lies. We are just selective with the truth. And here is one for you, boy: nothing makes up for that kind of lie I told your grandmother. But it was worth it.”
Later, Mommy asked Timmy why he’d horrified grandma by asking for his false eye after he’d died, and all Timmy would tell her was that he wanted something true of someone. The answer didn’t worry her until much later.
Then he asked Mommy about sex, and all she said was lies about men and woman and not the simple, pure truth of the stork. Timmy wondered if he would make a good diplomat, and if he loved his grandfather, and if it was possible to love anyone for who they really are. It was not the kind of thought he used to have, but he had an eye in his pocket now, tough he never used it in show and tell.