The endless day was finally coming to a close. The last guest had been thanked. The final casserole had been labeled with the name of its bearer and wedged into the refrigerator. Cups and spoons were washed, dried, and put away. I had nothing left to keep me from sitting, resting, thinking. More than anything, I wished to be completely devoid of thoughts, even as I felt devoid of emotion.
I’d taken a psychology class in school. I recognized denial for what it was. I’d spent the past three days going through the motions of life after death, and managing, so far, to avoid the emotions. Now, it seemed my time was up.
The red leather chair in the den called my name. I sat with my knees up to my chest, resting my head against the cushioned back. For the first time since I’d answered the phone Friday morning, my eyes welled with unshed tears.
Drip, drip, drip. I could hear the tiny drops splashing against the leather seat. As worried as I’d been at this chance to think, it hadn’t occurred to me that my brain would not be able to focus. Now that my world had become still and quiet, I found my logic had quite abandoned me, leaving behind a jumble of images and feelings, memories breaking my heart and leaking from my eyes.
I saw the outline of Mrs. Campone’s window, her cheery begonias spilling from their pots in the wrought-iron frame. I’d answered the phone in the kitchen, standing in front of the counter perusing my favorite comfort-foods cookbook for dinner inspiration. Light spilled across the recipe for chicken cacciatore as I listened to the disinterested voice detail my father’s demise.
He’d complained about the smell, the scratchy sheets, and the view from his window framing the underside of a neighbor’s balcony. I had reminded him of my complaints the first day of Kindergarten: I disliked the smell of paste, the playground housed only two swings and a single slide, and the carpets were an ugly brown. The corners of his mouth turned more sharply down at my recitation, and the V between his eyebrows deepened. He struggled to sit up straight, his voice rasping over his words. “A home is not a home,” had always been his opinion.
The air in the hospital hallway stung my nose. Disinfectant, I supposed. My father’s doctor was of a similar age, but his good health showed him to be years younger. I tried to concentrate on his words, but only caught snippets of the monologue. “Nothing more we can do medically ... physical limitations require round-the-clock nursing care ... no question of living on his own ... weeks, maybe months left.” I nodded silently.
Unrelenting flatness met my view as I drove across the state for the third time in as many weeks. The barrenness of the landscape was broken only by brightly printed advertisements and concrete overpasses carrying yellow warnings of height limitations. The sun sank behind me leaving the sky ahead a soft violet balancing a few puffy clouds the color of spun sugar candy.
I woke with a start, my neck aching from the awkward position I’d found to sleep. I was dreaming of a circus I’d once visited on a school trip. The band had been playing, the crowd cheering, bright lights spinning and flashing, and a canon had just shot a man high into the air. The dark silence I awoke to was jarring. I reached up a hand, switching on the reading lamp beside me, and checked my watch: 5:56 AM. It was time to call my mother.
Copyright ©2008 by Amy James Gray. No part of this text may be copied or reprinted without the prior consent of the author.