Caroline England

Salt

“But why?”
  She looks at me, a pleasant enough face, short fair hair neatly combed, petite, in her early fifties, I’d say. Somebody’s mother, perhaps a grandmother too. Her features are creased in polite confusion, her pale eyes are glued to mine and her tiny hands are held together at the front of her crisp uniform.
  I pause for a moment, wondering whether I heard her correctly. I’m alone and afraid. My father is dying and there’s nobody there except me.
  She gives me a moment and I stare at her in disbelief, but her eyes don’t flicker, she holds my gaze with those eyes, so calm, serene, so right.
  “Look, Dee, I would come, but I’ve just got the baby settled and Al has come home in a foul mood and besides you seem to have everything under control and I’m here if you want me. Oh, there goes the oven. Did you hear it? You know how Al loves his meat rare. Darling, I’m here if you need me, just give me a bell. And what could I do anyway? I’d just be in the way. Got to go, sweetie. Keep in touch...”
  The monitors wink above the bed and I wait for time to pass. The numbers and lines and bleeps mean nothing to me. They’ve explained it in their flat careful tones, of course, but I couldn’t take it all in. It’s too surreal; my father, my mountain of a father, acutely alive one moment, dying the next. I gaze at the man on the bed. I know it’s my father but I don’t recognise him. Without the billow of his character, his body seems empty and yet there he still is, a massive man, his huge feet protruding from the narrow boat bed.
  “Because he’s my father; because I love him.” I hear the words escape from my mouth, louder than I intended. But her cool gaze makes the words sound hollow. “And because he loves life, because he’s a fighter.” She shakes her head, almost imperceptibly. “You don’t even know him,” I yell
  “I don’t want to appear heartless, Dee, but we’re two hours away, and I’m packing for the weekend. I’ve been looking forward to Paris for weeks now. If he’s going to die, there’s no point is there? He won’t know if we’re there or not. And if the wonderful Helen’s around and still after his money, well, I’m not sure if he’d care, anyway. I’ll give you a buzz when we’re back…”
  I gaze at his face, looking for signs of the man who’s my flesh and blood. Not a perfect man, by any means, but my father. Egotistical, arrogant, hot headed but with the heart of a lion. His skin is pale and waxy, his cheeks are sunk, and the lines of life that etched his face have gone. I take a comb from my bag to straighten his parting, and then comb his hair from his forehead the way he likes. “Hey, you have no wrinkles, Dad,” I whisper.
  The squeak of a trolley wakes me. I inhale the acrid smell of disinfectant and recollection floods back. For the third night I have slept in a chair at the end of a hospital ward. My father lies beside me on a surgical bed. The near death curtains remain drawn around us. The chart is still clasped in my fist. I stare at the letters scrawled in black: DO NOT RECUCCITATE. The words are still there and so is my father. His breathing is laboured, his body welted with wires but he’s still alive.
  “It’s the Consultant’s decision. He has the final word.” She blinks just a little too soon. “But as you say, his vital signs have improved over night. I’m sure he’ll take your views into account when he makes his rounds. Now if you don’t mind…”
  She nods towards the ward with a stoical look on her fine features. I have the living to attend to, I hear her say, but no words are spoken.
  I lean towards the immobile frame. His whiskers have grown overnight. “Don’t you dare bloody die,” I hiss.

************************************

Colour flashes through the room. The girls arrived together with arms full of flora. The room is private, the bed is bigger and father’s cheeks are pink. They are sitting either side, my smiling sisters.
  “So sorry that Helen left,” one says. “But we’ll be together again,” says the other. “Just like always.”
  “You weren’t yourself with Helen,” says one. “And look what happened,” says the other.
  “I love you so much, you know, more than words can say. It was ghastly, without you,” says one.
  “I couldn’t agree more. Oh, Daddy, I missed you so much. Truly. You really must take better care of yourself. You can stay with us for a month and then with Re…” but I don’t hear the rest, as I carefully close the door saying nothing.

Caroline England © 2008