Apparently he’s been really sick for six months but I’m only finding out for the second time today. The doctor said I went into shock after being subjected to a series of my Dad’s violent seizures just before he was due to depart for the hospice. Apparently my quick thinking saved his life although I can’t be sure if the doctor was simply humouring me for good effect. When I went to visit him in hospital I thought I was there to visit my Granny until my brother told me she died last Christmas. He looks nothing like how I remember, a crude caricature of his former self as if done by an impatient child with hungry markers; skinny and yet somehow bloated – fat hands, swollen ankles and distorted larger than life facial features. His essence, or at least what I remember of it, remains exactly the same; his coarse powerful vocal chords and sunny disposition belying his condition. When no one else is present I can close my eyes and for a few brief seconds everything seems normal but then my eyes begin to sting and I’m forced back to reality. Not that I ever have the luxury of isolation much as the ward is always packed with well wishers and nosey busy bodies. The frantic revolving doors devouring every fragment of reserve energy I have by noon.
According to my brother he has anything ranging from a couple of days to a fortnight left to live. He continues to casually announce alien terms “T counts” and “metastases” until finally one registers – “M1” (it’s only later I discover it has nothing to do with the motorway). In between the obligatory meet and greets Paul fills me in what has happened in my life the past eight months and I’m surprised and disappointed by how efficiently he does so. Surely there has to be more? The main points of note are that I gave up my job to care for Dad about four months ago and got back with my ex. “Why would I do that? Even the mention of her name makes my skin crawl.” I say through gritted teeth.
“You said you got back together for the sake of your son,” He says leaving me stew for thirty seconds before adding, “only joking”. Initially I’m too confused to laugh but when I start I just can’t stop, tears rolling down my cheeks while the hollow corridor echoes in falsetto judgement. Thank god for my brother – the only one to treat me with anything resembling dignity. Everyone else providing nothing more than stock smiles, hushed tones and unfinished conversation whenever I’m present. I’m not so much angry at the time I’ve lost but with the memories I’ve created and yet never experienced with Dad. Dave tells me about all the things I did with Dad as we ticked off the itinerary of his bucket list and backs up what memories he can via Facebook on his mobile. The most striking of all images is of a sun kissed and healthy looking picture of my dad accompanied by a familiar looking stranger. We’re tagged in San Francisco and the date is roughly three months ago. Dave tells me we
were over there paragliding while I stand there confused waiting for a punchline which never comes. “You were a good son.” He says but I’ve no context to place his weighted tone.
Back inside Dad lays graciously expectant for death, casually resigned as if standing for a late bus. Nobody told him I can’t remember the past which makes it very difficult to maintain a conversation; partially because he assumes I know the backdrop to what he’s saying but mostly because of the morphine. I no longer ask questions because the needless repetition exasperates his muted fury. Dave told me he went blind two months ago but refuses to use a walking stick to maintain his dignity. When I asked how he got around Dave informed me he’s been mainly housebound but that I usually carried him. Looking at Dad now reminds me of the neighbour’s dog from when I was a child. It too had cancer and seemed to die in phases, like a slow puncture. By the end it did nothing more than drag itself around the back garden by its ass in consistent, well-worn circles.
After dinner I swat some imaginary bees and a stop a phantom can of coke from clocking Dad right between the eyes much to his lucid relief. “I’m sorry son for making you do it,” He says and I smile letting him know it’s no problem until I remember he can’t see my facial expressions.
None of this makes any sense until after Dad is buried. Three days before he had another seizure while I was present. I screamed for help as his heart monitor accompanied a frenzied acapella beat. I turned to grab assistance as his long sinewy arm connected with my wrist, “please let me go this time,” He said choking on every word ,”you promised.” but before I had a chance to respond I was ushered out of the room and his curtain was closed.
The following day Dad was both disappointed and embarrassed to see me. He spends most of my visit laughing to himself, a laughter disconnected from humour. The forced silence is so loud it suffocates every sound in the entire hospital. I’m about to leave for a coffee when he pleads for me to stay, “please, before you go could you fluff my pillow,” He says before pausing, “properly this time”. I proceed to prop him forward gently and get to work on the pillow while he smiles expectantly, “Thank you.” He says. I place the pillow behind his head which causes him to sob uncontrollably, “we had a deal.” He says.
“I know,” I say while squeezing his hand with as much false conviction as I can muster.

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