Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Cameo Archer
In stead of coming here the last two Saturdays, I visited my grandchildren in Illinois, so it's been three weeks since I've helped my dad. All morning I've been puttering around the house, the inside air stale, smelling of old men. I want to run away.
Jerry surprised me by being here when I arrived, although he lives here. He jabbered on about this and that. Finally said, "You don't need to go back to say hello. He refused food this morning. I wouldn't even look in there, if I were you."
I poke here, poke there, not sure when to do. It's too quiet, too different from the days when the kitchen was full of people, when dishes of salad, pitchers of lemonade, plates of chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers floated out the back door to the swimming pool deck where grandchildren cried out, splashed each other, ran back to the bathroom in the house.
There's no turquoise water in the pool now--no water at all. It's a ridiculous concrete hole in the ground, taking up most of the back yard, collecting trash in the deep end, the diving board taken away long ago as a safety hazard. In the quiet kitchen the dishwasher's broken, the stove has only one burner that works.
Our routine has been: afternoons Dad naps, I take a walk, so after eating some lunch, that's what I do. I go quickly up Floral, left on Citrus more slowly, turn steep up towards Honolulu Terrace to steeper still. Will this be the last time I halt at the edge of the cliff to look our at Catalina Island, see purple fluffs of Jacaranda blossoms decorating Whittier?
After my brother leaves I look in on Dad anyway. Curled up on the hospital bed, he's shrunken to nothing, his skin yellow, his bones sticking out.
I stare. Will the next breath come?
It does, a choking, gasping one--a minute or so later, another. I back away into the next room, hold on to the counter and say to him, to myself, silently, "Dad, you don't have to stay. We'll be all right. You can go to Mother or wherever you expect to go. We'll be okay, hoping it's so."
Back out on the front steps it's time to relock the door, cross the lawn, the street, start up the car and go. I want to stay, but Jerry insists that I go to this party. From my car I look back at the old place, the flowerbeds weedy, the twenty-five foot tall sweet olive cut down. It's well over 50 years since the day we moved here. At least now the windowpanes will stay in, even if the friend who puttied them left fingerprints.
The sky darkens, a cloud or something. My eyes lift to see three black crows flying toward me over the house. They are silent. I have never before seen a crow in Whittier.
I know my Dad is dead.
Cameo Archer lives in Santa Rosa, California, and regularly reads her poetry at the Healdsburg Third Sunday Salon. She is currently looking for an agent for her historical novel based on her grandparents' lives as missionaries in China during the transitional years of the early twentieth century.
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