The last days of my dad
15-Minute Read // Originally published 4/9/2016 // by Luke Kondor
“Don’t worry, son. Everything’s going to be okay.”
Craig’s father failed to realise that every time he spoke he hurt his son. Each word disturbed the wound, brought out fresh blood, and sometimes required a fresh visit to the nurse for new stitches.
Craig winced as he placed a damp slice of kitchen roll over the wound and looked up at the lightbulb dangling from the white rope of wire poking through the ceiling. It was dark outside. He was supposed to be asleep. Early start in the morning and he needed the rest.
He leaned his back against the kitchen worktop and wished that his dad would just leave him be… would just let him go.
“Son?” his dad said, confused, his voice now muffled from the damp kitchen roll.
Craig ignored him. His dad was a pain when he was alive, and now, even after death, his dad couldn’t stop hurting him.
It was only a month ago when the papers were all signed and ready to go. All they needed to do was clear the house, go through and remove his dad’s stuff so they could get the place cleaned up, maybe redecorate a few bits here and there – nothing fancy, fresh coat of paint, touch up some of the yellowed white – and then get the place sold, get the whole mess out of his life for good.
“I’ve never known a man to accumulate so much shit,” his brother Devin said as he grabbed a handful of Mills & Boon novels from the bookshelf and dropped them into a giant box that was destined for the tip. Each time he disturbed the shelf a puff of dust blew upwards, hazing the air. He sneezed and looked to Craig as if to say ‘this is fucking disgusting’.
It was true, though. The living room was disgusting. A lifetime of stuff that his dad would never let go of. He was a hoarder. Any worse and there’d be a TV special about him. The real life Stig of the Dump.
He looked at the living room and was amazed that he couldn’t see more than a metre square of visible carpet on the floor. All he could see were stacks of old VHS tapes, vinyl records, giant tomes detailing ancient armours, military weapons, and World War II (a particular interest of his), old shoeboxes stacked atop one another filled with photos from years gone by. Old friends and family members who Craig and Devin had never even heard of, never mind met. There was a PC, too. Craig remembered it well. He built the damn thing from scratch. He bought the graphics card, the hard drive, casing, the RAM, installed the OS and even went as far as bookmarking all of the Wikipedia pages of all of those aforementioned interests. It took Craig a long weekend to get it all together and he was pretty sure his dad had gotten as far as turning it on before forgetting about it and going back to his couch and his books.
He could picture it already.
His pap, sitting with the curtains shut in his favourite chair in the half-light, hunched over himself, the silver forest of hairs flowering outwards from the top of his neck and leading all the way down into his white vest top as he smoked and poured over his books of the past.
The man just couldn’t let go of anything.
Not even the computer, it seemed.
Craig walked over to it, looked at the film of dust that covered the big CRT monitor screen. It wasn’t one of the fancy new thin ones. This was one of those giant fatties with the odd weighting and the glass tube inside. He reached his hands around the back, hunted for the connecting cables that locked it in place.
“Dad had some good stuff,” his brother said from the other side of the room, flipping through the old vinyls, looking for something to add to his collection. “Sure he had some shit, too, but there’s a few diamonds in the rough.”
“Maybe that will make up for the missing birthday presents,” Craig said, as his fingers found the two screw caps on the display connector. He thumbed them loose and yanked the cable free. “Sure did miss a few of mine.”
“Yeah… I guess.”
Craig straightened his back, pulled on the monitor screen and lifted it upwards, pulled back and felt something, a point, scratch and push into the skin of his arm, breaking it apart, and pulling down like a knife against plastic, the blade separating the skin, as if it were simply unzipping it.
“Fuck!” he screamed as he dropped the screen, letting it slam down onto the makeshift computer desk. He clutched his forearm and saw the rusty nail poking out from the side of the wall with his fresh DNA sample glistening on the end of it.
He bit down on his bottom lip and turned away from the computer, almost tripping on an ornamental clock that was sitting on the floor. He kicked it, lifted his hand, just long enough to get a glance of the damage. A pink line, about five centimetres long. The empty gouge pooled with red.
Looking to Devin, he felt his tongue go dry and his head go light.
“Dude,” Devin said. “Are you okay?”
Craig’s head felt lighter every passing second, more so when the blood found its way through his fingers and splashed down onto the stacks of newspapers, staining the grey-white of the old print.
Unsure what was happening at that point he remembered his brother being sat on the far side of the room, and then suddenly next to him, a little paler, holding out a wet towel, and then Craig was sat on the floor, confused and nauseous.
“We need to get you to the hospital,” his brother said. “Shit looks like it’s gonna need stitches.”
Craig never liked being fussed over. Especially in these situations. He was the kind of person who could be dying and think it impolite to tell anyone about it. His brother drove him to the hospital and the nurse gave him the painkillers, and he looked to the far corner of the room, listening to the crying and coughing of the A&E department, avoiding the site of the nurse’s needle threading through the wound. By the end he was just glad it was all over.
“Eat a biscuit or two. You’ll be fine,” the nurse said with a simple smile, oblivious to how wrong her words would turn out to be.
Nothing would be fine.
Even with the biscuits.
As he laid in his own bed that night, doing his best to avoid the throbbing sensations pulsing through his arm, staring at the ceiling, he wasn’t expecting much of anything to happen. Especially not hearing his father’s voice.
Probably nothing, he thought.
He sat up, still groggy, and looked around the room.
“Hello?” he said, unsure what he was doing but just testing the words out.
There was silence for a few beats.
Craig scuffled out the bed, yanked on the lamp switch, and looked around to the bedroom door. His pulse quickened. He looked to the cupboards. Under the bed. Outside the window.
“Hello?” he tried again.
Mmrnnrn mnnrn mummn.
His ears followed the muffled noise down towards his arm. He felt like fainting all over again. He lifted it and looked at the white bandage. He saw the pink lips where the blood had stained the medical gauze and recognised the shape immediately. After all, he had the exact same mouth. He was the spitting image, apparently.
Digging his finger into the bandage he pulled it away and unwrapped himself and forced his eyes to look down at the sutured wound. The bruising above and below formed the lips and the black thread sewed them shut.
The wound moved as he would expect a sewed-up mouth to move. Sure he couldn’t make out what it was saying but from the tone of the voice and the rhythm and the familiar nuance he knew exactly what the voice was trying to say.
It was trying to say, “hello, son.”
Down in the kitchen, it was a painful procedure. With the nail scissors, he carefully snipped away the thread allowing the voice to talk freely.
“Phew… that’s much better,” his dad said, calm as anything. “Thanks, kiddo.”
Craig looked down at his own arm, amazed, scared, mainly concerned.
“I don’t understand… how… why are you here?”
“I dunno what to tell you, kiddo. Last thing I remember is going to bed with a stiff heart, and now I’m here with my son.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. That’s not how stuff, that’s now how the world works.”
“Yes well… I don’t understand how the internet works, but… it still does, doesn’t it?”
With each word spoken he felt the cut move and shift, exposing the nerve endings to the cold painful air. The pain made his eyes well.
“Why are you here?” Craig said.
“What do you mean?”
“You died. We buried you! We fucking put your body in the ground. We mourned you… we said goodbye.”
“Sorry, kiddo, I didn’t mean to hurt—”
“No! Dad! You never do. You just can’t fucking let go of anything can you?” Craig stood up.
“Son, I don’t know what you’re talking about… I never—”
He grabbed a handful of kitchen roll, ran it under the cold tap, before covering the mouth, losing the voice to the muffles again, closing his ears off from the occasional words of apologies and lies.
“Heard it all before, Dad.”
“Don’t worry, son. Everything’s going to be okay,” his dad said, through the kitchen roll.
“No, Dad… I don’t think it will be,” he said as he walked back upstairs to his bed. “I don’t think it will be.”
Over the next few weeks, there were plenty of sleepless nights and fresh bandages. He mostly ignored his dad. He’d been doing it for years anyway, why stop now?
But then, on a Tuesday morning, he woke up before his alarm to hear his dad humming an old Tom Jones tune. He noticed the voice was growing weaker. He looked down at the arm to see a good centimetre on each side of the mouth had healed shut. Shiny skin had grown over the edges. The realisation hit him. This, too, was temporary.
“Dad,” he said suddenly, choking over his words a little. “Tell me… erm, tell me about mum.”
“Oh… well, what would you like to know?”
“The start, go from the beginning. How did you meet?”
It didn’t matter how many questions he asked of his father, or how much his father spoke, the wound was now healing, and it seemed that every morning he woke up and looked, another five millimetres had gone on each side.
He understood, and he made the most of the time. He didn’t go to work for the next three days. Just called in sick. First time since starting the job, but he didn’t care. He needed more time alone with his father. He even asked him about all the boring stuff. About all that crap he’d read in those books. About the world wars, the guns, the armours.
“Dad,” he said as he drank tea. “Tell me why you can’t let go.”
He was referring to the shit in the house but they both knew what he was actually asking. Why hadn’t his father just let go of life? Why hadn’t he just let go of his son when he had the chance?
“I don’t know, kiddo,” his dad said, curving the small edges of the cut upwards on each side. Smiling as best he could with what was left of the cut.
“I’m sorry, Dad. I’m going to miss you,” he said, realising that he didn’t have long left, now. The cut was a quarter of its original size. His body had been busy working away and had cracked on with the healing process.
“Don’t worry, son.” his dad said, each word growing quieter, turning to little more than a whisper as the wound healed over with increasing speed. “I love you… everything’s… going… to be… okay…”
“No… Dad…! Dad…? Talk to me!”
The mouth closed, and his dad’s voice faded to nothing, leaving nothing more than a glistening pink line across his arm. A mark forever made.
Craig stood and cried for several passing minutes, watching the cut, waiting, hoping to hear something, but it was no use. It was gone. He sat down on the sofa in silence and let his mind wander.
It’d taken him a while, he thought, to figure it all out. He assumed that this was just another case of his dad unwilling to let go, of his life, of his son, but in fact, it was the other way around. It was all about Craig. It was him who couldn’t let go. Not just yet anyway.
“I love you, Dad,” he said to the scar, before kissing it, and letting his jumper sleeve fall down to the wrist. He looked up. “I love you.”
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