Leaving My Father
A story told in ten 100-word chapters
by Ann Kammerer
The rake leans against the sycamore, the fan end down, so it doesn’t fall. I can see my father through the window. He’s resting, his bald spot catching the sun.
The screen door slams but he doesn’t move. His fingers grip the TV remote. A dirty blanket covers his legs.
My father wakes and blinks.
“Is it morning?” he asks. “Did I miss church?”
“No Dad,” I say. “It’s about 5.”
I touch his hand.
“How long have you been sleeping?”
He doesn’t answer. Outside a breeze lifts the leaves, one by one from the pile.
We walk into Emergency with elbows hooked until he collapses into a waiting room chair.
“I’ll check you in Dad.”
He gives me his wallet and Medicare card.
“It will be a minute,” the receptionist says.
I tell her his left side is weak. She pushes a button. A door opens.
“Can you walk sir?” A blonde nurse appears and extends her hand.
“I think so,” my father says.
Veins pop on his temple as he pushes himself up.
“Steady.” Taking his arm, she leads. “Ready?”
He nods and stumbles toward her, his brown shoes tapping out a dance.
A nurse checks the wires and putty she has stuck to my father’s chest. A monitor beeps and she smiles.
“Are those stars?” He looks outside at the bracelet of lights lining the street.
“No,” I say. “We’re just downtown.”
He mutters and picks at his IV.
“How did I get here?” he says.
“I brought you,” I say. “In your car.”
“Are you sure?” he asks. “I thought I drove.”
He stares at fluid dripping through clear tubes.
“Did she tell you?” He winks at the nurse. “I got a brain bleed. At least it’s not my heart.”
We talk about birds and how they crack open seeds with their beaks.
“They’re always hungry.” My father watches the brown slurry that drips through a feeding tube and seeps through a hole in his belly.
“They sure are,” I say.
White film covers his tongue. His lips quiver when he speaks.
“I’m thirsty,” he says.
I reach for the Q-Tips with pink spongy ends.
“Okay,” I say dipping them in water. “Here goes.”
He closes his eyes and tips back his head. When I moisten his lips, he opens his mouth to suck droplets from the tiny sponge.
My father asks if I got his message even though he can’t use the phone.
“No,” I say. “When did you call?”
He blinks, his eyes wet like glass.
“Yesterday,” he says. “I left you two messages.”
“What did you need?”
He knots the sheets and lets go. He’s staring at a nursing home calendar that shows a man using a mortar and pestle.
“I got a prescription,” he says. “I need to pick it up.”
He points to the Norman Rockwell ad. In the corner, I see the phone, buried in wadded Kleenex the nurse didn’t throw away.
My father touches the nurse’s arm as she mixes his medicines. His eyes wander when she pulls away.
“Is today the 20th?” he asks.
“No,” I say. “It’s the 24th.”
He fiddles with Kleenex.
“Did you talk to your mother?”
I start to say no but stop.
“She said to pick up flowers,” he says. “The ones for our wedding.”
I nod and remember a picture, taken on the steps of City Hall. My mother is there, her hair wavy, not thinned by chemo. It is June 1948. He is there, too, smiling into the lens of a Leica.
He struggles to get from bed as his rubber-bottom socks stick to the sheets.
“What’s up Dad?”
“I gotta go home,” he says. “They’re taking my house.”
I resnap his gown and slide the call button in his hand. He twists, and the cord pulls taught.
“How did I get like this?” He tries to move his legs and groans.
“Don’t worry,” I say. “Rest.”
He sleeps. I touch his skin, purple from IVs.
Across the hall, a woman cries. Sometimes I see her, a nursing home blanket pulled to her chin as she writhes and shouts in pain.
My father’s toes rustle the blankets like kittens in a bag.
“Dad?” I smooth wisps of his hair. His eyes flutter.
“Is he awake?” A patient in the next bed turns down FOX News.
“No,” I say. “He’s asleep.”
The patient tents his purple fingers.
“I’m praying for him.” He turns up the volume.
Bloody pictures flash on TV as the anchor talks about unborn babies.
“I’m praying for them too,” the patient says.
A woman in a wheelchair peers through the door, straining to see my father.
“Baby sleeping,” she shushes, rocking a plastic doll in her arms.
A woman’s moans float throughout the nursing home.
“She’s at it again,” my father says. “Can’t she shut up?”
He knits his eyebrows and tightens his lips.
“Is she okay?” I ask.
“Beats me.” His head swishes on the pillow. “Make her stop.”
My shoes squeak as I slip into the hall. She’s there, sinking in a wheelchair, her stick arms swirling.
“Do I know you?” Her eyes fix on me. I smile and wave.
“I do,” she wails. “I know you.”
My dad’s beeper drowns out her cries. I step away as a nurse rushes into his room.
The doctor clicks her pen and checks a box on a pad.
“How’s he doing?” I ask.
“About the same.” Her eyebrows arch.
“What’s his prognosis?”
“Poor,” she says. “It’s a matter of wait and see.”
She clears her throat. Her eyes dilate.
“There are things we can do,” she says. “To keep him comfortable.”
She slips her pen into her pocket and touches my forearm.
“Thank you,” I say. “I’ll go see him.”
As I walk through the lobby, a man strapped in a wheelchair watches TV. A bat cracks and a baseball rises, dissolving into the sun.
Ann Kammerer lives in East Lansing, Michigan, where she works as a copy and feature writer for small business and higher education. Her short fiction has appeared in several regional publications and magazines and has been awarded top honors in fiction writing contests run by the Chicago-based Crow Woods Publishing and Toledo/Ann Arbor’s Current Magazine.