Dad died as the dawn broke. Before he went to sleep the night before, I spent my final hour with him. Heart failure and whiskey made him ramble, but I got his gist. I tucked him in, as he had tucked me in once and kissed him goodnight. “Leave the curtains open, would you darling, I want to see the dawn.” Those were the last words I ever heard him say.
Surrounded by his children, it was a good death and with it came a strange release from his paternal authority over us. Afterwards, waiting for the undertaker, we became naughty. My sister, giggling, put on his shoes and glasses and shuffled around, pretending to be him. We raided his pockets for his last thirty pounds and someone went out and bought champagne with it. We played his favourite tunes much too loudly, almost disrespectfully, cocooned in a strange, hysterical grief bubble.
Later, one by one we crept back to see him on his death bed. We smoothed his shirt, combed his hair, inspected his hands, kissed his cold forehead. The grandchildren, some as young as three came in, curious. We answered their questions as best as we could. After a while, we told the children that soon they’d come to take Grandad’s body away. There was a long silence, then the youngest piped up “But aren’t they going to take his head, too?”
Every now and then, on our healthful morning walks, we go off track. Retired life is comfortable, even predictable, but last week, living dangerously, we turned down an unknown path, studded with wild boar hoof prints. The track opened up to reveal a ruin, alone in the field, a byre and a shepherd’s hut with the roof fallen in and a deep open well. I leant over and looked into the depths, but I couldn’t see my reflection. Approaching the ruin alone, I peered tentatively through the byre door and fancied I smelt the ghost of the donkeys that toiled In the surrounding walls and terraces, where stunted ailing carobs and almonds grew untended. Then, just by the door, I spied an old pitchfork propped up for the last time and a lump rose in my throat for he who once wielded it and his lost way of life. I turned back to my man, feeling melancholy for the rich years we’d left behind us and our lost youth and strength.
I always try to see the best in people, and when they do something I don’t expect I try to find a reason for it. So when I am on a packed bus, with no seats available, I have to assume that the two young teenagers sitting in the disabled and elderly priority seats have something wrong with them. So that must be why they sat there for the whole journey, while a number of elderly people stood, clinging into the rails for dear life, while the driver practised his F1 strategies and driving skills – Including trying to take corners on 2 wheels.
If I had been sitting in those seats I would have been using my iPad, so I can’t complain about them using their mobiles the whole time to play games. Nor can I really say anything about their tight black lycra track suits and pure white tee shirts. if I was that slim I might have been dressed like that too. And for all I know they were going to work and that was their uniform.
However, there is such a thing as Karma. As the bus started slowing and coming into the terminus, they started to get up and found me and my case planted across the aisle, trapping them in their seats. I really enjoyed that. And so did the other elderly passengers, who were able to pass me as I turned sideways and lent forward over the teens, and the young mum with the difficult double buggy!
Satisfaction. Job done.
I remember holding his hand as he led our family in prayer when his father died.
The strength of his faith coursed through his firm grip, but I saw he had tears in his eyes and his voice plummeted to gravel now and then. One or two adults among us shifted awkwardly, for their faith was not as strong, but they persisted in the ritual. For all were joined by sadness and family ties as we held our similar-looking hands together.
The catapult of years is swift and now he, my uncle who loved his Lord — for that’s what he said years later — is dead.
All I can think of, apart from the warmth of spirit in his hands, was that he told us kids that there was an insect inside a mango pip, and we should try to get it out. I don’t know if that’s true. In the forty-six years since, I have never been able to open a mango pip.
©2019 Allison Wright
[161 words – 12 minutes total]
Following a similar ‘disaster’ sent from a friend I recalled the time that one wet windy day I slipped in muddy wet manure patch (worn out Crocs, never wise to wear on these sort of days) and was covered in yuck from head to toe. I stripped off, shoved everything into the washing machine, found some rubber boots and trundled the wheelbarrow through the rest of the chores…stark naked! No one around to faint in shock and disapproval!
Nervous nibbling of frayed fingernails. Hopping, half-hopefully, semi-smiling from side to side, drawing deep on cheap cigarette (not that any fags are inexpensive these days – perhaps it’s designing the gruesome anti-smoking warnings that makes them cost so much?)
Giggling, gracelessly, despite the litheness of his long legs when he moves, moodily, meaning to appear arrogantly acerbic, but instead evidently empty, envious of everyone else who seems to calm, so content, so clearly complete.
(c) Jane Davis, 2020
I took the title of this one from one of Allison’s recent posts, basing it on someone I saw at a bus stop last week. It’s a bit shorter than many of the other posts in this series because my five stray minuteses only seem to turn up when I’m writing by hand!