by Monim Wains
A blank white lit the room, harsh surgical light on every sterile surface. It would have felt clean and empty were it not for the sombre that stained the air. Silence echoed through the room. All the colours were muted: pastel blue and that green that looked like plastic dyed in washing up liquid. Sterile.
Dad lay on the bed with his eyes stuck in a tired half-blink. He was resting. His breaths were slow and deep, eased from one to the next, chest rising and falling like a slow wave lapping on the beach. He didn’t mind… this… he had accepted it. It was his time.
I had clasped his hand in mine and held tight onto the fingers that I could once wrap my whole hand around, when I was a child. When the reaper was a fairytale.
He squeezed back with his hand, bony fingers pulled on me. His eyes lit up with a shine and he smiled with warmth.
‘I remember…’ he began. He always began like this. He would be resting one moment and revelling in a memory the next. It was as if he was savouring the life he had lived, moment by moment, pulling out the fondest of flashbacks that the busyness of life had buried before. He had his whole life ahead of him to reflect on those things now.
‘… when I used to take you to the park! On that big swing, you know? The wheel that hung on that post. You loved that!’
He beamed at this memory. So did I. I remembered that well, those autumn days when he would take me to the park. I would run through the leaves on the floor, blowing bubbles ‘pht pht pht pht pht’ as fast as I could. I was an aeroplane, you see, with wings even bigger than the big ducky ducks on the pond.
‘Ducky ducks,’ he chuckled. His cheeks lifted to the corner of his eyes as the laugh rose out of his chest. That had always cracked him up.
He looked at me that way he always did. His soft gaze smothered my attention. Protective and loving. I had tripped over and grazed my knee in the park once. It stung, and I couldn’t hold back the tears that gushed onto my cheeks. But he walked over with that look on his face, that everything was going to be alright. Just a tissue to wipe off the dirt, a hug to squeeze out the pain, and everything was well again. I could go back to being a ducky duck.
‘I love you’ he said, ‘and I’m so proud of you.’ I hung on to those words for dear life. I knew it wouldn’t be long before it was the last time I heard them in his voice. In that deep, solid, guarding hum.
‘I love you too, dad.’ I choked back the tears. I hated this part. Whenever he would finish his story, he would get back to this. He would wrap up his memory with a reminder that he loved us. ‘Us’ was whoever was with him then. ‘Us’ was the people who would miss him, miss him so much.
But it was good that he had these stories. The time he was taking to rest was peaceful; it gave him pause to recollect the things he cherished, the things he valued. I sat there thinking about how I would be, when I would be like this. What would I remember?
I didn’t like that question. There was so much going on in my life on top of this. There seemed to be so much that was important and immediate. But I knew I wouldn’t remember it. I knew that after all the stress and anxiety and panic, all I would remember would be a giggling ‘pht pht pht pht pht, I’m a ducky duck.’ Just waddling along through peaks and troughs.
Isn’t it strange how the things we need to do are the things we won’t remember? We fight the white-water raft, coursing through the current with all our strength, all so we can look to see the other side of the view.