Vo l . 7 N o . 1
NONFICTION Annie Boochever
The Evening Ritual Tonight I tucked him in again. My Dad is holding on to “order” for dear life. Though he has been asleep in front of the television for the past hour, each time I gently suggest he go to bed, he looks at his watch and says, “It’s too early.” I ask, “What time does it have to be?” He replies, “10 o’clock.” Only at that prescribed time will he begin his lengthy bedtime routine. I must show him how to tip his new chair down from the reclined position. The remote is touching his hand, but he reaches with the other hand over the side of the chair feeling for a lever that isn’t there. “If it were any closer, it would bite you,” I tease. This conversation has been replayed at least thirty times, but it is as if he has never heard me. His legs quiver as he struggles to stand. Holding tight to one handle of the walker, he tries to reach behind with the other hand to turn out the light. I remember all the times he told me, ”Don’t waste electricity.” “I’ll get the light for you,” I say, as I do every time. Straining to put one foot in front of the other, he makes his way down the hall and into his bedroom and parks the walker near his closet. “No, Daddy. Remember, you have to take the walker all the way into the bathroom.” He turns it to follow my directions. I wait in the hallway, listening for any unusual sounds and notice the photos on the walls. One snapshot shows him playing tennis, a muscular arm swinging the racquet up and over the ball for a serve. By the door to his office, a formal photo in his judge’s robes. My favorite picture is the one of my three sisters and me bundled up for winter. We are playing “crack the whip,” an ice-skating game where we all held hands in a big line with Dad in the lead. Faster and faster, he would haul us around the lake, then abruptly turn and stop, snapping the line like a bull whip, sending us flying around in a circle. It was a wild ride for the sister on the end. “Hold on! Hold on!” we would yell, until she had to let go. That was fifty years ago. Now 92, he emerges from the bathroom, pajamas on, top tucked in, his clothes neatly draped over the walker. “Can I put those in your closet, Daddy?”
“Yes, you may,” he replies. At the bed, he lets go of the walker, carefully bends to brace against the side of the mattress. Clinging, hand over hand, he moves to the head of the bed and sits safely on the edge. He asks, “Is the window open – just a little?” I show him the partially opened window. “Close the shutters, please.” I oblige. “If you wouldn’t mind, could I have a glass of water?” He fumbles for his reading glasses in his pajama pocket, and with a shaky hand writes on a pad filled with scribbles, “10:35.” “What are you writing?” “The time I’m going to bed,” as though it were the most normal thing in the world. He places the pad, pen, and glasses on the bedside table and turns off the lamp. I cover him and smooth out the blankets. He fusses with the borders, hands trembling, and struggles to fold the sheet back, meticulously, over both the top blankets. Pulling them under his chin he turns onto his side. “Goodnight, Daddy,” I say as I kiss him on the cheek. He pats my hand. I tiptoe out of the room and quietly close the door. I float past the skaters on the wall. “Hold on! Hold on!” shout my sisters. When I was on the end of the whip, I loved to be hurled into space, my heart racing as I was flung out on my own. I wonder if my dad ever had a turn on the end? Will he know how to let go? Will I? I make it to the kitchen table, collapse into a chair and weep.
Darkened Room, 2am