Rathalla Review Fall 2013 Issue

Page 39

I shrug. It wasn’t your fault, he writes. You know that right? I stare at the whiteboard. People have tossed those words out before, but they’re too insubstantial to stick. Short bursts of air that drift right over me. Or, like now, they can be wiped away with my father’s sleeve. But what I feel at any given moment has the weight of truth to it. So when I’m angry, I think of reasons my father should die. And when I feel guilty, I think of ways to kill myself. I smile at my father and say, “And you look like death warmed over, you know that, right?” He nods. The fact is, I don’t have long to live. I remember the way he used to preface all his announcements with those words. The fact is, the bakery’ll survive a day without me. The fact is, honey, you can’t have cake for breakfast. The fact is, sweetheart, you mom and I are splitting up. “If you’re looking for sympathy...” I shake my head. No, not sympathy. That’s not it. “What, then?” He hesitates and then erases the whiteboard. I want to know that you’re OK, he writes. I squint at the words to make sure I read them right. “Are you for real?” I say. I tick off on my fingers. “No family to take me in. Foster homes until I was eighteen. The beatings. The times I was molested. The times I tried to...” I get up and turn my back. I don’t like thinking about my life without something sharp in my hand. So I bite down on the inside of my cheek until I taste blood. I sit down and hug my knees. “Sure. I’m OK, dad,” I say into my lap. “Just peachy.” But I don’t even know what OK is anymore. To me, OK is just a story. Once upon a time there was a little girl who was happy. And then one day... I hear the squeaky sliding of the marker and I look up to see what he wrote. I’m sorry. For everything. “You’re sorry.” I nod my head. “Well, that makes it OK then,” I say, my voice flat. “We’re all squared away here. You kill my mother...in front of me. You abandon me, ruin my life. But as long as you’re sorry. And then I guess I’m supposed to...” I lean back in my chair. “That’s it, isn’t it? You want me to forgive you.” He nods. It’s what we both need. I laugh. “How would you know what I need? What, you had a few sessions with a prison shrink and you think you know me?” I grab the whiteboard and fling it across the room. It bounces off the closet and clatters to the floor. “You don’t know anything!” I look around the room and I feel lost. My eyes light on the clock and its ineffectual secondhand. With each half- assed tick it mocks me: stuck, stuck, stuck... I put my head in my hands. Hot tears spill through my fingers. “I should go before I...” “Is it time, yet?” the blind man asks again. “Is it?” “Will you shut the... Will you just be quiet?” And just like that, it is. Quiet. Not just on the outside, where the only sound I can here is the distant murmuring of old people playing bingo while they wait to die. But quiet on the inside, too. The quiet of being finished. Done.

I retrieve the whiteboard and give it back to my father. “Why should I?” I ask. He stares at the whiteboard for a moment and then writes, I want to be at peace with myself. He erases this and writes, And with you. Before I die. “Wonderful. You get peace. How nice for you. Well, what do I get, dad? After forty years of feeling dead inside. What do I get?” A second chance, he writes. I want to hit him. To take the little board and beat him with it. A second chance? Even if I could forgive him, what would I do with a second chance? Fuck it up, probably. Besides, my life has a momentum to it now I’m not sure I can stop. Any more than my mother could have stopped the bullet once my father pulled the trigger. Somewhere along the way I became that bullet, puncturing my own dreams, killing any chance I had to be happy. And deep down I know it will all be over soon. My life. Just a few more pushes. Why stop now? But forgive him? He might as well be asking me to rip out my liver. Then, the way I’ve treated it, my liver probably won’t be of much more use to me anyway. I chuckle at this, causing my father to frown. I recognize that furrowed brow. It had authority over me once. Over my mother... “Why’d you do it, dad?” I say. “Because she left you? So what. You still could’ve been my father. I needed you.” My father looks down, his marker poised over the whiteboard. His hand and sleeve are stained red. He stays like that for a while and shakes his head. Then he writes, I never stopped loving you. I nod my head because I don’t doubt what he says. It’s just that love can’t be trusted. What good did it do me as a child? Loving my father just made me feel like an accessory to murder. And what was the point of loving each other if things were going to play out the way they did? The quiet washes over me again. I sit down and I listen. I can hear the soft hiss of the oxygen through the cannula. I’m not sure how long I sit like that, just listening. Finally, I get up and I take his hand. I let it cradle my face for a moment and then I bend down and kiss his stubbly cheek. “I forgive you,” I say, but as the words form and leave my lips I wonder what they mean. As if they are foreign words that need interpretation. Or an act to define them. He smiles and his eyes well up. He tries to adjust his pillow, which has slipped down to his shoulders. “Here, let me help you with that,” I say. I slide the pillow out and fluff it up. I hold it out in front of me with both hands and look down at my father. “Is it time now?” the blind man asks. “Is it?” My father looks at me with unquestioning eyes. He slips the cannula from around his ears and lets the tubing snake to the floor. I glance at the wall clock. The secondhand has started moving again. “Yes,” I say. “I suppose it is.” My father nods his head once and then closes his eyes.