He’s propped up on a pillow, hooked up to an IV and a heart monitor. I can scarcely see him through the crooks of elbows and nodding heads of the white-coats (four interns, one doctor, one nurse), all crowded at the foot of his bed, staring down at him, straining to hear his response to the doctor’s probing questions: when did you start feeling the pain, Mister Osmond, what did it feel like, Mister Osmond, are you feeling pain now, Mister Osmond, is there anything you need to know, Mister Osmond. Frig. He hates talking to strangers and mainlanders – makes him feel like a fucking baby monkey he says, the way they smiles and nods indulgently at his ahhh newfie talk smile smile wink wink. I wriggle through the group and become one of those staring down at him. His face is grey, stoic.
He makes no effort to speak or look at them. He stares at the white space of his hospital sheet pulled up and neatly folded across his chest. He stares at his hands lying there, emptied. He looks alone and lost and exhibits no desire to be found by those around him or by him self. The white-coats clear off with their charts and satisfied smiles and he raises his eyes onto mine and I near keel over, struck by the haunted look of a crushed spirit staring back at me. He spoke, his voice burdened with the regret as ever a gallows held:
“She was there.”
“Who – who was where?”
“Waitin for me.”
“Your mother. Waitin.”
“Oh, gawd, Dad.”
“I was almost there.”
“Well, we’re not ready for another funeral, yet.”
He lifts his eyes onto mine. “I told ye not to call.”
“I couldn’t live with that decision.”
His eyes take on a mean look. His mouth tightens like he’s keeping back bile. “I got to live with yours now, don’t I?”
A tear the colour of pewter drips onto his cheek and begins a slow burn down his face. He turns from me, his arm slipping aside, his hand dangling over the edge of the bed. I want to touch it. Like when I was a girl, no more than four, and I’d been at Nanny Ford’s for the full three months of summer and time was a slow-moving river carrying me further and further each day from all that was familiar and had come before it.
Then one sunny morning a man stood on the beach, drawing me towards him like the sun draws a flower. He bounded up the hill from his boat, taking Nanny’s hands in greeting and bending to kiss my face. He smelled warm and good like milk and I wanted to curl into his arms, but he stood up; tall like a tree, arms limbing down, fingers branching to just above my shoulders as we started walking down the dusty road. Horses grazed on both sides, but I wasn’t afraid this time of their snorting and swishing tails and yellow teeth yanking and chewing grass. I wasn’t scared of nothing but of touching my father’s hand as it dangled just above my shoulder. I reached up. At the brink of touching it, I quickly drew back. He stepped over a pothole and in a blink, clasped my hand in his big warm one and lifted me over the pothole and he never let go. I walked very very careful so’s not to jar his grip on my hand.
I stare at that same hand. It still dangles over the side of his bed. I want to touch it. I want to curl my hand inside of it and feel its warmth and his pulse pulsating against mine. But I am afraid again. Afraid his fingers will fragmentize like dried up roots and crumble through my fingers.
I rise, “The boys are waiting outside,” I say. “They’re only letting us in one at a time.”
He’s closed his eyes. He’s shuttered me out like he’s been shuttering everything out since she got sick. Like he shuttered her out while she was dying. Too crushed. His heart too crushed; splintered in thousand shards that continue jabbing his every thought. It is a dark day, Dad, it is a dark, dark day. The horses have broken legs and I too lie down with them.