A literary short story (900 words)
It’s taking a long time, Diane, this dying thing. I am just waiting now.
I’m waiting for you, dear.
The hospice nurses take good care of me. They give me sponge baths and change my diapers and keep me high on morphine. Most of the indignities are behind me, and they’ve stopped trying to feed me, which is a relief since it’s more work than it’s worth and I don’t get hungry anymore. It’s just a matter of time now.
I didn’t have time to say goodbye. I’m glad you do.
The kids are here. Lillie’s been here all along, of course; it’s her spare room that my dying has occupied these last few weeks. Jonathan flew in from Denver two days ago — or maybe three, I’m not sure. He’s not staying here. He doesn’t like being a burden on others.
You know that’s not the reason.
I manage a whispered croak: “Jonathan.” At first I think no one hears, then a warm hand rests on mine.
“What do you need, Mr. Osborn?” Anna is right here, as usual. She’s been a great nurse. They all have.
“Jonathan,” I whisper.
Rustle of clothing, soft padding of feet. I suppose she’s gone to get him.
I think some time has passed. It’s hard to tell; I keep falling asleep and when I wake up I don’t know how much time has gone by. Why did you have to leave first? I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know how to live without you.
That’s very selfish of you, dear.
I know. I’m sorry.
I feel Jonathan’s presence before he says anything. “I’m here, dad.”
He always filled up a room just by walking into it.
I ask him, “Where are you staying?”
“The Weston Inn, dad. I already told you that.” He sounds irritated, like he’s mad at me.
It’s not you he’s mad at. He’s mad at the whole world, but mostly at himself. And before you ask, you already know why.
I didn’t know how to give him what he needed.
Maybe it’s time to figure out how.
I ask him, “Why aren’t you staying here?”
“Let’s not go through that again, okay?” His voice is hard. “You know I’ve done — ”
Avril’s voice cuts him off. “Don’t start a fight, Jon. Not now.”
Avril got here today — I think it was today. She came all the way from Papua New Guinea. That must have set her back.
You never approved of her becoming a travel writer.
She shouldn’t be galavanting all over the world like that. It’s not safe. That’s why she never married, you know. What man is going to marry a girl who doesn’t want to settle down?
It was always her life to choose, not ours.
I know. I’m sorry.
I’m not the one who needs to hear it.
Someone is holding my hand with both of theirs; they feel soft and warm. I force my eyelids open a little. Avril’s face is close. Was she always so beautiful?
“Hi dad,” she says. “How are you doing?”
How am I doing? As well as can be expected for someone who’s dying.
Be kind, dear.
“I’m fine, princess. There’s something I want … need to tell you.”
Phlegm clogs my throat. Anna pulls me into a siting position and holds a glass of water with a straw so I can drink. She lowers my head on to the pillow. I am weary of living, Diane, and weary of dying.
When I open my eyes, Avril is gone.
It must be night. The slatted blinds on the window are closed and a single table lamp illuminates the room with a soft glow. It’s hard to keep my eyes open and I’m having trouble getting a full breath, even with the oxygen tube. Someone forces some liquid into the corner of my mouth and I swallow.
It is almost time, dear.
Is it? That’s good.
“Is he in any pain?” Lillie asks.
“No,” says Marjorie. She’s the evening nurse. “I gave him more morphine a few minutes ago.”
“Can he hear us?”
“Maybe. He probably won’t respond, though.”
“One good memory?” says Avril.
Lillie says, “He hated that I became a dancer.”
“That’s a great memory, Lillie,” says Jonathan. “Let’s talk about his expectations of us and how disappointed he was with us.”
“Let me finish, please. He hated that I wanted to become a professional dancer. But he paid my way through Juilliard. Trust me, it wasn’t cheap.”
“That was mom’s influence,” says Jonathan.
“No,” says Avril. “I remember them talking about it. He didn’t think it was a real career, but he wanted you to succeed at whatever you did.”
Lillie says, “I hope I wasn’t a total disappointment to him.”
Do you remember her first professional performance? You were very quiet.
She was so beautiful, so … magical.
You never told her.
I know. I’m sorry.
Avril’s voice is so quiet I can hardly hear her. “I’m kind of embarrassed to tell you this: He sent me money every month, wherever I was. He said he knew travel writers didn’t make much. I never knew if it was a expression of disappointment or of support.”
After a while Lillie says, “What about you, Jon?”
It’s time to go, dear.
Floating on a gentle ocean. Waves shushing upon a shore, racing up the beach, then rushing back to the sea from which they came.
T H E E N D
I hope you enjoyed the story. This is literary fiction, which is not my usual genre. There are multiple layers of meaning to be found in it, which may require multiple readings to discover. I have also tried to use language and form to evoke a certain tone or mood. This is also flash fiction; that is, a complete story in less than 1000 words. Flash fiction tells its story as much by what is not said as by what is said.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.