by Gay Degani
HER FATHER’S LEGS under the thin hospital blanket remind her of the rolling hills of South Dakota. She remembers that trip, the never-ending miles, the Badland heat whipping through open windows. His face was garnet red and damp with sweat. His sticky hand kneaded hers on the seat between them.
She sniffs the hospital’s antiseptic smell. Rubs her nose. Wipes a tearless eye. He is dying now—has been for a long, long time—and she, the duty-bound daughter, is here as witness.
If it weren’t for the black and white snapshots her cancer-gone mother glued into albums, she wouldn’t remember any good times, a picnic at Victory Park, that trip to Disneyland, a hike through the Hollywood Hills. And there’s that one picture, her sitting on his lap, him holding up a glass of bourbon, both grinning. He always let her have a sip and laughed to see her face scrunch up. How old was she then? Seven? Eight? There is another photo, too, tucked between the pages, a loose one in washed-out polaroid color. She and her father on the front porch, his arm dangling over her breast. Who took that picture? One of his buddies, she thinks, because by then her mother was buried in that the cemetery in Rapid City.
Pleasing him has always been a tricky thing. He never cared about her grades. He never thanked her for running errands nor making his meals, not even when he called her into the den to say hello to his poker buddies who grinned big grins as they looked her up and down, wrapped arms around her waist, even patted her bottom.
The hospital room warms as the sun beats in from the west. It’s getting late, she thinks. His eyes are closed, maybe she can sneak out. She retrieves her purse from the back of her chair, and it is at this moment his eyes flick open. He says in his froggy voice, ‘Promise me something.’
Not this again. Hasn’t she vowed to never say a word?
His pale blue eyes are moist. ‘You have to tell everyone how brave I am. How I fought to stay alive, to live. You have to do that for me.’
She sucks in breath and drops her head. He always wants just one more thing. His hand, lying along the side of his bed, lifts as he strains toward her. His lips quiver, his eyes plead, but she won’t touch that hand. Can’t.
The sun drops outside the window. She turns toward him. His face is ashen against the pillow.
She nods, of course she does, knowing she won’t be his much longer.
Gay Degani has received nominations and honors for her work including Pushcart consideration, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions. She’s published a chapbook, Pomegranate, a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She occasionally blogs at:
Words in Place https://www.facebook.com/gaydegani