by Andrew Stancek

BACK IN ICU, I feel twinges of pain at the incision: the nurse warned about breakthrough pain, urged me to push the PCA pump at the slightest discomfort, no time to be a hero. I abandoned myself into the hands of the surgeon, even though ever since my son killed himself, I trust nothing and no one.

I am half-asleep, disoriented. I may remember Louella at the bedside, a hand pat, a wrinkled smile, ‘You’re doing fine.’ I think she said the children are sending their love, but that cannot be. Logan is dead; Maggie, who knows? The room is after-midnight dark, merciless light from the hallway, beeps, muffled intercom calls for Dr. Grey, Dr. Palin, Dr. Chulik, Dr. Mblamblmblam. I laugh. That can’t be his name. I want to disappear head-first into a gorge.


She is huddled, scarf over her head, takes me a few breaths to recognize her. She’d never been at my bedside; we’ve hardly spoken since Logan’s death.

‘Mags, didn’t expect you. How are you?’

Her eyes are wells of sadness; she pats my IV hand.

We are broken, always have been. She shoulders the demons who haunt me. Last year she crashed through a glass door, had cuts over her face and arms and when I saw her, said, ‘It wasn’t the subway tracks anyway.’ I reached for her hand, for a fraction held it. Logan’s death rocked us; if she’d been the one, it would have been no surprise.

She smells of rain, of rotting leaves. She stares but I’m sure she’s not seeing me.

Once, back when we were a family, we took a cottage on Manitoulin Island: the kids splashed and built sand castles; Louella and I fought less. Logan collected flying insects, named them: Eddie, Croc, Limpy.

Seeing Maggie at my bedside, I long for soothing sun lotion, the easy rhymes of the Beach Boys, to tell her it’s not all a train wreck but I’m not sure she’d believe me, that I believe it myself.

‘I’ve only died…a little,’ I say and she squeezes out a smile.

‘A little is OK. I…’

She seems unused to talking, or talking to me anyway. She reaches into her purse as if for her Winstons but she stopped smoking years ago, unless she started again.

‘I’ve been ruminating, Dad,’ she says. ‘Obvious reasons. Can’t think about Logan much, too angry. And then this…with you…The doctor said they got it all, that you can go on. I am so glad.’

I swallow, point to the sippy cup, look at the window slats, at the glass vase of slain flowers, anywhere but her. We find affection beyond possibility. Silence is easiest.

The pump can help control the pain; it is not helping me forget.

‘So, even before this, I was thinking of talking to you,’ she says. ‘You may have an insight…or not.’

Her ticking eyes finally settle on a point above my head. ‘I’ve made an appointment at the clinic, tomorrow, and I don’t know if I want to keep it, or…’

The hall outside my door fills with anxious staccato, the intercom too loud, I want to scream for everyone to be quiet. I need…

‘I’m pregnant, Dad, and the man is not a part of my life…I haven’t told him, just scheduled an appointment…’

Her eyes are slits. My heart misses a beat—the silence is long.

‘Maggie. Congratulations. It is good news. It is good. Life.’

Her mouth purses. Slight shake of her head. But I feel a burst of words.

‘So much death. This…this is life. Something to celebrate. I…haven’t been there for you. Or for your mom. Logan, well, we won’t talk about him. Awfully hard either way. But Maggie, if you decide on more life, I will help.’

The pain has broken through—a slash of anger. Dr. Kazem, my doctor, will come to check on me soon. Maggie’s skin is taut, dark shadows.

The promise of my words hovers between us.

She runs long fingers through her hair, her face broken.  

She glances at my IV-bruised hand, towards the door and escape. A nurse bustles by. Aides with carts are delivering food down the hall: boiled carrots, lumpy potatoes, starchy gravy. I think of a maple we had in our front yard once, leaves springing up, circle of daffodils, a crow screech, Maggie singing a song she made up. I am so tired. I close my eyes.


Andrew Stancek describes his vocation as dreaming—clutching onto hope, even in turbulent times. He has been published widely, in SmokeLong Quarterly, FRIGG, Hobart, Green Mountains Review, New World Writing, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review, Peacock Journal and The Phare, among others. He has won the Reflex Fiction contest, the New Rivers Press American Fiction contest and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.