It’s a joke, right? He mumbles in his sleep, the television blaring, one leg stretched out in front, twitching. He’s only having a bad dream, our mother says. My brothers seem unworried, but then the blood in a thin trickle from the corner of his mouth. Heart attack? Stroke? The ambulance called, the burly lads arrived an hour later, the Old Man comatose, unresponsive, mumbling all the while.
The plate of coconut fingers we were feasting on sits untouched, the closing act begun. We know he’s awake in there, behind the scrim, on the edge on something he believes in with all his heart. How earlier that day we’d been to the local pitch ‘n putt—a glorified field. Strolling the green fairways, him limping behind, me setting too fast a pace. We laughed, putted poorly, a ball stuck in the root of a tree, nestled in a hollow.
Soup for lunch, the cold kept at bay, the mother smoking cigarettes surreptitiously, or is that false memory? Funny how we attach importance to events and moments that never took place, or if they did, they weren’t quite as we recall. He slept for the afternoon, by the fire. The gas fire. No coal fires any more, not likely, thanks to the government. I fled across the city to visit a friend with a life-sentence. Skeletal. Starved. Her body a prison, her house a prison, her life a prison.
We gathered around as he floated at the edge of consciousness, lines and monitors pulsing, one last pitch to keep him in this world. We attached significance to events outside our influence. Cars came and went outside the hospital, strangers with other problems; one family with a twin dead, another on life support. A lawyer rattled in on a gurney, went face down into his plate of tomato bisque at George's Bistro. When our Old Man succumbed to the series of mini-strokes and the end of the world careened toward him through the light-flooded passageway, I was thousands of miles away sleep-walking through my own life.
published 2 February 2013