At eight o’clock, I decide to call. I hate having to ask Sheilagh to hold the phone to him, I hate having to interrupt her. But I want to say goodnight. I don’t care that he won’t respond. I know he can hear me so I just need someone to please hold the phone to his ear.
I call the hospital, not sure if it is too late. They close at eight, which is now or in about two seconds.
The phone rings and someone picks it up.
“Oh, you’re still open,” I say to the woman’s voice at the other end. “May I have room 20 B please?”
There is a pause, just a slight one.
“Who’s calling?” she asks.
“It’s his daughter” I say.
Another pause, this one minute.
“There’s no one there” she says, ” they’ve all gone home… Call your mother” she says, meaning Sheilagh, my step mother, meaning my father’s wife.
“Okay” I say “thankyou very much” with absolute politeness because I’ve got a thing about it but especially anyone looking after my father deserves it.
Except now I know.
“Pete” I say but I can’t finish what I need to express, my thoughts are tumbling out so thick and so fast and Pete hasn’t understood.
“There’s no one there …” I say, but he still hasn’t understood, has ideas about where they might be, why they’ve gone home.
“No”I say because I need him to stop.
“Please, can you just call my sister,” I ask and read off her number.
I watch him dial the number. But there’s no answer, he says.
I don’t want Pete to say anything, to ask me anything. I just need him to keep calling, call someone else.
“Call Sheilagh” I ask and he does but there is no answer there either.
My mind is swirling, running fast through a list of who to call and who not to. Who have I annoyed lately most and can’t? Who have I not and still can?
“Call Rob … call my little sister …” married to Rob. I can call both of them.
But no one is answering.
Email, I think, maybe I’ve missed an email today and so I ask Pete to check my email because for some reason, I need to keep one step back from everything, one step removed from every piece of information.
He picks up my device and scans it. “There’s one here …” and he starts to read.
“Don’t read it! Don’t read it, please! Stop!” I scream. Although he is not reading aloud, his eyes are still focused on the screen so I scream again, “please stop reading! Don’t read any of it, please! I don’t want you to read it! I don’t want to find out through email!” and he puts it down.
I sit where I always sit, or most often, on a chair that I painted and upholstered. It’s placed sort of nowhere in the house, sort of in the foyer although I’m not sure that we have one. We have got a lot of space though. It’s opposite the kitchen and my device sits on a cabinet next to it. That’s why I am mostly always here, because of the device. I am device ridden.
I painted the chair white and recovered it in an apple green, light blue and white fabric. I left the fabric raw around the edges because I don’t know how to upholster – but I figured it didn’t matter if you said you did it on purpose. I think it’s a love seat, it would fit two, very lovingly, but hardly anyone sits next to me when I am on my device. Not unless they want me to bash them with it. I usually like to concentrate uninterrupted.
Pete still has the phone in his hand and is waiting.
“Can you call my sister again, please ?” meaning the first one, meaning my older sister.
Pete takes the phone and walks into the next room, which is not really another room either, just an extension of this one. It’s one, big foyer at our place. That is, presuming we have one.
I watch him hold the phone to his ear, ten feet from where I sit, sort of pacing. And then it answers.
I hear my sister’s voice on the other end of the line, as clear as if I am holding the phone. Then I watch Pete speak.
“Oh hi, Jenny,” he says “we were just wondering what’s going on. We haven’t heard anything and are just wondering …”
“Oh” I hear my sister say, sadly, “didn’t you hear? Dad **** at 5.25 this evening.”
I can’t write that word. I can never write it, I don’t think.
But I swear that’s what she said.
I swear that is what she said yet she couldn’t have. It didn’t fit. The words didn’t fit in my ears. I knew he was going, I knew that he had used nearly all the life in him. I knew yesterday that he had had a lovely day, a very special day because he told me, he said so, he was already halfway around the Milky Way but he found a tiny bit of air and mounthed those words, I heard him.
I knew he was going because I said goodbye, we all did.
But I couldn’t take in my sister’s words. Not Dad. You can’t say: Dad ****. You can’t put those words together, so close. You can’t.
I check, my brain running it over, checking, about five times.
I don’t think I can ever use that word.
We had a service for him the next week – of course, I can’t say what the service was. I don’t like that word either. But it was beautiful.
I find lots of ways to not use that word. I make them up as I go along. I don’t believe in it anyway; I mean, I don’t feel any end. I don’t know where he is, I only have partial directions: far away and very close at the same time. They’re a bit rough. I wish I had a map.
The day after he went I wrote a post and put it up on Pete’s social medium. I wanted to proclaim the important thing.
The social medium went abuzz. It’s always like that, of course. But this time it was for my Dad.
“Keep talking to him, honey” said my Buddhist friend “he’s only slipped into the next room.”
Beautiful artwork, Lieke van der Voorst