Short Stories: My Father’s Eyes, Part 1

The room I entered, normally a quaint little sitting room, had been repurposed as a makeshift bedroom. There were pillows and blankets piled on the larger couch as well as a growing pile of crumpled paper and a set of used dishes on the floor. A thin layer of dust brushed against the bookshelves lining the walls while a few photo albums lay scattered on the floor beside Frank’s hobby box of old newspapers. The television sat on the coffee table in the middle, filling the room with the sounds of his favourite Fox News program.

Immediately the smell of chemicals assaulted my senses, and I spied a few fluid bags overflowing from the living room trash: my father’s medication. Mom had tried to cover it up with flowers and scented candles but it had still lingered like a shroud, and now it dominated the air.

Frank stood when I’d opened the door, his expression flat when he realized it was me.

“Oh,” he said gruffly, after a moment, “Hi.” He sat down again and moved around to drag his I.V. stand along the floor until it was flat against the couch arm.

“Hi Frank,” I answered with a low voice, disappointed but not surprised. That was as much of a greeting as I’d come to expect.

I started to speak again but my father lapsed into a long bout of coughing that shook his whole body and made the I.V. rattle. Before I could react, Mrs. Jensen swept into the room behind me like and pressed a glass of water and a paper cup filled with medication into his hands, just like Mom had done for the past three years. Frank gulped them down within seconds.  

She gave an approving nod and glanced up to throw me a gentle grin, as if I needed reassurance. Then she glanced between me and Frank’s balding figure for just a few seconds too long before she picked up the glass and slipped out of the room once again.

I’d grown used to that as a kid, when my suspicions had really taken hold. It had lessoned some now that I was older, but it still sometimes shocked some people at how little I resembled the man who called himself my father.

I was fair haired and blue eyed, with a slight build. Frank had been a giant with broad shoulders, dark slicked back hair with grey along the temples and big hands that shoved me aside when I wasn’t fast enough. I could seldom remember Frank smiling. Now his face was lined with age and sagged heavily, turning his mouth into a perpetual grimace. His hair was nearly gone and grey where it remained. I wondered if I’d look as old as him when I was his age.

Mom always said I had my father’s eyes, but the thought of looking into the mirror to find Frank’s dark, black gaze stabbing back at me from my own reflection filled me with dread. I was determined it would never happened.

Finally, he turned his eyes to me, still cutting and harsh, and gestured for me to continue. As if I’d been waiting for permission to speak. It was like I was seven years old all over again.

I sat on the other couch and asked, “How have you been?”

Frank made a short rasping bark that was almost like a laugh. “How do ya think?” he snapped. A stroke three years ago had paralyzed part of his face, making it difficult for him to speak. Difficult, but not impossible.

Two short coughs escaped him and he gripped the I.V. stand with a white-knuckled fist until it passed. “I’m tired an’ sore an’  I ain’t ‘ad a decen’ meal in two damn days. That’s how I’m doin’. Not like there’s been an’one ‘ere ta help me.”

I could feel myself stiffen at the accusation in his voice. As if everything had been nothing but an inconvenience for him. As if it had all been my fault. “Mrs. Jensen was looking after you,” I pointed out, refusing to look up, grateful that the nurse was out of hearing range. With my foot, I nudged at an empty medicine bag. It was one of several tiling across the floor, the residual liquid inside warping the carpet like the glass of a fishbowl.  

 “She ain’t no cook; can’ even make a decen’ cup o’ coffee. An’ sh’s no good at this either,” Frank rattled the I.V. stand and I glanced up at the fluid bag shaking on its hook. “Damn woman’s afraid of a lil needle.  Ridiculous.”

I tried to imagine the kind Mrs. Jensen jumping at my father’s demands, struggling to fulfill his every unreasonable desire while he barked at her from the couch with the TV blaring, and winced in guilt. I should have come sooner.

“Wha’ took ya so long?” Frank slurred. “I’ve been waitin’ on this damn couch fer almost two days.”

“I only just got in,” I reminded him, unable to keep from grinding my teeth. I’d called to check in and confirm our plans before I’d even boarded the plane in Seattle, but it didn’t suit Frank to remember such things.

“Well next time call er somthin’!” He snapped in return. I only just stopped myself from rolling my eyes. Was it so impossible for him to be civil through one simple conversation? The I.V. rattled in his hand as he grumbled, eyes sliding back to the television. “Sittin’ on mah ass all day, no word from no’un…”

I sighed and brushed back a few loose pieces of trash before I set my briefcase on the table. My father was in no shape to oversee any of the preparations himself; I suspected that was why he’d been so adamant I be here as soon as possible. My practice was in corporate law, but I understood enough of the legalities to make my presence “essential”.

I’d already spoken to the funeral parlor before I’d arrived and they’d assured me that at least the pre-planned arrangements would be taken care of just as Mom had wanted. I would handle the will and the insurance policy would cover the expenses. It would all be done without my father having to move out of sight of his TV.

It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to Mom.

Pages: 1 2 3

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