A young girl sits cross-legged in the corner of the couch, shrinking into herself as if trying to disappear completely. She studies the loopy pattern of the carpet, torn between keeping her heart intact or looking at her father for what may be the last time. Selfishly, she wants to remember him as he used to be.
She wants to remember the strong, broad man who used to swing her onto his shoulders. The man who spoke so eloquently, whose calm voice could soothe all her worries. She wants to remember the man who twirled her around the ballroom at every Daddy Daughter dance, even when his feet were tired. She wants to remember all of the good things and none of the bad, but she knows that isn’t fair. He has always been there for her, and she knows she has to show him the same sort of love. Their moments are numbered, and she mustn’t waste precious time being cowardly.
She turns to him, then immediately wishes she hadn’t. She is drowned in a tidal wave of guilt but she can’t help the way she feels. She has watched him wither away for so long and now that they are at the end, it is hard to look at him and see how viciously his body has been ravaged.
His features are warped by the disease that has overtaken him. It must’ve been a lifetime ago that his eyes were lively and bright, his lips upturned into an easy smile. His skin was never this ashen, his body never so gaunt. The chair he sits in looks too big for his weakened body, and he vaguely reminds her of a child. She wishes she could wrap her arms around his slight frame and protect him from this world just like he always did for her, but she doesn’t know how to. She desperately wishes she could say something to take the pain away, but her throat has swollen closed and no matter how hard she fights, she can’t force herself to speak. Just when she needs them most, her words fail her.
Instead, she reaches out and takes his rough, flaking hand in her own. His skin is permeated with deep cracks that are adorned with spots of dried blood. The chemotherapy has torn him apart in every conceivable way, visible or not. Their gazes meet, and a look of understanding passes between father and daughter. They both know his fate, whether she is ready to accept it or not.
She clutches tightly to him and hopes that, for now, it will be enough.
A young girl presses her back into the wall as if hoping it will somehow swallow her up. The sporadic beeping of machines sounds like a lullaby to her tired ears and she struggles to keep her half-lidded eyes from drifting completely shut. Her body is begging for rest, but she has no time for sleep. If she abandons him at a time like this, she will never forgive herself.
He’s lying in a hospice bed, the blanket she made for him tucked under his chin. A sick feeling of dread twists her stomach as she watches him, wondering which breath will be his last. Selfishly, she hopes he stays forever. Keeping him like this, unconscious and pumped full of pain meds, would be better than losing him altogether. She closes her eyes and prays to a god she isn’t sure she believes in anymore that her father will miraculously live.
The room feels cramped with so many people gathered around, gawking and poking at her father as if they have any right to do so. She doesn’t like the way they talk about him, as if he’s already dead and his body is merely a vessel. She wants to scream at everyone to leave, but her throat feels swollen shut and her voice is nowhere to be found. She’s just as useless as she has always been.
A young girl staggers numbly out of the hospice house and into the stormy afternoon atmosphere. She drops onto the curb and pulls her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them in an attempt to hold together the shattered parts of herself. Her efforts are in vain, of course, because so many pieces of herself have broken off and died with him. She wonders if she will ever get those parts of herself back, but she doubts it. After watching his muscles slacken and his chest fall, she isn’t sure she’ll ever be the same.
The late August sunshine is nowhere to be found, hiding its face somewhere in the tumultuous grey sky. The clouds weep, their teardrops stinging her skin. The mockingbird’s song has shifted to a low, mournful ballad, and even the pesky mosquitoes have enough respect to leave the girl alone. She realizes that the universe is as devastated as she is, and somehow that makes her feel a little less alone.
She stares at her feet, her mind empty when she hears a small, chirping melody. Her head snaps up, brows furrowed in annoyance as she seeks out the bird who dares to act as if nothing is wrong. As her eyes travel the skies, her gaze catches on something.
Amidst the grey clouds, a small circular pocket has begun to form. It expands just wide enough to allow a thick ray of sunshine to escape, bathing the world in a warm yellow glow. The girl can hear an echo of her father’s voice, promising that he will send a sign after he passes.
She rises to her feet quickly, taking a step into the pool of sunlight. She tilts her face towards the sun and allows herself to bask in the gentle warmth of it. She stares at the sun for as long as she can before her vision turns white, and even then she does not look away. For a moment, however brief, she feels a deep sense of peace.