A short story that shows what a child can see in his father after the father has gone.
|A ray of sunlight bathes the downstairs bath room with light through a small circular window. Jason stands at the sink with his hands on either side of the rim and is looking at the water running down the drain with his head held low. The sink drains the water and Jason thinks to himself, "Is it somehow my fault?"
Although he knows his father is lying in the next room soundly asleep, he knows that inside his father is fighting for his life. Struggling with cancer in his lungs. His father is a stern man who rarely shows emotion, but Jason knows he is loved. He harbors anger towards his father. Jason told his father as many times as the doctors did to stop smoking, and to quit the job at the steel plant. But his father decided that providing for his family is more important than his health. As with most parents, they focus on others rather than themselves and prioritize their children's well being over their own.
Jason turns the faucet off and dries his hands. He walks into the living room where is father is sleeping on his recliner. Jason smiles to himself and realizes all the times that he has tried to convince his dad to throw away the old rotting chair. Tattered and stained from the years of use, it seems silly that his dad would want to sit in such an old piece of furniture when there is a brand new couch just next to the old chair. A man of habit, his father is as dedicated to his family as he is to that chair. The smile fades when this thought crosses Jason's mind as he thinks to himself "If only he was dedicated enough to his family to quit smoking when he should have, maybe we'd have a few more years with him."
Staring blankly at his father now, he notices that his dad is waking up, "What's the matter with you?" His father says.
"Nothing, just realized how silly that chair looks in here." Hiding his true thoughts.
"Mmm, well this chair was the first thing I bought and put in this house, even before I put you here. And leave my chair alone, it's just a chair, you can get rid of it after you get rid of me." He says with a smile, as this is one of those few times he makes an attempt at humor, and like most, it fails to make his son laugh.
"Dad, don't you feel...like you should be out? Enjoying the ranch or maybe, I don't know, going to visit mom?"
"I don't want to be anywhere but here. And if the doctors have their way I'll be visiting mom soon enough anyways. No reason to waste the trip." He says with no sign of humor, all emotion drained from his face.
Jason nods, and decides to not make the conversation any more awkward that it is already and leaves the living room to go to his room.
"Nevermind, it's nothing."
Jason smiles, "Alright, dad, but it's about time I get going, I have to work today and if you need me, just call. They know about you and I can come home if you need me."
"Don't worry about me, I'll be fine. Now go to work, I'm no reason to lose that job of yours."
Jason leaves to go to his room and gets his car keys. As he heads down the stairs to the living room to say goodbye to his dad, he sees one of the very few family pictures. An old picture with some dust on it; Jason, only six in this picture is holding a BB gun his dad bought him, his mother is gorgeous, fiery red hair and a green sun dress, showing a smile that shines through the dust and forces a smile out of him, his dad appears to be staring at something far beyond the camera and as his eyes scan down the picture sees a cigarette in his dads hand and the smile from seeing his mother fades. "I don't hate him for it, but I hate that it is now this way because of it." And that thought is interrupted quickly by his fathers very rough coughing in the next room.
Jason hustles down the stairs due to the severity of these coughs, more intense than ones before. Attempting to catch his breath and steady his words his father looks at him and says "Don't give me that look. I'm fine. And before you think it, you are going to work boy. You don't get to play hooky to stay home and keep giving me that look. Now go on, you're going to be late."
"You call me the second anything goes wrong. Okay dad?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'll be fine. Now get going."
"I love you." A single nod and a half smile is all the response Jason gets, it's all he ever gets and all he expects.
Jason opens the door and looks back, his father already back asleep. He smiles and closes the door to leave for work.
Jason arrives at work and nods to the cart boy as he walks into the grocery store. He is a manager there and in charge of the deli, not the job he wants, but a job he enjoys due to the lack of stress caused by work and the understanding that he has received from the store manager. He clocks in and scrubs his hands and approaches the freezer when he recognizes the store manager calling for him "Jason!"
"What do you need?" He replies.
"An ambulance just called from your house, you're neighbors called 911 or something and they said you're needed there."
"It's only 30 minutes from home to work" Jason thinks to himself as he hears his heart pounding like the sound of something that could shake the foundation of the earth. "Alright, I know I just got here, but..."
"It's fine, go Jason," his boss interrupts, "Let me know if there's anything I can do."
Jason doesn't even clock out, he runs full sprint to his car and turns on the ignition and turns off the radio so he can focus on driving. He swerves through the streets and finally exits town and slides onto the dirt road leading to his house and sees the ambulance waiting there for him. As he comes up next to the ambulance and parks he sees another vehicle. A black van with a word on it that almost drops him to his knees when he sees, "Coroner."
Instantly his heart rate jumps from a mile a minute to nothing as his world seems to come crashing down. A flash before his eyes of the family picture he saw on the stairs, where his mom fades from it and now his dad. Tears fill his eyes and he rushes into the house.
A man with a black jacket is writing down on a clip board scribbles of what he sees and stops with a moment of realization and turns to Jason and says "I'm sorry. When the paramedics got here it was already too late. They found this, it was in his breast pocket."
The coroner hands Jason a note and he reads it to himself. His fathers voice fills his head.
"Jason, I want you to know that I love you. I know I never say it, but I don't know when this is finally going to catch up to me and I want you to know that I wanted you to know. I'm sorry that your mom left us, I'm sorry for the hard times after that happened and how I treated you. I never said or did anything directly to you but I was unavailable and didn't hardly talk, so I guess that is enough to make you feel like I blame you and I don't. It doesn't matter that the accident happened when you needed a ride home, it just matters to me that you know I blame myself. Your mom asked me to go and get you but I just got home from work and didn't want to leave. Your mom loved you. I know that. I know I haven't been the best father, but I always tried to be there when you needed me, but when you did, I can't help but feel if I would have went to get you at least that truck would have hit me and maybe I could have taken her place, and you would still have her. I have had this guilt with me for the past four years and I have hated myself for it. I don't know what I can do to earn your forgiveness, but I love you and I'm sorry. Dad."
With tears now rolling down his cheeks he says to the coroner "I think I am going to go to the bath room, I'll be back in a minute."
"Take all the time you need, Jason."
The door closes and Jason holds the note and looks over it again, "I never blamed you," he thinks to himself, "I'm the one who is sorry and has felt guilty." He puts the note down and puts his hands on the sink and looks at himself in the mirror, "It was my fault." He says to himself and looks down at the note and sees the last "I love you" from his dad, he hangs his head low and feels the light shine on the back of his neck and looks into the small window and knows that his dad loves him completely. "I'm sorry." He says aloud with new tears forming in his eyes.