I just completed my inaugural stab at writing a piece of flash fiction. This is my first contribution to the Ramsgate Women’s Fiction Writing Group. I found them on Facebook – I am their first (and I suspect only) overseas member. The prompt was supposed to be something you’d see written on a post-it note. I’ve never been so grateful for being a quick thinker and a fast typist – we were only supposed to write for 20 minutes and I was determined to honour the parameters. The group was meeting together to do this exercise in what I’m imagining was a really cool little British pub, drinking pints and eating crisps, no doubt. (I’ve never been to the UK so I’m drawing on Coronation Street here for inspiration.) I was all alone at my kitchen table – still, I want to be a good group member! I ended up with 5 full minutes to spare for some edits.
Prompt: Birthday present for dad?
She’s standing in her kitchen holding a tattered, yellow, stickie note that was stuck to a page and buried under yet more paper – all held to the fridge with a heavy-duty magnet. Yes – she is one of those people who uses the front of her fridge as a make shift bulletin board – for all the use it ever does her. She’s never organized anyway. What could that question mark have meant? Did it mean she had wondered if she should get him gift, or if she should mail it, or if it would get to him on time. She has no idea.
Her dad had died almost two years ago – prostate cancer which had moved into a tumor in the bladder. Her one fear, those last months with him, had been that he would lose his mind in some way – maybe not recognize people or start saying odd things. But nothing like that had happened – he was himself right to the end, but a different self, too. He was polite and grateful for the care she gave him, that she had rearranged her life to be with him, that she made it possible for him to stay at home to die. They struggled through a difficult relationship over the years, but he ended things well.
She remembered thinking people who were dying would want to mend fences and have serious talks with family members and friends. After all, her dad knew he was dying and that gave him an advantage over people who dropped dead out of the blue. But she had been wrong about that, too. He had used all his energy to go to the end with dignity – managing to be polite on the way. It had been quite an amazing thing to see.
She remembers the day he looked out at his prized roses – her husband had just trimmed then – and said, “Well, they’ll bloom nice next year . . . but I won’t see them.” One day he wanted to drive across the line – in their family the American border was always called, the line. He wasn’t really supposed to drive but she wouldn’t stop him. Behind the wheel of his truck he looked at her and said, “What a great feeling to get out on the road – I could go anywhere.” They both knew he couldn’t go anywhere – his morphine was back at the house and she didn’t see that he had packed extra pads to deal with the issue of incontinence. Dying with a tumor in your bladder is a messy business.
That last day – sitting by his bed – wondering if he could still hear her – she said, “Dad – maybe death is like going out on big road trip – maybe it’s like getting in the truck and taking off on the wide open road. Maybe it’s like that.” In the room where the silence was broken only by her father’s rasping, choking attempts to breathe, the tears slid silently down her face.