My latest in the Zombie collection. Hope you enjoy.

Assisted Living

By Jason Warden

 

 Wendy called and said she thought it was time. I walked into the family room to tell Steve, already crying and surprised by the tears. He didn’t even look up from the game, and didn’t even notice me until I stood directly in front of the TV.  He drove, and thirty minutes later, we walked in.

It had been awhile, and I’d had my time to grieve but when I walked in, I remembered how much I hated it in there. If there is a hell, this is how I imagine it would smell, but as much as I hated it, I never missed a week, even though I didn’t get so much as a hello in return. I told myself that my presence helped him somehow, but now, looking back, I was being selfish. I shouldn’t have been telling him those things. They weren’t things a father should ever have to hear. I used him, and in my own way I guess I caused everything that followed. Daddy was a drinker, at least as long as I knew him, but at least he was a happy drunk. He didn’t make it to any of my childhood activities, but I looked for him at every recital, every game, every program I ever had. I guess I just never learned how to lose faith in him. He was never abusive, only neglecting, sometimes I wonder which is worse. Even though he was never there for me, never around when I hoped he would be, when he got sick I was the first one, the only one really, that came by.

He ignored mom to death years before. The doctors called it heart disease, but I knew better. I really thought he’d stop drinking once he got sick. The doctors told him he had to, but when I got to the farm, the stubborn bastard was drunk.

“They made me an offer,” he slurred. “The bottle or my life… you know… I really did think about it.”

I took care of him as long as I could, helped him into the bathroom, cleaned up after him when he could no longer do it himself. By the time I had exhausted my strength, patience, and put him in nursing care, it really didn’t matter. By then, he’d even forgotten the bottle.

The last few months of his life, I came by the home every Wednesday before Church and just talked to him. This man who’d once told me, “The world’s no fair, Sugar, best to forget it,” was now my greatest and only confidant. Maybe I did hope he heard me, maybe down deep it was my way of saying, “Thanks for nothing Dad.” Either way, he did hear, at least that’s I hope he did, otherwise the only sign my father ever loved me was only animal rage and hunger, and I just can’t live with the thought. I only wish I could have asked him before…

The heat of the place always surprised me, that and the smell of stale urine. It was never changed but I didn’t get used to it.

Steve and I walked to his room where the nurse was taking his vitals and trying, as she put it, to “keep him comfortable.” She gave me a shake of the head and a pat on the shoulder as she left the room. I went to his side, took his hand in mine, and waited. Walking in his room was worse and more shocking than even the halls or that first burst of unpleasant heat upon opening the front door had been. Steve opened the window, and even with the breeze, the room was stifling. Even the dust, which seemed unusually thick couldn’t force us to close it. It clung to our sweaty skin, mixing and becoming sticky. It wasn’t until later that I found out what it was.

A few minutes later, the roar of the TV came on. I looked up at Steve who held the remote aloft and was trying to find the volume button.

“Sorry,” he said. “Game’s on.”I rolled my eyes and looked away.

With silence restored once again, I listened to my father’s breathing and imagined each little silence in between would go on a little too long, like forever would be his last, but he kept fighting to force another in and out.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, he opened his ruemy eyes, took in a deep rattling breath, and just stopped.

Those eyes fixed on me and for the first time in forever and I could tell he actually saw me. That was all it took really, his acknowledgement of my presence, and I missed him already. It was too much though, and I backed away suddenly weak and unable to hold myself up.

There was a commercial and Steve, finally distracted from the game for a second, came around the bed and took my place at his side.

“Dad?”

All hell broke loose about two minutes later. I watched Steve check him for a pulse, first on his wrist, then his neck, and finally he placed his palm over my Dad’s eyes and closed them.

In his defense, not that he deserves any, it was the first time in years I’d seen such gentleness from him. He turned to me, “You want to say goodbye?”

I looked up from my hands and through my tears saw Steve was looking back to the T.V. He gave a little fist pump, and looked back at me again.

“Sorry, I have the Card’s and the over. They just covered.” As if that was all I needed to know to make everything all better. I wanted to jump up, to scream at him and ask why, just once, couldn’t I be the center of his universe, why he always had to be distracted by something else. I thought for just a second that maybe I had, that the anger had somehow slipped out, because Steve’s eyes looked alarmed. Then I saw the real cause for it. My father’s grey and purple spotted hand was between Steve’s legs squeezing.  His eyes widened, growing larger and larger, and then he began to scream. I stood up, jumped up really, but Steve was already falling back. I saw Dad’s spotted hands come around Steve’s shoulders and heard a low moan escape my father as Steve landed on his chest. Steve’s eyes flashed from the ceiling to me, and back. He held out his hand to me, but I couldn’t move. I didn’t know it then, but later realized it was probably already too late. Steve started trembling, shaking and just kept screaming. A few seconds later nurses, orderlies and guards flooded into the room their eyes shocked, trying to comprehend the scene before them. One of the last guards ran into me and knocked me back into my seat. By then, all I could see was the backs of those attempting to pull Steve away. One of the guard’s nightsticks went up and came down, one, two, three, four times in a blur. On the fourth, I heard the crack of bone and squelch of wet meat. Steve came away then, and they carried him from the room, but I caught a glimpse of his back, or rather what was left of it. His shirt was torn away as well as the skin and meat surrounding his right shoulder blade and his spine. The white of the bone glistened and the blood sparkled in the florescent lights.

I was left, forgotten in my chair looking at my father. His head was misshaped and bulging, and blood covered his mouth, chin, and the front of his gown, but little of it was his. Just as the blood wasn’t his, neither were the huge chunks of meat that lay on his pillow and bedspread.

More screams came from the hall, then more of those cracking blows, the ones that sounded like a drum solo in the Devils band.

Shortly after, there was silence again except the hysterical crying of one of the nurses in the hall. I stood, shut the door on the noise and went back to my father’s side. I held his hand a while longer, then spoke to him one last time.

“Thanks for listening Dad.”

Advertisements