The pamphlet given to me by the visiting nurse is kept on the top of the chest of drawers, next to the framed photo of my parents on their wedding day. Always available for a quick scan through its contents. I wonder, Does he have a month left, or a week? Are we talking days, or hours?
You’d think that waiting for someone to die, watching someone die, living with someone who is dying, would teach you a thing or two about life. Mostly, it teaches about time.
“You know what I could really go for?” my father asks when I pop into his bedroom to check on him. It used to be the guest bedroom, the bedroom my husband and I would stay in when we visited from Connecticut. The bedroom my grandmother would sleep in when she visited from Massachusetts. That was when she was alive, and my mother was alive, and my calendar was clean of the bruised days it now bears.
“What’s that, dad?” I ask, pulling the shades open to get some light in the room. It’s late July, the warm edge of summer’s afternoon streams in through the slats.
“Some garlic bread,” he says.
I turn around quickly, and look at my father in the hospital bed that has replaced the mid-century double bed frame from my childhood. Is he really hungry? Or is this the burst of energy the pamphlet says might happen a week before he passes? Or was it six days?
“I can make you some garlic bread,” I say. It’s been weeks since he’s had any real interest in food. “Anything else? Some spaghetti?”
He shakes his head. “Just the garlic bread.”
It’s something. There’s hope in that garlic bread. I place the television remote control on the bed, give his hand a squeeze and leave him to watch his Red Sox game.
He doesn’t eat much of it. He mostly enjoys the way it smells, filling the room with warm, garlicky memories of a time before all this dying nonsense. I sit in the chair next to the bed. Go Sox! But I’m not really paying attention to the game.
“There’s been a lot of people here,” he says. He leaves the crust on the plate, but eats the soft innards of the bread. I got my love of butter from this man. It will be the last thing he ever eats. I am grateful I know this only in retrospect.
“I know, but the nurses have to come on a schedule,” I try to explain. He interrupts, but it’s immediately forgiven.
“No,” he shakes his head. “Your mom has been here.”
My mother has been dead for six years, but there is no doubt in his voice or his eyes, which are clear for the first time in weeks. He reaches for my hand, which I put in his way on the side of his bed so he can grab it.
“They’re all waiting for me, my mother, father, my uncles,” he says, as matter-of-factly as telling me the Red Sox just traded their shortstop.
“I know,” I want to say.
I can feel them at night. I sit at the top of the steps, and I listen to him sleep, listen to the garbled string of nonsense coming from his bedroom as the morphine wrestles the cancer working its way through his body. It feels busy, downstairs where only my father sleeps. It feels thick with activity I have no business taking part in. So I stay at the top, and think about the pamphlet on the dresser.
But I don’t say any of that.
“I think the Sox really have a chance this year.”