June 8, 2007

Fiction Friday: fatherhood, doctors, and mugs

This week's theme: Write a story/poem about fatherhood with a doctor as the main character and a mug as the key object. Set your story/poem in a garden.

"Time to let Dad go." I reached again for the oversized coffee mug in my sister's trembling hands.

She pulled back from me in reflex, her body more on autopilot than under any conscious control she might muster. "I just can't believe I couldn't do anything for him," she mumbled. I tried hard not to roll my eyes or sigh. Her tear-filled eyes glanced up from the mug, and her gaze locked onto mine. I couldn't imagine she saw much sympathy, or any feeling there. "I'm a doctor, I should have been able to do something."

"Gwen, you're an ER doctor, not an oncologist." I resisted the urge to remind her how many times we'd had this particular conversation. I could count four just since breakfast. "Look, we're losing the light. Let's just get this over with, OK?"

"You know he always liked you better," she whispered, a sniffle punctuating a slight pause between "always" and "liked." "Maybe..."

"Maybe nothing, Gwen. Jesus Christ, just give me the mug."

She shot me a glare like I'd just stabbed her children. "I was going to say," she enunciated at me, "that maybe he told you about the will."

"Oh." I hadn't seen that coming. "I thought you were going to say maybe you couldn't help him because your subconscious wouldn't let you." As the words were tumbling out of my mouth, I realized it was exactly the wrong thing to say. "You know," I tried to recover, "because he always liked me best."

She thrust the mug out at me and held it there in silence, her unblinking glare fixed on my nose. She learned that glare when she was only four and I would sneak her toys away and bury them in the cat's litter box. I wished she would say something. Maybe yell at me. Around us, the thick hedges and lush roses blocked out most of the city noise from the streets beyond. If it were me, I'd have poured the old fool's ashes down the toilet. No, Gwen had to honor all his wishes. Our jerk of a father had stomped on her ever since the divorce, ever since she could talk. It was his disdain for her that drove her to achieve so much more than I ever could. She, an ER doctor. I, a supermarket store manager.

I lifted the mug from her hands and turned to face the roses. I glanced at Gwen, who clearly was waiting for me to say something funeralish. "Dad," I said at the green leaves and pink blossoms, "You tended these roses as a volunteer here, at City Garden, for twenty years. Now you can stay here forever." Slowly, I tipped the mug to the side and watched the smooth, gray-brown ash slip over itself and then fall to the dirt, drifting in an ethereal sort of cloud along the hedgerow.

Gwen heaved a heavy sigh. "That's that, I guess," she said to no one in particular. She turned and strolled along the hedge, and I followed, still holding the mug.

"So," she said as we reached the vined arch exiting to the street, "did he give you the will?"

The truth rattled around my mouth for a bit, but I swallowed it. "No."

"So that means we just split everything up?"

"I guess."

We ambled down the hill, my sneakers scuffing along the scratched and fragmented concrete of the sidewalk, until we got to the bus stop. The eighteen wouldn't arrive for another ten minutes, if it was on time. We sat on the bench in the little bus shelter, and Gwen set her hand on top of mine.

"Dad was a son of a bitch, but really, I totally expected him to carry through on that threat of writing me out of the will." She smiled a bit and looked at me. "I guess he wasn't all bad after all."

I smiled back at her, every bit of me glad that I'd flushed the asshole's ashes down the toilet and that his destructive, hateful will--in which he left everything to me--would be fertilizing the City Park's roses. I squeezed Gwen's hand and said nothing.


~willow~ said...

oh, how wonderful! I luurrrve the many twists in the tale, where you don't really know all the details until the very end. In those few paragraphs, you have me hating the father and totally approving of how the ashes and the will were, ummm, disposed ;-)

lissa 07 said...

I like the brother and sister relationship, how the brother seem to protect his sister.

Anonymous said...

i loved this story. I was 'willing' him to have destroyed the will just before you revealed that he had. How come we always try to please the very people we never can?