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john sweet, b. 1968, single father of 2. overeducated, underpaid, a firm believer in writing as catharsis. full length collections include HUMAN CATHEDRALS and ASH WILDERNESS, and an ongoing stream of dischord can be found online at myspace.
My father’s death is its own small violence. It leaves silence in its wake. A cigarette burning itself out in an ashtray. A cold cup of coffee.
My father’s death is sudden.
It drags on.
Soft words are spoken in dark hospital hallways. Papers are signed, machines unplugged. I stand next to my mother. I hold her. Hold my sister. Listen to the ticking of a clock.
My father’s death arrives by phone. I’m alone in the house. My wife has had a nervous breakdown, is in a different hospital. When I visit, I sit with her in the common room. She plays the piano. She tells me she loves me. She cries.
I stand in a bedroom, staring out a window. Behind me, my lover gets dressed. She knows about my wife, but not about my father. She tells me I have to go before her daughter gets home from school. Tells me she’s free again next Thursday.
I leave my mother’s house, drive to see my wife. I talk to the nurse. I explain what’s happened. She stands in the doorway while I break the news. My wife screams as the words spill from my mouth. I no longer want to know who her tears are for.
My father’s death is unexpected.
I’ve been waiting for it for years.
My father’s death is different than his own father’s. Different than his mother’s. I was 16, then I was 23, now I’m 27. They were all strangers to me.
My father’s death is like the sun - I can’t look directly at it. Can only cast my own thin shadow in its blinding light. Will burst into flames if I get too close.
I answer the phone. It’s a friend of my father’s. His voice is choked, harsh. Says he’s sorry. Says it again. Asks to borrow twenty dollars. Swears he’ll pay it back.
I go back to work, and everyone is too polite. Everyone keeps a safe distance.
My father’s death might be catching.
I stand in my lover’s living room on Thursday afternoon. She says she read about my father in the paper. Asks me why I didn’t tell her. Starts unbuttoning my shirt. Is naked, and I can’t keep my hands off her.
And later, at the hospital, my wife is medicated, tranquil. She wants to know what happened. Wants me to start at the beginning, tell her everything. I consider. I take my wife’s hand and squeeze it gently. I open my mouth.
My father’s death is the end of the story.
Copyright © 2007 John Sweet