Bum's Rush. (The Death Of My Father)
I heard the phone ring in an abstract manner. Not being certain of the origin of the abstraction, I ignored it. Anyway I was absorbed with a problem. The absorption was arboreal, the problem one of pragmatism. The jangling continued.
The enormity of my task was beginning to take it's toll, I was in stiff need of a drink. Do I strip this tree of all branches and dignity and allow in a glimmer of sunlight pandering to my beloved wifes' wishes - or slope off to the pub and have a pint?. The real problem was that I couldn't actually sneak out of the garden gate without her seeing me, although one couldn't see the garden gate from her vantage point but this woman had supernatural powers.
I stared at nature in deadly earnest. It stared back.
This particular tree, a Laurel, had found favour with my wife and had behaved itself but now it was threatening the world!
The jangling stopped, the tree grew.
Why had I allowed myself to get involved with all of this? why did I drink so much last night? My head was throbbing like a pneumatic drill on heat. The last question of course being rhetorical, my thirst for wisdom and self-knowledge had always been tempered with my thirst for a drink. But the question repeated itself like a dose of dyspeptic bile, why had I agreed to prune this fucking Laurel tree?. Ah yes I remember, the old girl was at this moment trowelling make-up on to her visage and I cannot bear reality becoming a travesty. She was off to visit her mother who bore an uncanny resemblance to a bulldog and dribbled and snorted like one. I had been invited along so the idea of pruning the tree took on a positive hue. The clank of the sash cord weights as my wife lifted the window some minutes later signalled an immediate cessation of hostilities between man and nature. She's about to go out, drinkytime methinks.
"That was your sister on the phone she yelled, "Your father's in hospital, he's absolutely riddled with cancer and has only a few weeks left - do you want coffee?
"Yes lovely - thanks I yelled back without missing a beat and betraying no emotion, "I'll come up.
Now she knew how I hated the atrabilious old bastard but she could have displayed a tad of sensitivity. No she couldn't - not her forte. This brief verbal exchange must have seemed 'Pinteresque' in its callous charm to anyone in earshot. The window was shut and the clank of the sash-cord weights began to take on a bell like tone, they seemed to be tolling. I returned my sister's call and could tell by her well modulated tone that here was a real life tragedy to supplant the tediously manufactured ones of her daily existence. Here was real pain, here was real death. I imagined her flinging herself on the coffin and sobbing 'Papa Papa!'
We arranged a day for me to go and see him on my own, I had some vague notion that he might want to say 'sorry'. I chuckled to myself sarcastically, now who's being fanciful? In the few intervening days I recalled our lives under his roof, not that the recollection was ever very far away. The insane rages, the malevolent stare, the crashing fist, the sudden quiet of his boot on the garden path. They were all now to be laid to rest.
On the drive down I became increasingly restless and knew I'd have to calm my nerves with a glass or two, if I were to survive that mordant wit of his. I pulled over at the first available pub which was to prove almost cathartic. The neon sign beckoned. Once inside I was immediately assaulted by an array of lights that made the Aurora Borealis seem like a thousand dead fireflies. The volume of the juke-box had already awoken the dead judging by the gormless vacant stares of the clientele. Do people really come here to drink and socialize I wondered? Could this hell-hole possibly be mistaken for one's local? It was obviously designed by some mad architect making a 'statement'. I hurried to the bar not wishing to stay longer than was humanly possible. I assumed the barman couldn't hear a thing so I just pointed at some cans of beer and held up four fingers, the barman gave me my change and I hurried outside. In the car park contemplating the fact that my aural faculties might well be damaged beyond repair I sat staring at this monstrous winking palace of despair. I began to think of the recent televisual images concerning some poor mis-begotten race in some far-flung God forsaken country. I thought of the doe eyed babies and their distended bellies and the look of incomprehension. I thought of the distended bellies inside the pub and the same uncomprehending look of despair. I realised my inadequacy and drank long and deep to it.
I reached the hospital more or less on time and negotiated a space in the car park with no real difficulty and headed for the main building. I discovered the floor I required and got into the gaping lift. My tension rose. I got out on the fifth floor and saw the given ward on my left. A nurse with a green band around her waist denoting staff nurse status scurried toward me and I gained the necessary information and walked slowly to the room indicated. It was all of ten years that we'd last met and I'd been reminded of a driverless express train with me managing to divert the points. I turned into the numbered recess and saw four beds with the minutiae of separate lives spilling out of the various lockers, lazily draped over chairs or piled onto mobile bed trays. A portable television flickered silently, its message lost. The incumbents of the ward were all asleep but the stertorous sounds emanating from one corner were all I needed to be reminded of my father. I saw his shock of grey-brown hair just poking out from the white of the sheets, looking for all the world like a little boy lost - which in essence I suppose he still was. As I stood over him I began to realise a foetid smell, oh god he's crapped himself, I wondered why the nurses hadn't smelled it. But these young girls, their olfactory senses bludgeoned by this familiarity, will have been busy with more pressing demands to have noticed. I found a nurse and ten minutes later he was ready. I walked back in and noticed the yellow-green hue of death about his skin. This just seemed to condign a punishment for any man, he was obviously in pain. I tried not to gloat, I hadn't come for that.
As I stood there at the foot of the bed, he opened his eyes and began trying to focus. There was a brief glimmer of recognition and the familiar minatory gaze returned. "I came to see you was all I could think of saying. His lips moved but no discernible words came out. He kept moving his lips trying to speak but I couldn't hear him. He moved his right arm slightly and crooked his index finger in a motion beckoning me closer. So I moved to him and put my ear close to his lips and could make out just two one syllable words: "Fuck off. I straightened up and smiled at him - he hated that - I turned and walked away biting my lip. On the drive back I mused upon the thought that he might well have been delivering his epitaph to the world at large. I wondered whether the relevant authorities would allow me to have it engraved on his tombstone.
I didn't go straight home but made a small diversion to my local pub. A couple of friends were in a corner in animated conversation as usual, so I joined them. We talked about love and death and the absence of one and the prevalence of the other. I left them after a few drinks without mentioning anything of the days events. When I arrived home, my despair alleviated by alcohol, the look on my wife's face told me: "He died about an hour ago. I said nothing - her words meaningless. I was numb. I turned and walked out to the park.
So; this great tempest of a man had finally been neutered, the storm that raged within had succumbed to a greater force and exhausted itself. The cool night air in the park was sweet and crisp - I felt nothing. 'To be born enslaved is meaningless - to be released - everything' I had read somewhere.
One of us was now free.