By ALEX WOMACK
I came to visit today.
Claire told me not to, that it would only hurt me more. But even if my therapist is normally my first opinion, this time I just can’t agree. Why wouldn’t I want to see him? And yet, my head spun as I walked down the tiled corridor. There was his door: with a shaking hand, I opened it.
Gentle morning light filtered into the room. He was sitting up in his bed, gazing serenely out the window when I entered. The sight of his hands, which I had never remembered being so wrinkled and frail, made my expression soften. As I did, he turned to look at me.
A mixture of confusion and realization on his face, his eyes both bright and dim at the same time. I held my breath, standing there, waiting, hoping. His face settled, finally, into a vague smile, and the corner of my ceramic heart was chipped away.
“Hello.” A calm voice. A polite, impersonal greeting, like how he always addressed a waiter or waitress. I responded with the most tranquil smile I could muster.
“Hello. I’m here again. I brought some small things you might enjoy.”
“Ah, these little things.” He held up one of the snacks I placed on his table, packaged in plain plastic wrapping, his favorites. “I had these the other day and I quite enjoyed them, I believe. Do you remember what they’re called?”
“They’re kakimochi. I’m glad you like them.”
I sat down next to his bed. The anticipation was always the worst part, the hardest part, seeing if he was the same as he always was. Now that I knew that he was, I could freeze the part of me that wanted to break down crying and push it away, to retreat into a side of me that could sit here unfeeling, to be able to converse with him as I would a friendly stranger.
Smiling, he unwrapped one of the kakimochi cookies and took a small bite, and then another and another. His enjoyment was clear on his face, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was really the highlight of his day. How was it to spend most of one’s hours alone in a room like this, with nothing but books and the view to pass the time? Could it really help? Was that why I was here: to help him? But what could I possibly do, other than pray that the sight of me triggers something in him? Am I just grasping at sand as it slips through my fingers?
Yes, that’s all that I’ve been doing. Claire was right: it was a mistake for me to come here. Coming back here again and again is the same as watching a fruit slowly rot. Is that rotting fruit what I really want my final memory of him to be like? No, of course not. This was a mistake.
“Well, I just wanted to give you some of these snacks. I apologize for leaving so soon, but I have to go now. It was nice to see you again.”
I stood up hastily, already unsure about my decision but resigned to stick to it, and after giving an awkward wave made my way towards the door.
I stopped, surprised, and looked back at him. His eyes were slightly glazed over with a film of sadness.
“Something in the way you act makes me think I’ve wronged you somehow. And though I’ve been racking my brain over it, I simply can’t figure out what it is; I just can’t remember. But you seem like a nice young man, and I wanted you to know that if I did indeed wrong you somehow, I am sorry for it.”
I blinked, unable to respond. He continued to gaze at me with that heartbreakingly innocent expression, and I had to fight to keep my voice steady.
“Don’t worry. You didn’t do anything wrong,” I told him.
His brow creased with worry, and he opened his mouth slowly to respond.
And suddenly then I was taken hold of, and there in my mind was him, the hollow husk of skin and flesh of my father’s body, lying placidly in his bed amidst a horizon of dunes, and there, piling up onto his bed and then the desert underneath, dripping like an hourglass counting down inevitable time, were grains of bleak sand. I held him, desperately, shoving things at him while looking for a sign of recognition in his eyes, yelling at him in desperation, and all the while he continued to smile listlessly at the desolate landscape as the sand filled his bed, and as the sand began to pile up around his body, creeping up in height until it reached the mattress and then his delicate frame, I screamed. I grabbed his softened, fragile face and forced him to look at me, eyes to eyes, mind to mind, father to son. But his eyes were not there: there were only empty sockets now, sockets that sand had piled up in and now were pouring out of, grains of ugly crystallizations of what were once beautiful orbs of glass, shining with memories. That dusty speck was when he had taken me out to my favorite diner for my birthday; that gray particle was when he showed me some of his vinyls, and we laughed together at how I liked them too; and now they were scattered, blown away by the cold wind, and I could never hold or share them again. I stared up at him desperately, reason having been torn from my throat, but when I looked up, there was no man anymore, only a new peak in the desert dunes. That kind face looking back at me was already unrecognizable.
“Goodbye,” I said quietly, and shut the door behind me, before he could be further hurt and perplexed by the tears forming in my eyes.