I’ve been traveling a bit here in Israel. For the next few weeks, I am staying at an old Arab house in the Artist’s Quarter of Tzfat, that Mystical City of the Northern Galilee, while its owner enjoys a Rainbow Gathering in Northern Greece. We have more or less settled into the house, with its lovely little courtyard and rooms ranged all around it, two rooftop decks (and a third more functional, but completely accessible rooftop). Never mind that the refrigerator is across the room from the spacious kitchen-eating room, that the bedroom is upstairs, the shower barely functioning. The house is wonderful, the salon large and well enough appointed, and I can now get back to some writing. This next Flash Fiction Month piece is somber, perhaps a bit of a cliché, but it manages. Think of the song Eleanor Rigby as you read it…
Sometimes hope died, often just outside a church on the way to a funeral of some family member he could barely recall. What was her name, aunt somebody…his name, cousin somebody else? Still, outside the church on these occasions, he realized that a funeral only served to show that whoever had recently arrived at the final destination of us all.
Now he knew the name, knew the time of arrival at the destination, knew how many hours had passed since.
His father looked out the window. “It’s not supposed to be this way. My children should outlive me.”
“We all end up in the same place,” he answered. “Does it really matter so much when?”
“Yes. It matters to me. When, for my children, should be anytime after me.”
The answer was relative, and that made sense to him somehow. This lonely feeling was also relative. Still, “There are no guarantees Dad, only that we arrive at the end.”
“My children were supposed to mourn me, not the other way around.”
Clichés, but what else was there to say?
“Well, I’ll do my best to accommodate you, and wait until after you’re gone.”
His father turned and faced him.
“I’d appreciate that.”
His brother’s funeral stretched out through a church service, a graveside service, an afternoon of sympathetic visitors bringing food, and an evening of cousins, aunts, uncles who did know each other staring across an overladen table that none of them cared to relieve of even a small part of its burden.
The next morning, he woke up early and walked out into the backyard. His father already sat in one of the deck chairs arranged around a table, drinking coffee.
“The pot’s on in the kitchen, if you want some.”
After a pause where it was evident he wasn’t going back into the kitchen, his father sighed.
“What do you mean?”
“Will we become a whole family again?”
“We did it after Mom died. We’ll do it after this.”
Hope kept shrinking, little by little. Unnamed and unremembered family members closed round, but could not fill the gaps left by a mother and a brother.
His father sipped his coffee. He put a hand on the old man’s shoulder.
“I have to get back. I’m due on a flight to London tonight.”
His father nodded. “You know,” he said, “there is one way.”
“To make sure I don’t have to arrange your funeral.”
“Dad, it’ll be ok. I’ll be back in time to join you for the weekend.”
His father nodded again.
His father nodded, and sipped his coffee as his other son left. He decided to never get up from the chair. He nodded one last time.
Categories: Flash Fiction
Very real. I got chills when the father said there was one way to insure that he would go before his son. Each loss is unique, a spouse, a friend, a parent and a child, each grief is different. You’ve defined these griefs with clarity.
So strong, so real. So close to the conversation my stepdaddy and I had after Mama died…you got it right!
I’m sorry for your loss, Lucile, but thank you for affirming that my fiction felt like your real-life experience. That is a very moving and great compliment.