Four Weeks by Jessica Danger

Posted: June 19, 2013 in flash fiction
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hospice*Four Weeks*

Two days had passed since they told us we needed a meeting. In that small room, with his whole team, my brother and I, and Pete’s presence on the phone still large enough to occupy space, behind all the isolation gear they stuffed us in I was sweating buckets. It amazed me how well the chaplain did. I thought she would be annoying. I wanted her to be annoying. But she wasn’t, she was just there and, to my surprise, oddly comforting. It was a relief, finally, to have someone else be the one to explain it to him. The relief of losing that responsibility almost exhilarating, hearing someone else saying it out loud, hoping that this time he would get it. Wishing that perhaps her voice would do the trick.

“Do you understand what that means, Mr. Halden?” In a tailored suit and heels, Denice was the vision of professionalism. Even her short brown bob was impeccable.

Dad’s response was to cry. He balled up his bony spotted fists, gritting his teeth, his eyes cinching tighter as if to shut us all out, to squeeze the consuming illness from his body.

No one said a word.

Marianne, the red-headed pillar of steel responsible for all the medical questions, started in with more cushy vocabulary. “Mr. Halden, we want you to be as comfortable as possible, up until your time of expiration.”

I hated that term. It made it seem like he was a carton of milk, tucked away, a manager’s special. Close to expiration, close to no longer being of any value. I spoke to him tenderly, “Dad. Do you understand what they are saying?”

Lucas was the one that told everyone to knock it all off. “You can’t talk to him like that. It irritates him. You have to just give it to him straight.” Clearing his throat, his keys jangling as he scooted forward in his small plastic chair, “Dad- you’re dying.” In that instant, there, in that room where everyone was trying so desperately to be heard, they were the only two communicating. My father’s anger brought him back to us, even in that cramped room it found enough space to exist.

“How long?!”

Marianne started to ask, “How long do you – ?”

“HOW LONG?!”

“At this point,” here she was speaking to my dad, but she was looking right at my brother and I. “At this point, Mr. Halden, I would guess you have about 4 weeks left.” Her gaze shifted to the floor, as though it was easier to deliver the news than to deal with the aftermath. The room was hit with a nuclear bomb of terrible news that no one wanted to touch.

“No. No no no.” He covered his eyes, covered his face. Watching my father sob, I remembered once when he had spanked me. I was smart mouthing him, and he was home alone with us while mom worked. I don’t even remember what I said, but I do remember him pulling me across his lap, pinning me down with his left hand while he brought the other down across my rear. While trying to squirm away from him, clawing and thrashing, I hit my foot down against the corner of my nightstand. After he left, I was so ashamed of myself, of being spanked at that age, of hurting myself in front of him, that I slid down in between my bed and my wall and I just cried. I tried to be as quiet as possible, but to this day I doubt I succeeded.

I wished my brother, Pete, was actually in the room with us that day. I wanted him to be. Despite being the youngest, he is always the one that knows just what to do. He handles it. And when he is handling it, I don’t have to be handling it.

On my way out, cradling all the instructions they left me with, I thought it would be a matter of days before they moved him to hospice. I decided to drive back home, see my kids, and sit with my husband. I was glad that Lucas met me that day. I told him I didn’t need him there. It never occurred to me that this meeting would be difficult. I thought I could do it all while the kids were at school, and rush home before dinner, unafflicted.

I was wrong about a lot that day.

***

Jessica Danger lives in Southern California with her husband and three children.

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Comments
  1. Absolutely fabulous – such a delicate treatment of a heart-breaking subject.

  2. Awesome job lady. Loved it.

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