The old man shuffles, no it’s not a shuffle, shambles, no not quite a shamble, plods, no you have to lift your feet even ever so slightly to plod, inches, that’s it, if you can use that word to describe a kind of locomotion, he inches his way from point to painful point, his massive bulk seeming to occupy all space between all points at once, his slow sliding pace a mockery of movement yet necessary because not even all four of those escorting him, leading and guiding him and helping to hold him up, can carry him, not even in a tilted chair, to his little nursinghome bed, to his final recumbency.
Beneath hi bald and keratosisridden scalp the skin of his face is smooth and tight, his eyes are lost in wonder in confusion in blindness that nevertheless to his son riveting into them betray a purpose, there’s still a will there or whatever you call it, a spark a current the last sputter of a current, a feeble last defiance of an adversary unseen ruthless and unsympathetic.
He shouldn’t be upright, shouldn’t be moving at all like the rock he resembles, his height eroded by the decades his hard weight undiminished, comeon Dad Marnie says, she works down there to aid his naked feet his hairless legs while David her partner, facetoface with the old man, guides the walker his weight rests on, stares at those eyes unseeing and glazed like steamed eggs, comeon Dad comeon he echoes, he slides the walker as Marnie forces each foot forward inch by inch, Celia Marnie’s sister and an attendant shoring Dad’s bulk up from the sides, clutching his arms and leaning, you’re doing it Dad you’re doing it.
Inside that aged bald globe he hears nothing he hears cacophony, swirling words and silence, sounds encroaching on the silence like jabs in slowmo, like the riot of noise bursting his addled wits between the soundless pain of the blow and the hush of the oblivion dring the only knockdown of his ring career, he shuffled bolstered and dazed back then too only to the lockerroom not his oldman’s deathbed and declared his retirement, that was a full seven decades ago, before the factories and the vacuumdealer’s franchise and the family and the travels and the grandchildren, well before the first stroke and now the one he knew in some fragment of his battered brain to be the knockout blow, comeon Dad comeon Dad you can make it, just a little farther.
In the dying February light birds crowded the snowroofed feeder outside the room’s only window, sparrows chickadees and finches, nipping one tiny seed at a time, heads twisting alert, wary, snowflakes big as quarters, drifted in a lazy breeze around them, all by the minute becoming less visible as the institutional fluorescence assumed command.
When she arrived Celia said no 911, no emergency calls, it’s his wish this shouldn’t be happening she thinks now, she studies his profile, the wide humped nose the full parted lips, can he be dead already? you don’t stand after a second stroke, oh god daddy just make it to the bed.
The din inside his head is mellowing, he’s forgotten the discomfort pummeling his bowels as he tried to evacuate them before the stroke left him staring and speechless, between grimaces he sat on the toilet detailing through a slight wheeze a lush mountainous scene to vigilant Marnie, purple and red and golden flowers among the wet green. oh the surf there, sky and ocean merged, streaks of white foam, and then he fell silent, she heard weak voices in the hall outside the room and a clock tick but nothing more from him, Dad? she said, Dad?
Photos dot the pale yellow wall and scattered bulletinboards with family and boxers he’d trained and grandchildren and their pets cats and frogs a dachshund, above the bed an oilpainting of a red mountain on a shadowy sea of green penetrating an orange and yellow sky, nearby a small table holding thicklensed glasses a set of dentures a potted amaryllis, a crucifix at the foot of the bed, across the room an altar devoted to his late wife Victoria, over the door the white markingsSto lgently,at! May you live to be 100 on a banner of red.
Three steps from the end of the line David thinks I’m part of something extraordinary, his eyes flit from the dying man to the women one at his side one at his feet, the attendant, a young nun who has just entered with a nurse and two aids and is weeping, and they return to the old man as his calf touches the bedframe, he makes miniscule adjustments to the walker turning it slowly slowly, the old man rotates inchmeal with it Marnie moving his leaden feet, suddenly like rampant pinballs Marnie Celia the attendant all rush to help him sit, David loosens the thick churlish hands and the old man cries, he cries hard with mouth askew and eyes open, David and the attendant struggle to ease the great mass down.
Supine now he ceases his tearless weeping and begins to actively die, the nun takes the crucifix off the wall and places it in his hands, a final gesture, David turns his back finds Marnie embraces her tightly, trying to inhale whatever he can from the scentless amaryllis, the savory of Marnie’s tears.