Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: MARRIAGE (08/25/16)
- TITLE: LXIV
By Ruth Walker
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"He's cold you know," she said, rubbing his forearm. She pulled the rug over his bare skin once more and held his hand beneath it close to his chest.
Sixty-four years had taught her that she knew when he was cold. Her daughter winked at her sister sitting on the end of the bed and reached for the water. "Here dad, will u have a drink?" She put the straw to his lips and he drew up with short, weak sucks.
"Look here," said mum, lifting the covers around his leg to reveal a short cut above his knee. "The nurse said she found him trying to get over the bed rail, saying he was climbing the fence at the cattle sale to get to his father." She laughed incredulously. "That memory must be about 75 years old."
His father had been a stock agent and he, a farmer. Mum and he had raised six children together on a small farm in the tall-tree country of south Western Australia. The year after they laid out everything to buy the farm, there was a drought and he'd had to shoot half the sheep. That was the year they ate bread and dripping. He killed a sheep every week and they ate their meat with veggies from the garden. She had not complained of lack. This was their dream and she would make frugality an art form.
The kindly face of his younger sister appeared at the window in the door. Smiling, she shouldered against the heavy hinge and entered, yellowed Tupperware held carefully from beneath so as not to disturb the homemade contents within. There was a scuttle to provide a chair, and one of the girls went off to put the kettle on.
"How has he been today?" she asked.
"Look here, Jean," said mum, pulling back the covers again, and retold the cattle-yard story.
Tea and cake arrived, and so did the favourite son. Another cuppa; a chair hauled in from the corridor. Dad breathed on, and mum clutched his hand close to his chest as her daughter took a turn telling the newcomer the cattle-yard story, adding her own incredulity to the gathering chorus.
The night nurse had heard the day's news and cheerily entered to share the mirth about dad's delusional antics. She pulled the covers back and took his hand, holding it as she chatted to the family she'd come to know over the week of her patient's stay. She took his pulse and gently laid his hand back on his chest. Mum covered it quickly.
Dinner smells wafted down the passage, reminding them of the day's close and the families at home. One by one they rose, kissed the drawn cheek of the man they loved, and took their leave.
"Are you okay, Mum?" asked the last. There was just a bedside lamp on now, and the folds in dad's face were deeply shadowed. He looked gaunt.
"I'm fine, love," she replied. "I don't think it can be long now. He hasn't eaten for two days and he's hardly waking up. I'm very comfortable here. Don't worry about us.” We know where he's going and I wouldn't hold him back now." Her look was sad but there would not be tears.
It was one of those trips in which she drove unconscious of the traffic, hearing only her thoughts. What incredible parents were hers, that, loving for sixty-four years, they could walk this final passage together, fearlessly and even with humour.
It all felt so natural. No debt remained. Their marriage vows had been fulfilled "…love, honour and cherish as long as you both shall live.”
There was a phone call when she got home. It was her sister. “You’d better come back. He’s gone.”
The keys were on the bench next to Dad’s bag of washing. The new reality darted like a little flame from the bag to her mind, burning dendrons with the headlines; the washing wouldn't be needed. She took the keys in a daze and headed for the door.
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