by Happy Lee Del Canto Sabag.
There had been laughter in my house. And love.
There had been hugs and kisses and the healing touch of affection between my mom and my dad, my dad and me, my brother and my dad, my mom and me, and on and on… a never-ending circle of warmth and light.
There had been long barefoot walks on Ricardo Lyon Street, heading out towards Providencia, while all the passers-by gaped at the odd family that went about their business barefoot, on a busy avenue.
There had been Singing in the Rain and An American in Paris and Humphrey Bogart and The Marx Brothers and Endless Movie Nights that smelled of toast and milk.
There had been little rhymes:
I love you
A bushel and a peck
A bushel and a peck
And a chain around the neck
There had been late-night conversations of every topic under the sun, while my brother and I stared at our all-knowing father in wonder.
There had been silly jokes like my dad looking into the mirror, asking aloud why God had made him so handsome as it was clearly not fair to other men.
There had been jazz, so much jazz; Sinatra, Ella; Billie and the Big Bands. Django Reinhardt and Dave Brubeck and Dad singing softly to the vinyl records of Ol’ Blue Eyes.
There had been Johnny Mercer and Moon River. And I wondered, with huge child-like eyes, what one had to do to catch a rainbow’s end.
There had been a girl, once. You can picture her in jeans and a black faded T-shirt, making her way up a flight of stairs carrying two grocery bags.
“I am so lucky to have Dad. If he ever died, I’d die with him… Yes, I would,” the girl thought to herself while turning the key in the lock.
And when her father opened the door, she ran to him, for no particular reason other than to cradle her head against his chest, breathe in some of his neck-smell… because that afternoon she had felt the most fortunate girl in the world, safe inside this love continuum.
She had been sleeping. Not that kind of sleep where you close your eyes and life seems to hum for a while, but that deep, almost hollow drop, where you are lost in blackness.
A soft voice called out her name once, then again. A hand on her shoulder gently shook her.
She opened her eyes, for a moment, not really aware of whom the blonde woman was. Then it all came back to her, she winced as though in pain.
“He’s dead now isn’t he…”
“Yes, dear. I’m so sorry.” Her aunt smiled sadly while stroking her hair.
“It’s alright. Please don’t tell mom or my brother yet. I’ll go to the hospital first.”
“Your uncle will go with you…”
The girl dressed in the dark for it was still night. The sun would have somehow been a mockery. She did not want light.
The ride to the hospital was silent. Tears ran down her uncle’s face while he smoked one cigarette after another.
In the elevator, he held her hand and looked at her for the first time.
“I’ll be outside,” he said, his voice cracking.
She looked at the huge double doors. Everything was so damn white.
A nurse came out and called her name. She followed the nurse inside.
“I’m sorry. He was your father wasn’t he?”
The girl nodded.
“Take all the time you need.”
The nurse unlocked the door to a tiny room, almost offensive in its dazzling whiteness.
There was nothing inside except for a metal bed. Her father lay there, hands at his side. A white cloth was wrapped around his face, keeping the upper and lower jaws together.
“I can take that off if you want,” the nurse said, her eyes full of sympathy.
The girl nodded staring at the floor.
The nurse approached her father and removed the cloth. On her way out she touched the girl’s shoulder.
The door closed with a thud and the girl held on to the wall for a moment. She closed her eyes and remembered to breathe.
She walked hesitantly toward the bed. Her father did not look dead. There could have been a mistake somewhere; maybe his heart was still beating. She touched his face, but he didn’t feel as warm as life should feel. She pressed her ear to his heart. There was no sound.
She climbed onto the bed and lay by his side, her head against his chest, her arms around him and her eyes closed.
“Please don’t leave Daddy…” she whispered.”Please, please open your eyes…”
And for a moment, she imagined that he would.
Sometime later the nurse came back. There was hesitation before she spoke.
The girl opened her eyes, somewhat embarrassed. She took the nurse’s hand and climbed down from the bed.
She looked away while the nurse covered her father with a white sheet.
“We’ll be taking the elevator now.”
The nurse wheeled the bed through the huge white doors.
Her uncle was waiting; he removed the sheet to look at her father.
“Bye, buddy,” he said and his voice cracked again.
The girl walked in front of the stretcher bed, her head held high. Unmoved by the stares of the people in the waiting room.
“His smell… It was still there,” she said softly.
“What honey?” Her uncle looked at her, his eyes red and swollen.
“Nothing. It’s ok.”
The nurse glanced at the girl and smiled. Such a sad, sad smile.
So many times she had thrown her arms around his neck burying her face between his hair and shoulder, thinking his smell was the best smell in the world.
She kept his clothes for six months. The smell had not gone away. Many times she would open his closet and sink her nose into one of his sweaters. Those were the only moments she allowed herself to cry.
One final call for the last train to Galilee.