A crisp white sheet lay across the body, starched and stiff covering all but Archie’s face and head, undulations indicated bony prominences which peaked at the feet.
White sheets, white hair, pale anaemic skin, stark white light. Rory sat to his father’s left, hands on lap, expressionless, not knowing what to do next. He had been with his father when he died but then a young nurse had asked him and his sister, Jean, to leave whilst they ‘made him comfortable.’ Whatever the hell that meant. Jean had gone to get something from her car so they were alone now.
The monitors that previously relayed the information that his father was alive now sat themselves without life, unplugged and shoved into a corner, their backs to the men. Still facing Archie, Rory reached out and traced the line of his father’s arm below the sheet. Shoulder, elbow, forearm, hand, pressing a little to see the outline of the fingers, contact but not quite touching.
The nasogastric tube had gone, as had the oxygen mask and the central venous line that had been sticking out of his jugular vein for the last 5 days. The oxygen nozzle on the wall above the bed faintly hissed, the escaping gas the only sound in the room.
Rory swallowed, he thought he’d be happy when his father died. An end to debilitating illness, an end to round the clock, constant care. But he wasn’t happy, or thankful but he wasn’t exactly sad either. He expected some relief, an easing of the burden, death bringing it to an inevitable end. But nothing, just an emptiness, a void where grief should be.
People said he was dedicated to his father after his stroke. Hemiplegia was such a devastating side effect, severe dysphasia adding insult to injury. Can’t be easy for a young man to do that, to take care of a parent full time. At first the neighbours brought food and helped with housework but that didn’t last long. His mother was long gone, his sister had 3 kids and lived near Leeds, who else was there?
The district nurses regularly visited and gave Rory full marks. Archie looked well nourished, always cleanly shaven, no problems with the urinary catheter, it was all good. The nurses loved it, less work for them and Rory was such a charmer he even went out with one them for a while.
The abuse started a month or so after Rory had moved permanently into his father’s home. One dark morning whilst getting his father into his chair, he just lashed out. Frustrations eventually coming to a head, a burst of unrestrained, unprecedented anger. Through gritted teeth, spittle spraying, he punched Archie in the face, connecting under the left eye. The force of it toppling the wheelchair, throwing him to the ground. He stood over the motionless, groaning body waiting for him to get up but of course he didn’t. What surprised Rory most was his own reaction, or lack of it. Bereft of emotion, no shock, no fear, no regret. Nothing. Then he kicked his father hard in the stomach and left him there on the floor watching, whilst he slowly rolled and smoked a cigarette. And that was how it started.
Archie’s death gave Rory his own life back, thing was Rory wasn’t sure he wanted it back. He gave his father’s hand a gentle squeeze then got up and left.