My father was asleep in his chair, his head bowed over a book balancing on his lap. I watched him from the doorway, watched the book sliding down his lap and crashing onto the floor. He jolted awake.
I watched his mouth move and the words tripped out. “Brotherly love?” He snapped. ‘Who are you to talk about brotherly love?’ His blue eyes darted from side to side as he spoke. Then settled as I entered the room.
‘What are you reading today, Dad?’
His hands, mottled with liver spots, shook and fidgeted on the arms of his chair. He leaned down to retrieve his book. ‘How should I know?’ He pointed a trembling finger at me. ‘You’re the one who foisted it on me.’
Through the window behind him I could see an old lady. She was dressed in an overcoat and woolly hat, and pushed a Zimmer frame as she shuffled along the pathway in her slippers, a large handbag swinging from her arm.
‘What are you doing here, anyway?’ His hands shuffled the pages in the book and his mouth made little popping sounds.
‘It’s Sunday, Dad.’
‘If it’s Sunday, why aren’t you at Mass? You should be on your knees, begging for forgiveness.’ He looked down at his hands. ‘Things you’ve done. My own daughter!’
I wondered how he could look so harmless – a grey-haired old man with transparent blue eyes and ears too big for his head, and yet sound so hostile
‘What things have I done?’
‘What things! Who put me in here?’
I watched the old lady as she arrived at a bench. She backed up to it, holding firmly onto the Zimmer frame, lowered herself and plopped down onto it.
‘They look after you here, don’t they?’
‘I can look after myself!’ He threw his arms out. ‘I can look after them!’
The old lady opened her handbag and produced a large chunk of bread from which she picked off little pieces and flung them onto the lawn.
‘Those were the days, Dad.’ I folded my arms across my chest and glanced at my watch.
‘Don’t tell me about the days,’ he snapped. ‘Your father was always saying that.’ His voice was hoarse from the effort of his indignation, and he had confused me with my mother again.
‘You’re my father’ I muttered. I should have kept quiet.
His hands grabbed the arms of his chair. ‘I know who I am!’ He could not push himself out of it. ‘Do you think I don’t know my own self?’
When all the bread had been distributed the old lady dusted off her hands and sat, waiting in the cold.
‘That old lady’s going to freeze out there,’ I said to him and he turned his neck, slowly and stiffly to look out of the window.
‘Who?’ His neck craned to see her, but it couldn’t stretch far enough. ‘There’s no one there.’
He turned back to me, a snarl creeping around his lips. ‘What’s the matter with you? You need to go and see about your eyesight, you know.’
I glanced at my watch again. Was it time to leave yet?
‘I can’t get any sleep in here, you know.’ He shook his head. ‘No sleep at all.’
I stared at the wall beside his bed.
‘There’s a woman in the next room who keeps calling my name all the time. “Te-rry!” she keeps shouting, “Te-rry!” I can’t get a wink of sleep with her.’
We had been through this before.
‘She reminds me of my mother, screeching down the street like a fishwife. Embarrassing me in front of all my friends. What’s she calling me for?’
‘She’s not calling “Terry”, Dad.’
‘She is! All night, just as I’m about to drop off, I hear her. “Te-rry!” “Te-rry!”
‘She’s calling for her dead husband, Dad. His name was Jerry.’
He glared at me with furious indignation. ‘If she does it again tonight I’ll go in there and hit her over the head.’
Through the window I could see a nurse gently urging the old lady up from the bench. I leaned over my father and gave him a kiss on the cheek. ‘See you next week, Dad.’
He reached up and grabbed my shoulders, pulling himself up from the chair as he did so. His bony arms hugged me to him and he kissed me back. ‘Goodnight, my baby, sleep well.’
It was past midnight when my phone lit up and vibrated for attention.
‘This is the nursing home.’
Awareness started to emerge from the fog of sleep. ‘Is my father ok?’
‘It’s not quite what you might think, but there’s been an accident.’
There was a brief silence on the other end of the phone. ‘Your father attacked the woman in the room next door.’
‘He bashed her over the head with her Zimmer frame and she’s been taken to hospital.’
In the background I heard my father’s rasp. ‘She kept calling me. She wouldn’t shut up.’
June Hunter lives and writes in Sneem, County Kerry, Ireland. She has had short stories published in Second Chance – an Irish short story anthology; and online with Mash Stories, Flash Fiction Magazine and Reflex Fiction. Currently she takes part in two writer’s groups – Clann na Farraige, Kenmare and the Sneem Writer’s Group.