Terminal 2

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A man recollects the death of his father and the world.

 

Terminal

He died three years ago, my father. The cancer had been there for some time before, but it finally took hold three years ago. He bore the ache of hollowing bone in silence. I don’t think he realised what was happening until it was too late. His knees buckled on the stairs, and he just lied at the bottom. He looked like a starfish dislodged from the hull of a ship, fragile and resigned to some unspoken fate. As I picked him up and took him to the hospital I think he knew his fracture was the herald of a greater threat. When the doctor gave him the diagnosis, terminal, he had the look of a man set free from some terrible lie. We held eachother in the car, and cried the muffled tears of acceptance.

---------------

“Son, if the time comes can you do what I ask?”

“I don’t know.”

---------------

That was the last time I spoke to my father. The cancer spread to his brain and he became a drifter in the darker, lesser known parts of his mind. That was the worst time of our lives. One day when I went into his hospital room, after everyone else had gone, he spoke to me one last time. All he did was look in my direction, but that flicker of acknowledgment in his eyes was a bold, blue, flame pulsating on a wickless candle. As quickly as the light had appeared it was snuffed out. The last vapours of his presence slowly drifting from the room. I had thought his death would be the hardest thing I ever had to deal with, but it was easy. He had died at the bottom of those stairs; I had always known it. It was what his life had become that was impossible to endure.

The world ended in much the same way: mercifully and inevitably. As I write this the world has moved on, but this is not a sadness. The preachers proselytized endlessly: they said that fire would rain from the sky; that the oceans would boil; that the hounds of hell would scourge the earth, and devour the unrighteous heathens. They spoke of an end to all things before such things were possible. They shrieked over the ideologies of the day and deafened their own ears. When they could hear nothing else they stared into the water and mouthed lamentations to their pale reflections.

My father was not a religious man, and had the world ended in some rapture I hardly think he would have held any god to the promise of heaven. I remember sitting in church when I was very young, kicking the back of the pew in a pendulous motion. My father sat very still, a vacancy in his eyes that spoke more to disappointment than boredom. At the time I thought he was upset with me for my inattention, but remembering it now suggests something more disquieting: he was lost, lost in an ideology that was emptiness in its purest form. Religion didn’t disgust him nor did it comfort him; it was inert and unmoving. Religion was the appendix of his existence: functionless but potentially poisonous. We never went to church again. The cool blue sky must have extinguished the flames before they reached us that day; the oceans and sun must have whispered amorous words to one another, as they remained consistently temperate; the hounds must have been stayed by the sultry cooing of the wind, as they slept without a whimper. The world did not end the way the prophets predicted.

Politicians spoke of wars. “We will end humanity with all of our fighting,” they said. They rallied their countries and dug in. Wearing flags as the capes of unsolicited heroes they imprisoned the villains, as they saw them. Their fortresses of steel became the empty halls of pharaohs and, finally, the outstretched fingers of a colossal beggar, entreating the sky to an act of undeserved charity. We followed these leaders, and gathered supplies in preparation for a great war. This period was termed the ‘Great Inhalation.’ A universal collage of red-faces and puffed cheeks painted the landscape of every nation. A collective gasp followed shortly after; everyone, dizzy from oxygen depravation, lost the will and the ability to instigate any great war.

My father used to watch political debates with great interest; two men struggling to lead all others, locked in the ancient vice of potential power. There was something primal about it. He watched the debate and I watched him, four eyes kindled with the flames of opposition. In the television’s dull glow a man and a boy were shaped, me from my father’s contradictions, him from the catharsis of argument. He would yell at the screen from time-to-time, but in a participatory way, hoping his wisdom would somehow drift into the ears of a great shared consciousness. He enjoyed the exchange of ideas and the potential for growth that existed in conflict. It was a necessity to him that men keep talking even when they were in opposition.

---------------

“I don’t want to slowly rot away. I’m begging you. Let me go on my own terms.”

“I don’t think I can do it.”

“When the time comes, and I can no longer do it myself I hope you will change your mind.”

---------------

 

Eventually the argument stopped. A resolution had been found that silenced the mouths of men. A rebuttal to any debate that had ever taken place, and any that ever would. That resolution was fear. A lurking silence perpetuated an isolation that was absolute. The mouths of men were sewn shut and the needle used to blot out their eyes. No great war ever came, but that may have been the greatest tragedy of all. The words of great and interesting men were designated acts of volatility. Gradual silence spread across the land. The tongues of men became the listless relics of an age destined to pass in hushed confinement.

When the silence finally broke it came from the mouths of scientists, warning of a virus incurable and devastating. “It will compromise our immune systems and decimate the population,” they said. We would infect our loved ones and watch them wither into spectres, as we ourselves were devoured from within. Researchers began work on a vaccine for a presumed affliction. They laboured tirelessly while the population flooded emergency rooms with benign symptoms. An unusual abrasion, secretion, or complexion led to hysteria. Mother’s left sick children to the grace of winter’s cleansing hand, in hopes of sparing the others. Father’s hung themselves from the rafters after sneezing fits of unknown origin. Streets were littered with the bodies of potential sickness, and squandered life. Children howled in the moonlight, newly orphaned, adopted by the compassion of the waning night.

---------------

 

“I feel my mind drifting. My memory is numbing. In the coming weeks it will be gone.”

“Are you sure this is what you want?”

“Yes. Take this and when you feel it is time please help me to leave with what little dignity I have remaining.”

“When the time comes I don’t know if I’ll be able to.”

“When you are ready it will be time. I love you son.”

“Goodbye dad."

---------------

I took an unknown vial from my father the day after the diagnosis. I hid it under the stairs I had carried him up, such a short time ago. Everyday I would walk down those stairs and look at it before I went to the hospital. Until one day I didn’t. My father had recognized me, after months of being a stranger to him, and he gave me a pleading look just as he had a few years earlier. On that day I brought a syringe and the vial with me and said goodbye. 

My father left on his own terms, and the world is too. The only sickness that infected us was the paranoia we used to tear ourselves apart. We watched the world burn and then wept on the ashes, but from those tears something has taken root. People began to see what we had become while we waited for armageddon. They saw the fear this world had bred, and the things we would do to stave it off. All over we emerged from the shelters we had hid behind for so long. Ideologies that had sustained us became the spark of rebirth we so sorely needed. Structures of our old world will stand as reminders for the new one we have begun to build. I don’t know how we will move on, but I think it is time.


Submitted: February 25, 2013

© Copyright 2022 mattgal. All rights reserved.

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