“Your father loves you. He just doesn’t know how to show it.”
The screen door slammed and Dad’s boots pounded down the stairs.
Mom said he wasn’t himself since the war. I never met “himself” but I learned to take the measure of his rage; when to sneak away, when to tough it out.
Dad toughed it out plenty before I was born. Nineteen years old and newly married, he washed up on a far shore, rifle heavy like a grudge on his shoulder. He carried that gun all over the Korean Peninsula, but he never killed anyone.
That he knew of.
“Hey, Lucy. Where’d all the rabbits go?” he asks today, looking up from his wheelchair at the new aide.
She towers in front of the door with her arms crossed; legs in a wide military stance. She ignores him and tells me, “He’s not allowed to go out front and my name is not Lucy.”
I watch for Dad to erupt, but he just gives a sly grin.
“But we went out front last month,” I insist, my knuckles white on the wheelchair handles.
“That was before he fell. The man is 94 years old and he won’t stay in his wheelchair.” She widens her stance, hands on hips. I stare at her, expletives racing through my mind. She softens. “It’s for his own good.”
I should have known he had fallen, should have been there, should have visited every week like I promised. Chagrined, I retreat, making a wide U-turn. Then, while Dad nods asleep, I make for the back door.
Surely, he’s allowed in the garden.
I pause in the shade to admire a cluster of bright purple irises and the stillness wakes my dad. A loose magnolia petal resting on a juniper branch catches his eye, light cream with a fuchsia heart. He curls his back and stretches forward with a groan to pick it up.
“Huh. Feel that smooth.” He slips the petal into my hand. It’s warm with frayed brown edges.
As I hand it back, Dad says he wants fish and chips for lunch.
“Oh, no, Dad. It’s way down the block. Are you sure?”
I ease the wheelchair down a narrow path. It barely fits between the fence and the garbage bins. There’s a gate at the end that’s never locked. I speed up, hoping the aide doesn’t know about the gate.
We reach the sidewalk and, as usual, Dad wants out of the wheelchair. He rises, unsteady, gripping my arm.
His feet have forgotten how to walk. They still know how to dance, though, so we wobble down the sidewalk leaning in towards each other, forearms clutched. He steers and I walk backwards chanting, “One two cha cha cha.”
People try not to stare. When we finally reach the fish and chips place, Dad announces in high ringing tones, “You know the owner of this place is a Chinaman.”
“Dad, hush!” I sigh, grateful he didn’t say something worse from his army days.
A tall blond kid with a surfer tan opens the door.
“Hey, mate! Long time no see!” He escorts us to a table like we were royalty.
I ease Dad into a chair and he pats the kid’s arm. The surfer brings two cold beers. Dad takes a greedy gulp and smiles up at him.
“Fair dinkum!” he says.
“Fair dinkum!” the kid agrees.
Savoring my first sip, I lean back and ask my dad how he’s doing.
“Just hoping to pass inspection.”
Back at that place. Reeking of urine, Dad sinks into an empty wheelchair in the lobby. Veins pulse at his temples. He leans slowly to the left and stares drowsily at three white-haired women who are marching in place. An exercise video blares on the television and a perky girl in tights paces next to it counting, “One, two, three. That’s it. Keep moving, ladies!”
Behind us, a receptionist adds to the cacophony. She explains to a caller, who must be nearly deaf, “No, Ma’am. As I said before, there is no Mr. Rappaport in this facility.”
Dad mutters, “Fuck you, lady.” I’m not sure who he’s talking to but I have a burning desire to escape.
The aide marches towards us. She sniffs and commandeers the wheelchair. “I’m going to have to get him cleaned up now.” Before she can roll him away, Dad pats her hand, reaches into his shirt pocket, and gives her the ragged magnolia petal.
“Sweet Lucy, I’ll be leaving soon but here’s a little something to remember me by.”
Amanda Barusch completed an MFA in fiction and book arts at the University of Utah. She has worked as a janitor, an exotic dancer, a consumer advocate, and a professor. Her creative work appears in Crack the Spine, Every Day Fiction, Flashes of Brilliance, Stone Path Review, and elsewhere. Amanda divides her time between Utah and New Zealand, where she teaches at the University of Otago.