My father took one last breath, gaze stretching into infinity.
Stage four lung cancer, metastasized to the brain. Lesions shot through the flesh of his memories. Even to the end, holes in his mind didn’t stop his apologies for making me care for him.
Salty rivers and sobs shook me. My best friend was dead.
Father’s Day, 2012.
“They found a lump. I can’t feel it, but it’s there,” I said.
“Double mastectomy. Chemo. Radiation.”
Veterans’ Day, 2010.
Dad’s brown eyes foretell troubles I’ve not met. He’s strong. Too big to be contained in the backward gown. Smiling an apology. His wife shot me a warning I didn’t understand.
“Tell her, Ed.”
She patted the chair at his bedside. His tan hand encircled mine.
“What is it, Dad?”
His breath rattled. I felt another wave of panic– like when he told me he’d stumbled, like when the doctor asked him questions he couldn’t answer, like he when fell in the tub, black bruise mapping pain. Now his breath wrestled an ancient titan, tall as a mountain, heavy as the sun. Panic evolved into grief.
The rattle deepened into a racking cough.
“My cancer. It’s back,” he wheezes wetly.
Post-chemo, my legs float two feet above my ankles. I stump along the hallway, hanging on edges. My tumors melt away in the soup of poison and so do I.
Valentines Day, 2003.
“It’s a treatable cancer. I’ll get this operation and chemo and wham, all better,” Dad said.
His hand swelled with each chemo dose. He’d never play flamenco guitar again.
“Good,” I said. “Stupid cancer.”
St. Patrick’s Day, 2013.
Twenty-five sessions of radiation later, my skin splits in weeping sores. They want me to ring a bell. It’s my last session and the others with cancer, eyes deep in darkened sockets and skin gaunt, smile with alien faces. They want my success.
Past them, I imagine Dad in the hospital bed telling me to fight. He did. He fought for me.
I rang the bell for us both.
Donna J. W. Munro has spent the last fifteen years teaching high school social studies immersed in the beauty and immediacy of teenage world building. Her students inspire her every day. An alumni of the Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction program, she published in the Fantasist Enterprises Press anthology Modern Magic: Tales of Fantasy and Horror (August 2005), the Seton Hill kindle anthology Hazard Yet Forward (2012), and various other magazines and publications.