Note: This was written for The Review Game's July Writing Challenge Contest. Check out The Review Game and the WCC in the General Forums. :)
First and Last
I remember his hands…
In my mind I see them against a backdrop of cloth: first on white cotton, last on cream satin.
First they were warm. Rough and weak and a little bit stiff, but warm.
Last…I imagine they were cold, though I did not touch them to find out. They were waxy and folded in restful prayer. Or prayerful rest? Only he knows.
First memory: he is in the hospital. He's sleeping and I'm beside him because I don't know there's still time; I'm obsessed with being there at the end. So I sit, and I watch, and he dies slowly.
His hands rest on the sheet. The fingers are relaxed, bent slightly and twitching from time to time. They're paler than normal and the skin is dry, but they look like they could open a pickle jar or punch numbers into a calculator. Even though they're not active, they still look right. That's my dad. Sad sight, I know. But we still hope he'll get better. 'Cause he will, right?
One hand moves as he wakes up. It squeezes mine and he looks at me, and smiles. "What're you up to?" he asks. I'm sticking beside you because I'm terrified you'll leave if I don't. I tell him I'm writing a story. "That's good. You go write." Keep writing. It's good.
So I write. I write while he sleeps in the hospital bed, just dying. But his hands still move and stay warm so dad's right: That's good. I can write my stories and live my life and be okay for just a little while longer.
Two weeks, at least. Time enough. But I live in the moment and every moment in the hospital I'm sure it will be the last time I see him. One moment…I'm right. When it comes, his hands are still warm. They rest on the sheet and impart their last heat to the white cotton.
Though they stayed warm until the end, they stopped moving days before.
Last memory: the fabric shifts from white cotton to cream satin, sheets to coffin lining. That's how he moves from rest to unending sleep. The last time I see him, the absolute last time, he is not my dad anymore. Who is that wax doll on the table? Sorry, don't know him. The hands are all wrong.
Those hands held hammers and hymnals, babies and books, tents, toys, toothbrushes, tophats... Those hands built rockets and those fingers strummed guitars, against a backdrop that never stayed the same. That was when looking at dad meant watching a movie, when he was art in motion. He had a soundtrack and voicetrack and everything about him conveyed emotion through constant change.
Now he's just still-life…
Dad is a picture on the mantle. He's a photo on the kitchen wall. There are still shots of him everywhere in the house, images that never age while the rest of us grow old. But where did dad go? Did he just disappear?
That last time never seems real. It wasn't the last because it wasn't him. Sorry, don't know him. My dad? No, dad doesn't know stillness.
Somewhere in between the first and the last is the real last time I saw my dad. I didn't recognize it then, I don't remember it now.
But I remember his hands, hands in constant motion. Somewhere in my memory, hidden by fear and hesitant optimism, I know I saw his hands move for the last time.
I know I saw dad die.