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Goodbye Dad

Goodbye Dad

– Nonfiction by JD Robertson

Honorable Mention in the 2023 Dreamers Micro Nonfiction Contest

“Hi Dad!” I call out over the terrifying rattle of his final breaths, fighting the need to whisper this last precious conversation. What do you say to someone in a coma, I ask myself. I fight the urge to run out of the room. It isn’t him, he’s way too thin. And his skin is so tight on his face. I don’t remember his nose being so…so large.

The hospital room is crowded with chairs, monitors, an IV and the startling noise of my father’s breathing. He never would have allowed such a display from any of us. Dry scrapings of air past skin. Each gasp is a struggle and yet consciously rhythmic. It’s as though he is breathing that loud so he can be sure he is still alive.

My nephew stands at the window. A prairie sunset screeches in raspberry orange sherbet through the landscape behind him. His tears seep through tightly closed eyes and gritted teeth.

Gillian, the oldest, dotes on Dad with a vengeance. She busies her rattling freckled hands, fussing over him. Cool cloth to the forehead. Sponge stick to moisten his lips. Brush his hair back with her fingers. She stops once in a while to hold her son, or to hold me, staining the air with old tobacco and even older wine in the air as she moves.

His breaths scream into the room. I find myself glancing around the room. Searching for a volume control.

“Hey Dad?” I take his hand, it’s light and fine and has more temperature than I would expect. “I flew in here from Comox airport.” I tell him how the snow is still on the mountains through the interior and how the sun made them shimmer. “You never did fly into Comox, did you? It’s so pretty!” I feel self-conscious, shouting at someone so unresponsive. Especially him. Silence like this usually means he’s pissed off. “I left the boys at home to take care of the dogs. Hope they don’t all starve!” Nothing. Of course. He’s been in a coma since Saturday. Today is Thursday.

I didn’t come until now? What was I thinking?

I move from my perch on the chrome chair to sit on the edge of his bed. And I hug him; his form under the sheets foreign and miniature. Just bones. It’s hard to hug someone whose mouth is gaping open and I am awkward as to where to place my head.
But it’s then I find my father.

I place my cheek onto his shoulder, careful not to crush what’s left of him. My nose pressed against his neck, my eyes closed, I inhale. And in that moment, in the crook of his neck, perhaps it’s some sweat behind his ears where Gill hasn’t wiped, or maybe it’s from his hair—his scent reaches my senses. Over the sterile wipes and the industrial detergent of the hospital sheets. Over the faint smell of old skin and urine. Over my own day long of nerves and travel. I find my father.

I remember hugs from long ago when I was still his little girl and we played and swam and hiked, and I remember his pillow after he left for work when I would climb into bed with mom. And I remember other hugs. And I pull myself away.
“Daddy, it’s okay. You can go now, if you need to.”

About the Author – JD Robertson
JD Robertson

JD Robertson is a retired corporate writer and former journalist. She lives in Edmonton, Canada with her husband, Bill, and her puggle, Charlee. Her first novel, May and Ted, was published in 2022 and is available on Amazon.

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