By Em Frappier
She touched the fire to the pipe and took the sweet smoke into her lungs. The world went sideways, which was what she wanted. Anything was better than thinking. She was numb, and it was better that way.
The kitchen floor was cold under her bare feet. The sun was just rising over the mountains. She stood at the window and watched her father sitting in the garden. She was supposed to bring him a glass of water, but she couldn’t. It was so much better inside. She wanted to curl up on the cool tile and sleep.
She didn’t do it. The floor was sticky and crusted with dirt and rotten bits of food. He couldn’t do housework anymore, and she wasn’t very good at it. It all seemed so tedious and pointless. Everything seemed pointless lately.
She took another hit.
“What are you doing?”
She jumped, and the pipe clattered into the sink. Her mother had finally come out of the bedroom. Her eyes were glassy. She drifted listlessly through the room.
“Where is he?”
“In the garden.”
She wasn’t listening. The pills made it hard for her to focus on anything for long. She floated back to her room, and the lock clicked three times. That was the pills, too.
Her dad hadn’t moved. The birds were getting closer. They had forgotten him, and he liked that. He would lift his cane suddenly, sending them into a frenzy of beating wings. It made him laugh. She liked it when he laughed. It didn’t happen very often.
She turned on the tap and let the water run. One more hit, and she could do it. She filled the glass and carefully dried the outside with a dishtowel.
The grass was too long. It brushed against her calves as she approached the weathered bench that her father had placed there so long ago. The day he and her mother moved into the house as newlyweds brimming with hope. He’d planted roses and placed the bench nearby. Life was full of possibility. Before her mother became a pill-head. Before his daughter grew up to be a waste. Before he knew he was dying.
The cancer wasn’t spreading for the moment. It lay dormant, but he knew it was there. It would be there for the rest of his life. She stopped and looked at him. His shoulders slumped forward as he sat staring at the wilted rosebush. He was old. She’d never seen it before. He had always seemed eternally youthful. She depended on him and knew he would always be there. The thought was beautifully naïve. Now she knew the truth. He was dying. They were all dying. It didn’t matter what she did because the end was the same for everyone.
His fingers drummed on the handle of his cane, and she knew he was growing impatient. Still she hesitated. She wanted to dart back inside and smash the glass on the floor. She wanted to smoke until she couldn’t see straight and lock herself in her old bedroom.
She sat beside him on the bench. He held out a shaking hand, and she gave him the glass. It was hard to let it go. He knew what she was thinking. He always had. He let his cane fall to the ground and carefully moved the glass to the other hand. He reached out and smoothed her hair. It was a familiar gesture. One he had done her entire life. He smiled.
Her eyes filled with tears, which streamed down her cheeks. She didn’t try to hide them. He reached into his shirt pocket and removed an envelope. His hands shook, and it took some time for him to get it open. He dropped the tiny, white pill into the palm of his hand.
He smiled again.
She nodded, though the tears were falling faster now.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too, Daddy.”
He put the pill in his mouth and took a long drink from the glass. With his free hand, he reached over and held hers.
She couldn’t watch him go. Tears blurred her vision as she stared straight ahead at the rosebushes. His body went stiff and slumped to one side. The glass of water slipped from his fingers and fell softly into the long grass.