“I need a transplant,” Dad said, and before I could even back up my spreadsheet, the old man had tripped over the coffee table and windmilled into my lap.
I’d always thought of my father as a person only in the abstract, of course. But once that cruller-loving flesh bag was slumped across my chair, pinching my carpal-tunnel arm? Well.
Then the spark left his eyes and it hit: I was alone in the world. Just me and the family’s creeping ficus.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the idea of losing my parents ever bothered me. But at that moment, with everything seeming so–what’s the word, real?–and his elbow crushing my esophagus? Yeah, I felt sheepish I hadn’t thought to offer a parting wheeze.
What kills me is that I could so easily have slipped something in. That moment right after he’d clutched his chest, just before high-fiving the choir invisible. His hairy ear so close to mine I could smell those funny little balls of wax….
I could have murmured, “When’s dinner?” or “Whoopsie-daisy!” or “What kind of transplant?”
What do they say? That when you’re in the middle of it, that last moment always feels so penultimate?
Luckily, I’d learned the fireman’s carry as a kid. I heaved Dad over to the dining room and rolled him onto the buffet table just seconds before the surgeon steamed out of the kitchen, clutching her sterile tray.
She fussed and clacked her shiny silver utensils, and then hacked a panel out of Dad’s sternum.
Seeing that cross-section of ribs, that was a weensy bit too CSI for my blood, so I averted my gaze to the Gauguin. Which I never take the time to appreciate because it’s always hanging over my head, and–don’t tell my boss, but–I prefer Van Gogh.
After the organ harvesting, the doctor disappeared again, and I peeked over.
Dad lay there, like a giant napping open-faced sandwich and I had to smile. He’d always been such a quiet person. And he loved mustard!
Well, I figured there wasn’t anything more I could do–the embalming machine was making its little gloopy noises–and by then that goddamned sunbeam had arced onto my computer screen. All four of Gauguin’s Tahitian buttocks went peachy-cheeked in the light as though to say, “Hello? This project is on a double-deadline.”
I don’t know, for some reason I was drawn back to Dad instead. Maybe I was curious to see if I’d get any feelings from glimpsing his lifeless corpse? I didn’t expect any miracles, but they say death changes people.
It was a good thing I turned. Dad had risen and was rolling over, mumbling something about having to get back to the office–his hair a bird’s nest as usual–and I lunged in (making sure to bend at the knees, not the waist) and grabbed his wrists.
“You’re semi-retired, remember? You need to relax,” I said–probably too loudly, now that I think back.
I hoped he wouldn’t see my attempt at a casual smile as patronizing, the way the neighbor’s asshole Akita always did. But Dad was so drained by that point, he didn’t even notice the embalmer in the room.
Then again, when had he ever? I took heart in that normalcy and had to chuckle even as I leveraged my leg against the wall to press his earnest cadaver back down.
“Stop flopping around,” I grunted. “You have to stay still or all the tubes will pop out.” (Whether or not this was true, I confess I don’t know, but I wasn’t going to spend the next six months eating my meals above a formaldehyde-soaked rug.)
Then things got weird. An urge came over me: to rock Dad into a slumber with little chuffing noises. I was like, what the hell? Just creepy.
When the doctor returned I asked, “What kind of transplant had he needed?”
“Brain.” She scowled at a vial of some bubbling purple liquid.
“Ah, of course. That makes sense,” I murmured. Soothingly, I hoped. I mean, people don’t go into the healing professions because they’re well-adjusted and happy with their own lives, right?
But the doctor had already forgotten me. Which was a comfort, because it reminded me of Dad.
Funny. It was all so long ago. Two years, now? Three? I think I don’t even own that buffet table anymore.
C.B. Auder has pursued a nearly-lifelong career as a perambulating ecosystem and currently basks in the luxurious glow of being a part-time cartoon otter. Auder’s oddly-tortured prose has appeared in Storm Cellar, Cleaver, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and elsewhere. C.B.’s story was originally published in Jersey Devil Press (Nov. 2015). Follow Aud’s tweets on Twitter at @cb_auder.