By James Valvis
A commotion in the next room where his parents sleep. He moves into the foyer, and his mother tells him his father isn't breathing.
He finds that isn't exactly true. Instead he's having trouble breathing. He's sitting up, trying to draw air into his lungs. His white back is spotted blue like gorgonzola. He’s wheezing and he can't talk. It looks like congestive heart failure.
His mother is phoning the ambulance, her voice the same as if she's ordering a pizza. She's always been cold as a radish.
His father grabs his hand, holds it. He has never done anything like this. The son, who has never felt much like a son, tells his father he loves him. This is an outright lie, but he feels someone needs to say it, and it won't be anyone else. All those friends his father made, those others he put ahead of his son, those Friday nights spent at the bar instead of his football games, the Sunday hangover that made him beg off his son's Communion, what was left to him, here and now?
The father squeezes the hand, drawing strength from it, trying to suck oxygen. He cannot talk, but he tries. He puffs the word "me", the word "too".
A minute later the ambulance shows, and they take his father away. His mother goes with him. Nobody is there when the son returns to bed, his hands behind his head, wondering why the hell he told that old man he loved him.
And he wonders about his father’s words.
If nothing else, the son appreciates the civil gesture. His father, he admits now, whatever else the bastard might have been, was a special man. To maintain a lie with your last breaths takes real dedication.
James Valvis is the author of HOW TO SAY GOODBYE (Aortic Books, 2011). His writing can be found in Anderbo, Arts & Letters, Juked, LA Review, Rattle, River Styx, and storySouth. His poetry has been featured at Verse Daily and the Best American Poetry website. His fiction has twice been a Million Writers Notable Story. He lives near Seattle.