He was there, Dad, he touched me on the shoulder. Memory flashes back reflexively and I remember the nurse pulling the feeding tube out. The blue leather hospital chair squeaked under my weight, next the breathing tube came out. His frail body twisted uncomfortably and his mindless mouth moaned. I held his hand, skin dry and rough. I tried to open my mouth, just tell him what he meant to me. But I knew he couldn’t hear, that he was already gone, so we just sat in silence.
Memories crack in my brain and I’m snapped back to reality. I wipe the wetness from my eyes and put Pat’s Lab back the way I found it. Before I know it I’m sliding between the cool sheets beside Laina as the first hints of light paint the dark sky.
The buzz of the alarm wakes me. Shit, I slept for ninety minutes and now I’ve got a full day of work ahead of me. The warm shower water doesn’t wake me up, so I turn the knob labeled “Cold”. When that doesn’t work I give up and push forward anyhow. That restless, focusless, sleep drained distance fills me.
Laina is all bubbles and smiles as she examines her belly in the mirror. Smooshing it out, sucking it back in, then pushing it back out again. She stares at her navel like she has x-ray vision that lets her see the baby growing inside.
My lips touch her forehead. “Off to work Hun.”
Scattered, distant, hunger less, I ride out the day. Nothing breaks, nothing crashes, no meetings, five o’clock creeps its way to me. Any coherent thoughts I slide together are of my Father. I wonder, will I have changed anything? Do I dare hope that somehow I’ve changed my reality? I decide not to think about it, which only makes me think about it more.
Six thirty, dinner time. Laina hums as she sets a casserole on the kitchen table. I shove the first spoonful in my mouth and my phone rings.
I hear about ten seconds of empty breathing, then a haunting voice “I’ll always love you.” It’s Amber.
My face turns ghost white, jaw drops. I have no poker face. Laina is looking at my quizzically. “Can I help you with something?” I try to recover.
“Just promise that you’ll be happy. I can never be happy without you.” She laughs desperately. “Just promise that you’ll always remember what we used to have?”
“I… I promise.”
“Do you believe in Hell?”
“Hell, you know, do you believe in Hell?” The tone in her voice shifts and her words come slowly, calculatedly.
“I, er, I don’t know, I guess.”
“I don’t.” Amber sighs. “I just want you to know that this is all your fault.” A small sob escapes her lips.
The desperation in her voice sends a chill of understanding up my spine. “Wait, what? Don’t do anything. Where are you?”
“You know where I am.” Pause. “I’ve… God…“ She lets out a sob soaked chuckle. “I love you. Goodbye.”
Click. The phone goes dead.