A Son's Duty
Al Bruno III
All through the long drive Sidney kept thinking, This is a mistake. He thought it as he parked his car on a side street, he thought it as he made his way up the walk, he thought it as he rang the bell. Every moment of the journey he had felt like a man trapped in a dream, fighting every step but unable to turn away from the jaws of the nightmare.
The sound of footsteps moving through the house made Sidney’s mouth go dry.
Sidney thought, Too late to run now.
The door swung open and his older brother David looked at him with a combination of surprise and relief.
Sidney nodded, feeling self conscious in his worn out jeans and flannel shirt. David, as always was neat as a pin.
Was it a touch of reluctance Sidney saw in the way his brother stepped aside to let him in? The inside of the house hadn’t changed but it felt so much smaller.
“Where is he?” Sidney asked.
David nodded, “Upstairs, in his room.”
In his room. Sidney’s parents had slept in separate rooms for as long as he could remember. Whatever love they might have shared had dwindled away by the time he was old enough to notice. He had grown up in a world of icy silences and sudden outbursts. The experience had left him angry and haunted but somehow his brother had learned to survive, developing the skills he had used to become a successful local politician.
“How is he?” Sidney asked as he started up the stairs.
“He’s been asking for you,” was David’s only answer.
Sidney made his way up the steps wondering why. Why would Father want to see him now? Reconciliation wasn’t part of the old man’s repertoire.
The first room at the top of the stairs had belonged to Sidney’s mother. It had been kept locked and empty for years. There had been no funeral when she passed, Father had buried her hastily and without a trace of mourning.
The next room was the one Sidney had shared with his brother for 18 years. The door was open and Sidney had no doubt his brother had been going through old mementos, his pennants, awards and trophies. Sidney wondered if the hollowed out copy of Moby Dick he had stored his pot in was still there. He had left in such a hurry he had left it behind, he wasn’t sure but he might have left a roach behind. Probably not, but it amused Sidney to imagine it had been there for years right under the old man’s nose.
Next was Father’s room, the smell of antiseptic and shit flooded Sidney’s nostrils. He barely recognized the figure on the bed. There was an uncomfortable-looking chair at the bedside, Sidney slowly sat down.
He dreaded his next words but he knew they needed to be said, “Dad? It’s me.”
“Took your time didn’t you?” Father’s eyes snapped open, “I would have thought this was something you wanted to see.”
Sidney kept silent, wondering to himself how his old man’s body could be dying when his eyes were so very alive. He felt himself shrinking under their gaze.
“You think I’m a bastard don’t you?”
“Please don’t be like this,” Sidney said, “not now.”
“Your Momma was lucky. She was dead before she hit the ground.”
“I’m sorry,” Sidney shifted in the chair, not even sure what he was apologizing for.
“I was so proud of you, but you changed on me. You got weak.”
“Maybe...” Sidney looked away, “Maybe you're the one who changed.”
Father laughed just a little at that.
“You used to be my whole world,” Sidney said, “you were my hero but suddenly I wasn’t good enough.”
“Still whining, like an old woman. Like your Momma.”
Suddenly Sidney was on his feet, the chair clattered over. He expected his brother to shout and come running but where ever David might be he was keeping silent. “What do you want from me? Is this why you called me here?”
“Close the door,” Father said, “close the door and come closer.”
He wasn't sure if it was some last vestige of a child's blind obedience or a kind of morbid curiosity but Sidney did as he was told. He leaned in close and realized again how bad his old man smelled.
“I'm dying,” he spoke quietly, “I'm rotting away.”
“I know,” Sidney said, but a lot worse replies had come to mind.
“It hurts. You can't imagine how bad it hurts.”
“The doctors can give you-”
Father shook his head, “The doctors are assholes. They don't care.”
“What do you want me to do about it?” Sidney asked, “What do you want from me?”
“I need you to do...” the old man's hands spidered back behind his head and pulled out one of the pillows, “...what you've always wanted to do.”
When the warm pillow was pressed into his hands Sidney almost dropped it. It wasn't a soft, his father had never been a man for soft anything.
Was this really what I always wanted? Sidney thought but he already knew the answer. He pressed the pillow down over his old man's face.
Sidney had expected more of a struggle, but Father stayed still until the very end, until some involuntary response set his arms flailing. A ragged yellow fingernail cut Sidney right below the eye.
Is he having second thoughts?
If he was it didn't matter, Sidney was determined to be strong enough for the both of them.
Just this once he was going to make his father proud.