“I missed you,” I say to my parents, kissing them hello.
My sister was visiting from Japan for the month of August, so I took the opportunity to take a break from my responsibilities as caregiver and focus on my family with Lynn.
September has returned now though, and Mum and Dad are waiting in the parking lot as I walk off the ferry.
We celebrate over hot turkey and onion rings, or coffee and pie, or ice cream and milk at RnR Diner in Saanichton, the diner I worked at while living full-time with Dad, where they know me as Tuesday.
“Look!” says Kelly, “Tuesday’s here on Friday.”
We sit down in a booth.
Dad has a cold, the chest kind that sounds wet when he coughs.
“I don’t like that cough” I say.
“Well, I’ll take it with me,” says Dad.
Dad tells stories but he seems weaker than I remember.
“My Dad used to say ‘you can’t take it with you unless it’s on you when you go’,” he says patting his stomach.
“You coming to the reunion with me in October?” he asks.
Yes, I am.
Mum tells me it’s a popular topic and then adds,
“You won’t make it to the reunion if you don’t look after that cough”.
“Oh well,” says Dad smiling, “at least I won’t have to take snarky comments from my ex-wife anymore.”
“Unless I go down,” he says, pointing at hell.
Dad has trouble getting out of the booth and while I’m paying the bill, he nearly falls on his way to the door.
“Must have been something in the milk,” he says, saving face.
I notice his cane no longer looks strong enough for the job.
“I’m going to get you a walker,” I say.
“I’m not a cripple,” says Dad.
I help him from the car to the house, like I used to with my Granny when I was a tween. He whispers in my ear that he wants to go slowly so that Mum doesn’t make him take down the washing from the line, an excuse to give him time to catch his breath and get back his strength.
Mum flutters about in her Mother Theresa kind of way before heading home to Brentwood Bay.
Dad in his room, Nicol cooking his dinner, and me in the living room opening the mail,
I run to Dad’s room. He’s on his back on the ground with shock and fear in his eyes.
Together, we lift him up and shuffle him to his chair. He’s lopsided and looks uncomfortable but lacks the strength to adjust himself. He coughs and swears as it triggers pain in his side from where he fell.
“Should I take you to the hospital?” I ask.
“Call your mother,” he says, “she’ll know what to do.”
Instructions from Mum: painkillers, cough medicine and lots of fluids.
“I told you the Warden would know what to do,” says Dad.
The drugs kick in.
“Katie? I have to go to the bathroom,” he says.
I come back with Nicol to lift him from his chair.
“I don’t think I’m going to make it,” he says.
“That’s okay,” I say as we shuffle to the loo.
He does, and then we lower him down into bed.
“Lay back and I’ll pull off your pants,” I say.
“Isn’t that usually the man’s job?” asks Dad.
I laugh and shake my head.
“Well, I’m leaving you and your sister a good lolly here,” he says.
“I’ll take you over any lolly” I say.
“My time has come Katie.”
I tell him how I admire how he faces old age and how I have loved the time we’ve spent together these past few years. Tears stream down my face. He doesn’t reply.
I lift the needle to the record and Vera Lynn, the sweetheart of the forces, sings to us.
I crawl into bed beside him, our arms side by side, touching as he tells me stories in the dark.
“My Dad’s oldest brother was dying and the minister asked him if he wanted to confess his sins,” says Dad, “so he said ‘Father, there’s no time for that. Just put me down for everything except murder.”
We sing along to Vera,
There’ll be bluebirds over, the white cliffs of Dover
Tomorrow, just you wait and see.
I remember when it was Dad feeding me cough syrup from a spoon, lying on this very same mattress in this very same room.
As a child, I was too scared to sleep anywhere else in this big, spider infested house. Even as a teenager and young adult, I would crawl into bed beside Dad when I was sick, depressed or heartbroken.
Lying with him now with his heavy congested breathing, hearing stories, singing along or listening quietly, I use all my senses to record the feeling of this shared moment with this man that I love.
Side two finished, Dad’s breath’s heavy enough for sleep, I roll over to leave.
“Are you abandoning me?” Dad says, “or flipping the record?”
I laugh, flip the record again and crawl back into bed.
If I had my way we’d never grow old and sunshine I’d bring every day.
You would reign all alone like a king on a throne, if I had my way