By Zoltan James — The hospice nurse, plain as a Kansas cornfield in August, wore a sad smile when she entered the kitchen earlier this morning. Tom and I were playing a game of Rook, a game we hadn’t played for years. I found the deck last night stashed in the drawer next to Dad’s bedside. “I think it’s time,” she said sweetly. “You all may wanna come in now.”
I looked up from my faded cards and stared at my older brother. He shot me a quick glance and then up at the old red kitchen clock. It said, “Eight straight up.” It was in that moment that I realized how much he looked like Dad, handsome and weathered with a two-day growth of stubble. Funny, but I had never noticed the resemblance until just then.
Tom didn’t say a word. He pushed back his chair, stood and followed Nurse Amanda back to the bedroom. Hell, he even had the same determined walk as Dad and he rocked his shoulders the same. First left, then right, as if he were sloughing off a would-be tackler at the line of scrimmage, which, of course, he did many bone-crunching times, years ago, when he played halfback for the Washington Redskins.
Mom was sitting on the bed holding Dad’s hand. She was sobbing and looked like she hadn’t slept in days. She forced a smile on her worried but still beautiful face when we entered the bedroom. “My boys. My boys. Come here,” she said as she held out a hand waiting for one or both of us to grasp it.
“Is he talking, mama,” I said as I reached for her hand.
Tom went to the other side of the bed and I could see he was fighting back the tears as he took Dad’s pale left hand with the deep blue bruises on the back where he had suffered needle after needle.
“Shit. They’re not comin’!” Dad suddenly blurted. He opened his eyes wide. They were wild as he flicked them back and forth looking around the pale beige ceiling corners of the room. His lips quivered open and shut, and his brow furrowed.
Tom reeled back and bumped into Nurse Amanda, who, I swore let out a gasp that sounded somewhat like a low bark.
“Who’s not coming, William?” Mama said as she craned her neck over her shoulder to look at the ceiling for herself.
“Them,” he pointed to somewhere above our heads. “The angels. They was here yesterday. I told ‘em I was ready. I thought for sure they’d be back this morning.” Dad looked far from being ready to pass on into the next life. In fact, he looked caught between cross and disappointed.
Mamma patted his hand. “Now, don’t get yourself all riled up. Look on the bright side. You’re still here.”
Tom shot me a look of wonder with a wry smile. Amanda stood frozen, mouth open.
Dad bolted up without assistance and swung his thin egg white legs onto the floor. “Well, dammit. Since I’m not gonna die today, we might as well have breakfast.”
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Author’s Note: With many thanks to my good friend Donna Flory for the kernel of this idea. The characters represented here are totally a figment of my imagination and resemble no one I’ve ever known, or met, or played cards with.