by William Michaelian
Due to age aníadd varyious illnewssess, my heands thak shake, meiaking it hard fore me 2 twoo type..... Burfi but if yoeu wil berat bar e iwith me therie is tomsething very impetortaant I want tow say. It has to dooo wiith soemthing thaastt haap ttook palace madyny yeares ahoago.
It takes Daddy over an hour to type these words. When I see what he is trying to do, I offer to help him. I say he can tell me the story, while I write it down in a notebook. But he says his memories have to be typed. For future generations. For my kids, and for theirs yet to come.
I weat want too edsasdo do it myeselgfself.
Okay, Daddy. Do it yourself. If you change your mind, Iíll be in the kitchen.
Poor guy. I know what he wants to write about. But itís not something I want my kids to read, ever. As it is, with each passing year, he remembers more things that didnít happen, that couldnít have happened. He took good care of his mother. He loved her. Still, he insists he caused her death, even though it was an accident. While he was repairing something on the porch, she somehow crawled into the fireplace and then couldnít get out. When he noticed the terrible smell of burning hair and flesh coming from the chimney, he ran into the house and found her. It was a tragedy, not murder. Later on, the story changed. His mother didnít crawl into the fireplace, she was pushed. By him. And as imagined guilt twisted his aging mind, he decided that he had not only pushed Grandma into the fireplace, he had prevented her from escaping by putting a heavy chair in front of the opening.
The truth is, my grandmother was having trouble taking care of herself. Some days she could, some days she couldnít. But she always thought she could. Thatís what made it so hard for Daddy to help. If he offered to do something for her that she thought of as a manís work, that was fine. Personal hygiene or food preparation were different. Whenever he tried to cook her something, she threw a fit, even when she hadnít eaten for days. She wasnít hungry. Or she remembered having a big meal that she had fixed for company twenty years before. Because of the same faulty reasoning, it was impossible to give her a bath. Once or twice a year, when walking became too painful, she let him cut her toenails. Her fingernails, though, she chewed off herself.
Daddy? How are you doing in there?
I eamam not suerr why i did it. I sholeud be in jeial.. Whey why dit they alet me gp? Iam eaaamonstrer. a crimiennal.
Why donít you take a break now? Iíve got some soup ready. Daddy? Are you listening to me? Come on. Let the typewriter rest. The keys are getting tired. See?
It isnít easy, but I get him to take his hands away and put them in his lap. At first he yells when I touch him, and his back stiffens. Then, little by little, he starts to relax. Seeing him act this way makes me wonder. Is this the way his own mother acted? And does it bother him that Iím a woman and not a man? Somehow, I canít imagine my brother, Andy, in this situation. What would he do? What would he say, after years of being a son and submitting to his fatherís will? What can a man tell another man when one of them wants to do something and the other thinks itís his job to prevent it? And then, as Daddy starts eating, it occurs to me. I am not his daughter anymore. I am his mother.
After we finish our lunch, he falls asleep on the couch. For awhile, I consider putting the typewriter away. But I know heíll miss it if it isnít in its usual place. Another idea I have is to take the machine into my bedroom while heís napping, and quickly type out the story as it really happened. Then, when he wakes up, I can praise him for a job well done, and maybe re-convince him of the truth. Itís tempting. Also impossible. The only thing that will convince him is his mother telling him herself. It doesnít seem fair. Of course, it could be worse. We could have a fireplace here, in this house. I used to want one, too. So did my husband. But not anymore. He says maybe the next house. I say okay, if there is a next house. Right now, we donít have the time or energy to think about moving.
I really didnít know Grandma that well. She was kind of a loner. She had her garden and her fruit trees, and she fed her birds. Thatís one thing I remember. They were her birds. Crows, sparrows, jays, starlings. Grandpa, I never knew. He died two years before I was born. According to Daddy, he was a nice guy who smoked a pipe and kept his feelings to himself. Frustrated, he said, but too good-hearted to do anything about it. Frustrated about what? Daddy never said. Which probably meant he was frustrated with his wife. Or maybe he was disappointed in himself. All I can do is guess.
Burning to death in oneís own fireplace seems an awful thing. And yet Grandma didnít even cry out. What must it have been like for Daddy, finding her like that? Itís no wonder it bothers him so. I just wish there was something I could do to put his mind at ease.
Another idea I have is to smother him with a pillow while he sleeps. But the thought sickens me. On the one hand, his suffering would be over. On the other, mine would never end. At least it wouldnít until someone returned the favor. If he would only forget. Why canít he forget? Heís forgotten so many other things. Sometimes he looks at me and I know he doesnít remember who I am. Iím familiar, thatís all. Or he thinks Iím one of his full-grown granddaughters.
Daddy. Sleep, now. Sleep. Do not think of the past. Dream you are lying in a beautiful meadow, looking up at white, fluffy clouds. Sleep.
The telephone rings. I go to the kitchen and pick it up. Itís my husband, Sam. Heís at work. He wants to know how things are going, and if he should stop at the store for anything on his way home. I tell him yes, I am running low on sanity. Then, as he always does, he apologizes for something that is no oneís fault. I love you, he says.
Sam loves me. I love Sam. I hope it will be enough.
That was Sam on the phone. He says hi.
Foregihve m e for what i habve sdonje.
Thatís right, Daddy. Good. Go ahead. You tell your story.
William Michaelianís newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelianís other books and links to this siteís other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.