One of the closes relationships in human society is the relationship between parent and child. It doesn’t matter if the parent is old or young or if the child is old or young. A parent is usually the first and early on the most important relationship any of us have. When a parent dies it leaves a void that can seldom be filled.
A writer has a responsibility to write about death. Life begins with birth and ends with death. No writer can ignore this truth. If one or both parents of the writer should die before the writer, dealing with this loss is a valid subject for the writer. Remember, the writer must use the specific concrete to get to the abstract universal.
When a flash fiction or short story writer writes about the death of a parent the writer is writing about all parents, all children and the death of all relationships.
The following short story is based upon the death of my father. It is 90% true.
Hills Beyond The Bridge
He was too weak to get out of bed and slept on his back under a white sheet in the white room, only his head uncovered by the sheet. I sat in a chair beside the bed. Another skeletal old man slept under a white sheet in the other bed. Through the screen of the open window I could see a railway bridge with green hills beyond the bridge, the bright blue sky full of swiftly moving white clouds. On the white pillow, my father’s dark brown thin face began to turn toward me. He was cleanly shaved. What hair he had was cut close to the scalp. The room smelled of urine.
“Hugo?” the face said. “Is that you?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “It’s me, Dad.”
“Is your mother here?”
“Tammy’s bringing Mom.”
He was trying to make me out. I was fifty six and he was ninety two and his sight was nearly gone.
“Are you doing okay?” he asked.
“I’m doing okay, Dad.”
“School okay?” he asked.
“School’s fine. I might even have a talent for teaching. Better late than never.”
“That’s right, champ.”
In his youth he’d been a pretty good light heavy weight. He’d fought under the lights of Madison Square Garden. The face seemed to be smiling at me. I couldn’t tell.
“I’m going to be published,” I said.
“Good, good,” my father said. “That’s what you always wanted.”
“It’s just a local weekly, but they want to showcase my stories.”
“Maybe someone will want to publish the entire collection, but at least it’ll help me get a job after my fellowship runs out.”
“You staying in Pittsburgh?”
“I’ll never leave Pittsburgh.”
“It’s a good town,” he said.
“It’s a good town.”
“It’s been a good town for me and your mother. I wasn’t always good in it but it’s a good town.”
“It’s a good town.”
“Well,” he said, “you kept at it all these years.”
“All these years.”
I had just turned twenty when I got back from Vietnam and told him I was going to be a writer. He told me writing was a hobby for rich white boys. During the year I was in Vietnam I sent home to Mom most of my pay. It was this that he had used to get my two brothers and two sisters, all younger than I was, and Mom out of the ghetto and into the suburbs. It wasn’t that he hadn’t been trying to get them out. He was a truly fine electric welder at J&L and then US Steel and he drove a jitney out of the Hill District, too. It was just that he could never get them out until I sent home those nice, fat checks every month for a year.
“Maybe,” he said, “maybe things would have happened for you sooner if you didn’t have to help me.”
My throat tightened up. “I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready in my twenties or my thirties or even in my forties.” For years I drank too much, slept around and had contempt for regular employment. It’s probably why now I don’t have a woman and family of my own. I’ve always been a bad bet. The reason I joined the army at eighteen was to get away from him coming home drunk and beating up my mother. I wanted to kill him.
“No, Dad, I wasn’t ready.”
“Well,” he said, “I want to thank you for what you did.”
My throat tightened up.
He said, “Now you got your shot.”
“I got my shot.”
Footsteps were coming down the hall. I looked around. Mom and my sister Tammy came quietly into the room.
Filed under: Commentaries Tagged: | child, Dad, death, dies, family, father, fiction, flash fiction, ghetto, Hill District, home, human society, J&L, kill, life, mom, mother, old, parent, Pittsburgh, published, relationship, rich, school, short story, sister, teaching, true, US Steel, Vietnam, white boys, write, writer, writing, young