I can’t be a Father

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Year 0

“Mr. Stanner? Mr. Stanner?”

What on earth do they expect me to do? The swaddled bundle approaches swiftly in the nurse’s arms. A squalling sigh emanates and I suppress a shudder.

The nurse, misreading my revulsion for fear, thrusts the bundle in my direction. “Don’t worry, if you support the head, it will keep the newborn safe and stable.”

I grin hollowly. There goes my stability.

I automatically support the tiny body and oversized head, staring down at this…pink faced creature, with-

His mother’s dark hair and gray eyes,

my chin and nose,

our cold expression.

The hell am I supposed to do with this?

 




Year 1

“WAAAAHHHHHH!”

I punch up the volume on the TV remote, my hand roughly smoothing up my forehead and through my hair in exasperation. Seriously, when does this stop? The crying… the wailing… the crying and the wailing.

What god should I sacrifice to in order to make it stop?

A hiccup interrupts the litany, lull to the renewed storm. I massage my temples in forced restraint.

Everyone kept saying that babies are adorable, that they have cute faces and angelic temperaments. Obviously not this one.

This one only succeeds in testing my patience…

I pick up the bottle of beer and toasted the screaming snot. Let’s see who’ll win this little battle of wills, I think snidely, as the TV drowns out the screams.

I toss back another burning mouthful to scorch my throat. The fire makes me grin.

Oh, I think I’ll win.

 




Year 7

Fucking temper trap.

I watch the little minion with my face, bleary eyes awake with danger as it leans toward the television with a lurid grin. Idiotic characters prance for entertainment and at once I feel like the fool.

The parasite is growing. Soon, it will be bigger, better, stronger, angrier.

But for today, I can drown the thought of it with another beer.

The shadows of the evening stretch into morning. The sleeping bundle of legs and elbows seems almost innocent under the guile of sleep. I stare at it silently, wondering after its mother and the new man she has in her life. Better him than me, I don’t need her anymore.

I glare at the bundle with her face, a mockery in repose and I choose not to respond to the old internal taunt. A conception fraught with anger and betrayal, yet -miraculously- the bastard has my face. My features melded in with hers, a funhouse mirror that is much my rightful punishment as it is her revenge.

His mother’s dark hair and gray eyes,

my chin and nose,

our cold expression.

I straighten the blanket over the softly snoring bundle before wandering on my woozy path to bed. A part of me whispers of weakness, but I ignore it.

I may be cold, but not even I am that cruel.

 




Year 15

What NERVE.

The house is empty. I sit alone in the recliner, beer welded to my hand. The darkness comforts me, I take another swallow and sigh with the weight of the day. My burdens evaporate with the yeast.

A letter sits crumpled on the floor, I flick it off with the other hand as I take another swallow. All the fucks I give, you bitch!

She wants him back. After 15 years without even laying eyes on the child, she claims him as her own. I choke back a dry laugh, the tremor sloshes liquid down my front.

A new husband who wants children, she said. She could no longer conceive, she said. I couldn’t possibly be that heartless, she said.

Ha! She doesn’t even know me.

For the first time, I wanted it… him. If only because she does. Funny how this turns into a hoarding contest, to keep what the other wants. My pleasure in withholding is greater than my love for the bastard with my face.

I am pathetic.

The door bangs open, and there he is.

His mother’s dark hair and gray eyes,

my chin and nose,

our cold expression.

His eyes graze over me without emotion. I return the stare, but for the first time, I can feel something stir in the block of ice in my chest. Impossible to pin a finger to the name, I tilt my head and frown. He visibly shrugs, and turns away towards the stairs.

“Wait.”

Unaware that I’d even spoken, the word stops me as much in my tracks as his. Arrested. He stiffens.

“…How was…” shit, I don’t do this shit! “Did you have a good day?”

A bark of laughter. He steps on the staircase and ascends quickly out of sight. Music blasts upstairs, I sink deeper into my chair, a palm slapping painfully against my forehead.

What’s the use? It’s too late.

Too fucking late.

 




Year 37

I always knew cancer would get me.

It was a tight draw between that and a heart attack. I guess cancer won, though the doctor says it’s a tight margin. Says I should quit my bad habits and cling to some semblance of a life.

Fuck that. Bottle in one hand, cigarettes in the other, that’s the way I’m gonna go.

Nothing to hold me back, I’ll at least reduce the misery on the way out.

Here I am, a dying old man stuck in a hospital bed with nothing but bad habits and regrets. No one sees me. I have no one and I try to remember that I wanted it that way.

I’m the one who drove everyone away.

Even her.

I’ve been thinking more about her lately. She’s been dead for five years now, and I sometimes wonder, in the weaker moments, if she will meet me on the other side.

Other times, I laugh at my sentimentality. Try to pretend it doesn’t still hurt, that I don’t still love her, and miss her, like the first time I saw her.

I roll over to my side and stare out the window. Now that I have nothing to lose, I am free to examine the emotions I’d swallowed down with every bottle and tumbler.

How much she’d hurt me somewhere deep inside, a place I never wanted to admit existed. The words I said, ringing in my head with accompanying pain like a gong that screams even as it is struck. With hindsight, I can clearly see the sadness in her face, resigned to the outcome. I saw her carefully constructed composure the day she said she was leaving.

That she was leaving him with me.

That she never wanted to see me again.

I still remember his face. Innocent in birth, solemn in adolescence, somber in young adulthood. I wonder where he is now, whether he found happiness with her after all. Was he also a father, now? Did he treat his son as coldly as I did?

Did I cut him so deeply?

Too late for apologies. Twenty-two years ago, he’d stepped through the door without even a goodbye, her letter clutched firmly in his hand. I couldn’t blame him, how much worse could be out there, after what I had put him through, in here?

I sigh.

The cloudy day succumbs to twilight, the nurse closes the blinds and leaves me in the claustrophobic antiseptic tomb. I bump up the morphine drip as the pain returns, a gnawing carnivore devouring my wretched body down to bones, barely ahead of my cremation.

The gray fog sweeps over me and I drift away…

“Mr Stanner?”

“Mr Stanner!!”

I shudder away, the nurse leans over me and checks the cable connections. “Mr Stanner, how are you feeling today?” she chirps.

I grunt. Her cheerful charity had worn through me long ago.

“Feel up for a visitor?”

I send a fierce glower towards the door. “If it’s the insurance guy, tell him to go to hell. If it’s Jehovah’s witnesses, also tell them to go to hell,” I growl.

She tut-tuts with a motherly shake of her head. “Didn’t look like either of those folks, more like a lawyer or businessman, or something,” she tweets cheerfully.

I open my mouth to give her a fine slice of cheerfulness myself, but I’m interrupted by the clatter of the opening door. The fine suit did seem to imply businessman or lawyer, and the graying hair at the temples belied a stress that conflicted with the laugh-lines on the visitor’s face that, oddly, contained-

His mother’s dark hair and gray eyes,

my chin and nose,

…what is that expression?

My eyes widen in surprise as he approaches the side of the bed, sets his briefcase on the floor and reaches for my hand.

No longer was the expression cold, there lies love and warmth that squeezed tears to the corners of my eyes and swelling to my throat. I gasp when his hands wrap around mine. I ignore the cool touch of his wedding ring as he squeezes my hand and attempts a smile on sad, contorted lips.

“Hello…Father.”

My lips tremble, a tear slides down my withered cheek. I squeeze back with all the pent up emotion of 37 years.

“Hello, Andrew…my son.”

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Published by

opalflame

I am artist, analyst, author, poet, composer, musician to name a few aspects of myself. A bit of a jack of trades, I dabble into many fields that encourage the blossom of imagination and allow me to channel my creativity. I dream vividly and view the world through the lens of optimism and opportunity while acknowledging the ink and shadows.

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