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Short Story: Already Sold

Short Story: Already Sold

Kate’s weekly visits to her father are bittersweet, as they trigger fond memories but also feelings of guilt and regret as he gradually disappears into confusion and fantasy.

Short Story: Already Sold

Kate woke with a start. The voice echoing in her head faded into the early morning. Saturday peeped through her curtains, tiptoeing around in the darkness outside. Ignoring its inevitable advances, she closed her eyes, burrowing back into her pillow, trying to fall back towards that voice and the source of it. An image formed of her father, mulling over something, hauling out memories buried deep in the recesses of his mind. He was rubbing his forehead, absorbing, accepting and finding peace. “Stupid memory, why doesn’t it work?” he was saying.

Where had the week gone? Kate’s brain was now awake and running through the questions that came at her in waves, both large and small, constantly washing up and landing at her feet. A common theme that always made her heart sink went like this: “Where’s your mum? I haven’t seen her for months. She hasn’t been coming home. I think she’s left me for another man. Have you heard from her? Daughters are close to their mothers, aren’t they?”

Kate would inhale slowly before giving a soft, casual response. “No Dad, Mum would never leave you on purpose. She died, four years ago now, remember? Doesn’t time go fast?”

“Oh yes, that’s right. Silly me, why did I forget that? Yes, yes.” This was often followed by a soft theatrical banging of his head on the nearest wall.

Relief would flood through him as he realised his beloved wife hadn’t left him, followed by realisation that this truth had been hovering out there, floating just out of his reach. Kate had been warned about using the word ‘remember’ as it may cause her father some frustration, but in the early stages it worked for him. She tended to stick to what worked, until it didn’t.

Sighing as she burrowed deeper into her pillow, Kate wished sleep would claim one more hour. But the thoughts lingered. She pictured her father’s puzzled face as he searched for answers that she couldn’t always give. White lies had crept in and taken up space between them, as if they’d always belonged there.

Almost by accident, Kate had found herself inviting them in; she was failing to keep him present in the day with her. She could still recall her first slip.

“Where’s your mother?” he’d asked, looking up from the couch in her living room. “She went off somewhere before.”

As Kate glanced out at the beautiful day a thought popped into her head and, before she could stop it, it flew out of her mouth. “Out getting more plants, no doubt.”

“Yes, no doubt.” he’d said, and chuckled.

It was too late to take it back.

But as a coldness wrapped around the lie and sank into the pit of her stomach, so did the realisation that her response had created a chuckle, rather than the latest disbelief and heightened emotion. His sense of humour made Saturdays a day to look forward to.

Realising she may as well just get up, Kate hauled her tired body out of bed. Strolling through the lounge in her bare feet, she stood on a puzzle piece and stooped to pick it up. The piece felt so familiar in her hand. Her father loved doing puzzles with her. She’d lay them out on the coffee table for his visits and they’d chat about the pictures.

Kate would leave the room and he’d sit eating snacks and pondering contentedly over a handful of puzzle pieces for hours, her dog laying at his feet. This puzzle was his favourite and had taken up permanent residence on the table. Each week she’d remove 10 or so pieces and leave it to be completed on his next visit.

Kate had tried to move her father in with her once, during a holiday period. Unfortunately, she’d found that confusion didn’t sleep. In fact, it became more restless during the evening and walked through the house unchecked at night.

Kate had had a constant fear, as she lay in bed, that if she closed her eyes confusion would walk out into the street and lose her father somewhere.

The two of them became too exhausted to function during the day so eventurally, she’d had to admit defeat.

Pouring a steaming cup of coffee to get herself moving, Kate hoped that today would be a relaxing visit. Recently, her dad had been more content to just stay in and chat.

There had been fewer questions about why he couldn’t leave the rest home when she did, or walk Kate to her car, or just drive home with her.

“But why can’t I go home, too? Where’s my car?” he used to ask as she made to leave.

“You don’t drive now, Dad.”

A frown creased his face as he stamped his foot. “What do you mean I don’t drive? Where’s my wallet? I’ll show you my licence; I’m an excellent driver.”

Sometimes extreme reactions like this would cause Kate to overstretch and abandon any story resembling the truth. She would reach out and grab onto anything to halt the downward spiral. Once, she’d brought car trouble into it, which was a terrible move. Cars are not her area of expertise, they were his.

“Your car is in the garage, Dad, it didn’t get a warrant, but it’ll be out soon.”

“What do you mean? I just drove it yesterday. I look after my own cars! What do you mean the mechanic has it? There’s nothing wrong with it. They better not touch anything on it.”

As his face grew redder, Kate had ducked and dived and eventually navigated her way back through the tunnel of chaos she’d wandered into. Hugs and kind words ended the raging and, before she knew it, he’d followed her calmly to the door, throwing cheeky comments to the other residents wandering past.

Unfortunately, sometimes Kate would walk straight back into chaos at the door when he again expected to leave. Luckily, he never became truly angry at her; he was too good-natured for that. Still, Kate’s white-lie box was in danger of overflowing: “You’re staying here just for tonight, I love you, I’ll come back and see you soon.” Her farewell kisses would bring instant calm, and a small sigh of resignation. But the guilt around her lies, coupled with leaving him there, always pushed her heavily out the door.

It was a beautiful day now that the darkness had lifted, and Kate was looking forward to seeing her dad’s smile. She pulled up a chair at the outside table and sat enjoying her breakfast in the stillness of the morning. A nuzzle on her leg reminded her that she had misplaced her dog’s lead yesterday. She reached down and rubbed his soft ears, knowing he’d be disappointed not to be coming along. Sure enough, his big brown eyes looked longingly towards the door as she prepared to leave. Kate kicked herself; it was such a comfort to take him along but she didn’t have time to find it. It was important to keep to routine.

The drive along the familiar country road never took very long as Kate’s car covered the short distance to the home. Yet it never ceased to amaze her what a multitude of thoughts she could cram in on an eight-minute trip. This morning, rather than worrying about what might be or what might have changed, she took in the surroundings. Sun-kissed mountains loomed in the distance and trees in every shade of green swayed in the gentle breeze. And then she was there.

She punched the numbers into the locked door and found him in the quiet lounge. He smiled as he saw her.

“I’m thinking of selling up.” The words greeted Kate as she eased into the chair beside him. “This place is nice enough, but the people are a bit weird.”

He was staring dreamily out a distant window as Kate took his hand. The usual guilt rose in her as she contemplated what he had said. Following his gaze outside and squashing the discomfort down, alongside the words that were about to form, she squeezed his hand.

As expected, the moment of stillness was broken when the lounge door burst open. It was old mate Brian, busy on today’s mission. He approached several heavy chairs with his usual enthusiasm, dragging them one by one around a table.

Standing back, satisfied with his work, he shuffled back out. Kate held her breath, awaiting her father’s response. “See what I mean? He doesn’t even know what he’s doing. He’s an idiot.”

A mildly irritated expression crossed his face, while a hint of his usual humour lingered around the corners of his mouth. Kate was pleased to see it there.

The short rant that followed was half-hearted, and mainly about a poor work ethic and lack of skill in his workers. He was clearly torn between staying in the general comfort and routine of this place, or leaving his ‘job’.

Kate’s father’s jobs changed so regularly it was difficult to keep up. He’d become the resident storyteller. Last Sunday, he’d been an army colonel. Proudly in charge of his troops, he’d led them into many successful battles. His animation while reliving a recent mission had lit up the room. Dawn, Eve and Elsa had wandered in and hung on every word as he praised them for their efforts on the mission. Kate’s spirits had soared seeing him hold his audience so captive.

Today, it appeared he owned and managed the often-busy motel they were both now sitting in. Stories flowed about his employees’ antics as peace crept back into the lounge. Kate began to relax, entertained by his imagination. Her intelligent and witty father could always spin a good yarn.

Brian reappeared often, sparking various responses. A toy soldier wound tight, Brian was always busy: he sat down, stood up, then moved more chairs, precise in his furniture stacking. A stuck window bewildered him, and frustration built between both men as a process of constant hinge flicking began. Anticipating a knee-jerk, possibly angry response to his mutterings, Kate jumped up quickly to release the lock, receiving a farewell salute as he smiled and wandered back out.

“I think I might get a smaller place.” The words echoed around the now empty room, before swooping in to tug at her heart.

Out in the hallway someone berated Brian: “Leave the damn doors alone!”

A brief silence followed as another resident popped her head in. “Oh,” she said, eyeing them both. “I see… It’s like that, is it? Bad man.” Her usual friendly greeting was absent today as she walked backward in retreat, uttering profanities.

Kate’s father watched his friend leave before sighing and repeating, “Yeah, I’m thinking of selling.”

“James, lunchtime!” a voice called.

He was slow to rise. Taking his arm, Kate led him gently towards the sing-song voice.

“JAMES! Oh, sorry, he’s with you.”

“It’s okay,” Kate said, returning the caregiver’s smile, “He can come now.”

The pair of them trailed behind her, a familiar route down the long hallway.

As they rounded the corner, a slight huddled frame appeared; she was being led gently out of Kate’s father’s bedroom. Unfazed, he folded in behind the trespassing stranger, boarding the afternoon train towards lunch, pausing only to hug Kate goodbye. Time builds complacency, Kate reflected, as she stared over his shoulder into his violated privacy.

Releasing him, she watched him move on without her, chatting to those around him. Shamefully, now out of view, she punched the secret numbers in again and slipped out, closing the door firmly behind her. Click. An unwilling gatekeeper.

AUTHOR NICOLE HIGBY

Nicole Higby is married with four grown children. She is a Year 7/8 teacher in a large primary school in Hamilton, NZ and has completed a Masters in Engaging Boys in writing. She enjoys teaching literacy and writing stories, as well as gardening, hiking, running and biking. She is currently working on a number of short stories and a book about her journey with her father, who has dementia. He inspires her to write.

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