Home > My Life in Shambles(21)

My Life in Shambles(21)
Author: Karina Halle

It takes me a moment to recognize him.

I blink and I blink.

My father was always a big man. As tall as me, though he’d always said he was an inch taller, but definitely with more muscles that later in life turned into bulk. They called him The Bear on the rugby field.

But he’s not a bear anymore.

He’s lost an obscene amount of weight. Maybe a hundred pounds. His thick dark hair that he used to dye is now all white and falling out. His skin is pale though thankfully doesn’t look sallow. Somehow he even looks shorter.

I watch him for a moment, my breath held in my throat, hating myself for not coming sooner. I should have come back the moment they said he was sick. I shouldn’t have assumed it was nothing, no matter what they said. What would have been the harm? So maybe we would have fought or maybe things would end worse, but at least I would have seen him before he got to this.

This doesn’t seem fair.

This hurts.

I should get out of here.

I turn and head to the door but then hear a snort and a loud, “Who’s there?”

I slowly turn around and see him squinting at me, fumbling for his glasses that are on the bedside table.

I go over and grab them, handing them to him.

“It’s me. It’s Padraig.”

He takes his glasses from me and puts them on.

“I can’t fall asleep in these, ye know, I keep breaking them,” he says, clearing his throat. I’m relieved to hear his voice is strong, and when he glances at me through his glasses, his dark eyes are bright.

He raises his brow. “So yer here. I didn’t think you’d come,” he says gruffly. “Your nan said ye would but I didn’t believe it.”

“I would have come sooner,” I say quickly. “I just didn’t know. When I talked to Nan she said ye were fine, that it wasn’t a big deal, that—”

He waves his hand at me dismissively. “Yea, any more of this and they’ll be less of that. I don’t need yer explanations, son. You’re here now.”

“Are ye glad I came?” I ask, like a pitiful child.

He squints at me. “It depends. You here to make my last days a living hell or what?”

“Days?” My heart nearly stops. “Nan told you me you had a few good months left, maybe more.”

He scoffs, closing his eyes and removing his glasses. “What difference does it make? Time, it just goes. Every day, it just goes, faster and faster. When yer near the end, whether it’s a few days or months, it’s all the same. All a bucket of shite.”

I’m not about to argue with him about that.

He opens his eyes and turns to look at me. I know I’m fuzzy to him without his glasses but I have a feeling he prefers it that way. He doesn’t really have to see me.

“So ye here for supper or what?” he asks after a moment.

“I’m here for a long time.”

He frowns. “Why? Don’t tell me it’s because of me. I might hang on for longer than ye think. The devil is funny like that.”

I shrug. “We’ll see how it goes. But I told Nan I’d be here and so I am.”

“So noble, aren’t ye,” he mutters under his breath.

“I want to be here.”

“Away with ye. That’s a lie. She guilted ye into coming here and it worked. But ye don’t have to stay.”

“I asked a girl to marry me.”

He blinks, taken aback. “And was it any use?”

“She said yes. She’s here now. You’ll meet her at dinner.”

He shakes his head. “She’s up the pole, ain’t she.”

“She’s not pregnant. We’re in love. I asked her to marry me and she said yes.” The lying makes me feel uneasy so I add, “Her name is Valerie and she’s lovely.”

He scoffs. “Valerie. And where is she from? Where did you find her?”

“We met a year ago in Dublin.”

“Ah, figures she’d be from the pale.”

“Actually, she’s from Philadelphia.”

“An American?” he says, looking more impressed than Nan did. “And so what on earth could she want with ye? She a rugby fan?”

“She doesn’t even know the rules. So, no.”

“Just a fan of you, then?”

“It appears so.”

“I suppose you want me to offer you congratulations or be proud of ye?” he asks tiredly.

I swallow hard. That would be nice, yes.

He sighs. “Well, congratulations then. Sorry I can’t be more chuffed about it. The painkillers stuff my head up a lot. Then there’s the whole dying thing.”

I wonder if he wasn’t dying if he’d still give a rat’s arse about my getting married or not. I need for this to matter to him.

I need to make him proud.

But I can’t force that. Perhaps it’s too early. Perhaps this is just the first stage of repairing what we had before it’s too late.

“Are ye in a lot of pain?” I ask.

“Sometimes. Like now. Usually when I wake up.” He tries to sit up straighter and jerks his chin to the dresser. “Yer Nan puts the medication up there, like she thinks I’m going to take it all at once and get smashed. Do me a favor and bring them over.”

I go over to the bottles and plop them down on my dad’s lap.

“Are they all for pain?”

He nods, slipping his glasses back on to read the label. “One is for my blood pressure. Apparently that’s still important. I dunno why. The rest are the good stuff.”

He’s fumbling with the lid of one, trying to open it but his hands are weak.

“Here, let me.” I take the bottle from him and try but the numbness and the tremors in my hand from earlier come back with a vengeance. I drop the bottle on the bed and quickly put my hand behind me to hide the shaking.

“What’s wrong with ye?” he asks, taking the bottle and frowning at me. “And I ain’t a cripple, ye know.”

“I’ll get you some water,” I tell him quickly, and with my good hand, I take the empty cup from beside his bed and head out into the kitchen. I run the tap for a few seconds and splash cold water on my face, trying to calm down. I pinch my eyes shut and take in a few deep breaths, water running over the tip of my nose, before I hold out my hand in front of me and look at it.

It’s still. Steady as a rock.

Like nothing happened.

Thank God, I think, and promptly fill up the glass with water.

“Did ye get lost?” my dad says as I come back in his room. “It’s been so long since you’ve been back, I wouldn’t have blamed ye.”

I give him the glass and watch him swallow his pills.

Then I surprise myself by asking, “Can I have a few of those?”

He coughs on his water. “What for? Are ye still in pain from the concussion?”

I nod. I lie. “Yeah.”

“I heard that ye were almost healed. That ye were going to be going back to the game soon.”

“It’s going to take some time. Meanwhile, I’ll be here and I’ll rest.”

He gives me a wry smile. “I doubt you’ll be resting if ye have yer wan here.”

I chuckle. “I don’t know about that. Nan is in charge and she’s placed us as far away from each other as possible.”

He takes out a handful of pills and places them in my palm. “Then you might need these after all. But don’t take them too often. One pill will do.”

“Thank you, Dad,” I tell him. “Do you need anything else?”

“I’m grand,” he says.

“Then I’ll see you at dinner?”

“If I’m not dead before then, yes.”

Even though my visit with my dad this afternoon didn’t go exactly as I’d hoped, I figured a few days with Valerie around and he might be as charmed by her as I am.

I also figured I’d have some time with Valerie alone before dinner, maybe to head into town and check out some shops or take a walk, but when I got back from the cottage, I ran into Nan in the kitchen who told me that Valerie was taking a nap and wasn’t to be disturbed. She eyed her favorite wooden spoon as she said that, so I knew I shouldn’t take my chances.

“Can I help ye with anything?” I ask as I watch her putter about the kitchen, taking vegetables out of the fridge. “Don’t ye have that maid, Inga, or whatever her name is?”

“I don’t need yer help but you’re a dear for asking,” she says rather cheerfully as she brings out a sharp knife from the drawer. “And Inga is long gone. I caught her having a fling with one of the guests so she had to go. Right back to Sweden, for feck’s sake.”

“Shite. This place really is turning into Fawlty Towers.”

“It doesn’t matter anyway, it all worked out for the best. You remember Gail from next door?”

How could I forget Gail? She was the neighbor’s daughter I’d lost my virginity to. Nice girl but a bit of a mess.

“I remember,” I say carefully. Maybe she forgot the time she caught us together.

“Well, she was studying abroad, art or something exotic like that, and then decided she wanted to come back home to Shambles. Frankly, I think she ran out of money. All the girls in that house seem to come back home for a wee while. I’d gone over there to get some eggs from their hens and she was looking for a job and there ye have it. She’s our new maid.”

“Oh,” I say. “That’s good.” Gail and I had a rather tumultuous time in our teens. You know how it is when you’re sleeping with one of the girls next door. I didn’t really see her much when I started playing professionally but she’s always been weird around me. Hopefully she’s gotten over it by now.

“Yeah, she’s a real help she is. She makes breakfast in the mornings so I can have a wee break, cleans the rooms, does the guests’ washing. And in the evenings she’ll come over for dinner, help with serving the guests if there are any, and help your dad on over. He can walk fine, he just needs a little support some days and ye know how he is, he won’t dare rely on his mother-in-law.”

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