Flash fiction selection from the 2007 issue
My Father, Like a Bird
by Francine Witte
I stand in the doorway of my father’s room. Way too afraid to go in. All around me, hospital stink and loudspeaker hum. A stroke, the doctor had said.
In this room, there is only one bed, and in it, a man hooked up to machines, head propped back. His mouth open like a tiny bird waiting for food.
I check the room number. I check the visitor’s pass. Stand there for a moment, watching this stranger breathing my father’s air.
Because this could not be my father. My father is a young, thin main. Dark, wavy hair. And there we are, still at the beach. We walk to the edge of the ocean, white foam bubbling at my toes. Too cold, I say, and he scoops me up and runs us into a wave. Later, he buys me ice cream and squeezes my hand.
But now, there’s this man in a hospital bed. Tiny and sparrow-boned. A nurse pads in, wiggles some wires and tells me to take his hand. “It’s a good sign,” she says, “if he squeezes back.”
She is so starchy white, I wonder if her father ever tossed her into a wave. “Go on,” she says, “he’s all alone in there.” And I think of this stranger, my father, floating in an ocean inside his head. Wings too wet to fly.
That’s when I take his hand and hold it and hold it till he squeezes back, just like he did all those many years ago.