"What do I need to do?" my father asks, his brow crinkled and heavy with thought. His hair is cut short. It is the first thing I notice. I just saw him five days ago, and his hair was longer. He is scruffy now with a grey five o'clock shadow and his hair is short. He is confused, but silent, from the fever. It is nothing serious. He is in hospital, yes. With an infection common among the wheelchair bound. Just with his condition and inability to move when he gets a fever, they want to make sure he isn't having a stroke, or something even more sinister.
They called me last night at 9 pm to tell me they took him by ambulance to the emergency room.
"Do I need to go to the hospital tonight? Does he need me there?" I am sober. I haven't had a drink in 15 months. I can drive at 10 pm to a hospital ninety minutes away. The thought crosses my mind quickly. It is the little gift of sobriety that I notice today.
"No." The nurse says. "There is nothing to be done. He asked me to call you. He is fine. We know what it is, but we just want to make sure there is nothing else." The nurse asks me to call back in an hour. I drink mugwort and peppermint tea and watch a documentary on George Harrison.
They put my father on the phone. It is 11:30 at night, and he is sitting in an ER bay waiting to go to a room. I talk loudly. I scream, actually.
HOW ARE YOU, DAD?
He says he feels fine. I hear the nurse say they are giving him a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia. I scream that I will be there in the morning.
ARE YOU FEELING SICK, DADDY?
NO. I NEVER WAS SICK, ANG!
TRY TO SLEEP!
I HATE HOSPITALS, ANG!
EVERYONE HATES HOSPITALS, DAD!
"What do I need to do?" The morning light is illuminates his eyes, which are growing duller in his older age. They shown like Beezus' eyes once. His jet black hair and crystal blue eyes. He remembers to ask again. It is the fifth time.
"Nothing, Dad. Just get better. Rest. Take it easy." I say it softly.
"I don't need to do anything?"
"Nothing. We are taking care of everything." My sister and I exchange glances. We are both concerned about how often he is asking this question. I touch his hand which is still burning up with fevers. "You are confused right now because of the fever. It is like being in a 103 degree room. It will get better, Dad. I love you. I took care of everything. I talked to the nurse and the doctor."
"They never tell me anything."
"I took care of it. They should tell you too, though. You are fine here. Just sleep if you can."
"Okay." He sits for a few minutes then asks again.
"Do I need to do anything, Ang?"
The children play in the hospital room. They are used to rooms like this, with a television mounted to the ceiling and anti-microbial sanitizer that comes out if you shake your butt near the motion detector. Heh heh heh.
He doesn't pay much attention to the kids today. He is silent, half-lidded, smiling when we catch his eye. He doesn't feel hungry, he says. He wants to know where channel 6 is, and where is his phone. And he keeps asking what he needs to do.
What do I need to do?
The question keeps echoing in my head all afternoon. I know what he means. It feels like we should be doing something. When you are sick, it feels like you should do something to fix it. Something more than watching Price is Right, and cat napping all day. But then it seems more existential as the day wears on. More important. Is he asking because he knows something? Is he scared of dying? Am I scared of dying?
What do I need to do?
I received her birth certificate today. Or rather her Certificate Of Birth Resulting In Stillbirth today. At first it bothered me that it was different. You know, when I applied for it in January. I wanted it to be the same as my other children. But it isn't the same. She died. What I want is for her to be alive. That will never be the same as my other children. It is just a piece of paper.
And yet it feels more than paper. It feels like she whispered to me, her little hummingbird spirit flitting around my ear, whispering, "You didn't dream me, Mama. I was here. I was real. You don't have to do anything anymore, but just rest."
What do I need to do?
You put it away, Mama, after you trace my name with your finger. After you smell it. After you say our names together. After you marvel at the issuance date being my due date, and your birthday. After you tell my grandparents. After you cry.
What do I need to do, baby?
Feel me, Mama. Allow that, finally. Allow yourself to feel me when you need, to smell me on the wind. Allow me to be the windchimes and the door slamming and the shadows right out of your line of vision. Allow me to be the lights that come on in the middle of the night, and the open cabinets. Allow me to be the ladybugs and hummingbirds and the songs that Beezus sings. Allow me to live in your home. Allow me to be magic. Allow me to be a prayer. Allow me to watch over your father while you rest a while.
She lived once. It says it right here. And yet it mostly says on this piece of paper that she died. That her birth was her death. But there were two events. And mostly, it says she was my baby. Someone whispered it.
I heard it loud and clear.