Ticking Clocks

The first collapse came well after dark. I sat straight up in bed, jolted awake by a tremor under me. I reached for my cell phone and pushed the center button. It was 12:18 a.m. I slid out of bed, not bothering to put on my glasses. I’d left the bedroom door ajar just in case, and when I pulled it open I looked toward my father’s room. There he was, on his knees beside the bed as if in prayer. His forehead rested against the mattress, both hands were fisted by his head.

“Are you alright?” I asked, coming to kneel beside him.

“I missed the bed,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“No reason to be sorry. I wish you had called me to help you,” I said, shrinking a little with the words because he’s an independent man who would never ask for help, especially from his daughter.

“I’m alright,” he said, trying to pull himself to a standing position and not having the strength to do it. “Damn bed’s too high to gain leverage,” he grumped.

“Here, let me help you,” I said, standing behind him and putting my hands under his arms to lift him. He got one foot under him and with my help, pushed up to a standing position. He turned around and sat down on the side of the bed, his shoulders hunched, breathing hard. His usually perfectly combed curly hair was sticking up in all directions, and his pajama shirt was twisted so that the buttons crossed his body on the diagonal. “Let’s get your feet up,” I said, lifting his legs. He let me heft the weight of them onto the bed. Then, I covered him with the sheet and blanket.

“Thank you,” he said in a weak, quiet voice I’d never heard before.

“No problem,” I said. “That’s why I’m here. Next time you need to get up, call me. I’ll come help you.”

“Okay,” he said.

I went back to my room, leaving the door open wider than before, laid down on the bed and stared at the ceiling, listening to the ticking clock on the dresser. I hadn’t heard it before either.

All of this had begun with routine blood work. The doctor’s office called him with the results and sent him directly to the emergency room. They’d run tests, and taken more blood. They’d sent slides to California and run long needles into his back to extract bone marrow. Twelve days later, he was diagnosed with cancer. The next day, chemo dripped into his veins. He was sent home after that with orders to return in one week for the next treatment.

I arrived late morning the next day after a three hour drive. I let myself in through the garage door and walked quietly into the den. My father reclined in his chair, asleep. I’d never seen him in pajamas. He usually rises at dawn, dresses, walks four miles, then comes home and prepares his own breakfast. I stood staring at his thin, pale face, his prominent cheek bones, his swollen ankles, so white above his brown slippers. He jerked awake and looked at me before I could change the expression on my face.

“Hey,” he said. “I didn’t hear you drive up. The old man looks a little worse for wear, huh?”

The crash came sometime around 4:30. I didn’t check the time as I bounded out of bed and into the hallway. The bathroom light was on and my father was lying on the floor between the toilet and the wall. He was bleeding.

I bent over his body. “Sorry daughter,” he said, “I thought I could do it without having to wake you.”

“You keep this up and you’re going to break something,” I said. “Then you won’t be nearly so independent.”

We got him to a sitting position on the commode. He rested there with his head in his hands while I washed and bandaged the cut on his elbow. “Do you think you can make it back to bed if I help you?” I asked. He’d not made a move to get up.

“I think so,” he mumbled. “I’m just so damn weak.” As we shuffled back to his room, the grandfather clock in the living room chimed half past the hour. I tucked him into bed and warned him again, more forcefully this time, not to get up alone. “I’ve learned my lesson,” he said.

I laid in bed, watching the darkness turn into the gray of morning. I checked my phone for the time. It was 7:35 a.m. I was surprised at the hour and then remembered daylight savings time had begun sometime between my father’s two falls. I got up from bed and dressed. I stepped out into the hallway and peeked into his room. He was so still. I watched for the covers over his chest to rise and fall before I left the room to brush my teeth.

The house was quiet except for the sound of my father’s clocks. I walked from room to room counting them, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Their ticking filled my head, then the house, rising to a crescendo, tick, Tick, TICK, as I moved from one to the other, reluctantly pushing the hands of time an hour ahead.

2 Responses to “Ticking Clocks”
  1. Gaboo says:

    You’ve led us to share treasured time with your father. Thank you. I personally feel honored that you did.

    May peace and goodwill accompany your father always.


  2. thanks g. I’m honored you read it. I’m missing him on father’s day, but know he’s running free somewhere, or swimming in the ocean he loved. –tw

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