I know that he is gone. I felt it when I awoke this morning. I felt it in the air as I came through his front door. I don’t know why but I go to the kitchen and boil the kettle before I go into to see him. A cup of tea seems appropriate for some reason. He would have wanted that, he loved asking, ‘do ya want a cup of tea’. The room is exactly as I had left it the night before and he is just as I had left him. His eyes are open and staring straight ahead. If they were closed, it wouldn’t be as obvious. I reach over and put my hand over his face and pull his eyelids down just like they do in those crime series on the television. It feels odd to touch him like that, without his consent. It feels odd anyway; we weren’t exactly a touchy, touchy family. I wait for him to question what I am doing but there’s nothing. Now with his eyes closed, he looks like he is resting, only the coldness of his body betrays the fact that he’s not with us anymore. I sit down into the chair that I have occupied for the past couple of months. The cancer chair, I had started to call it. He didn’t like that, ‘give it a name and you give it power’, he would say. He didn’t like being sick, didn’t like that it made him weak, not physically weak, but weak of mind.
Letting a disease get the better of him. I just stare at him, I wonder if I should call a doctor or an ambulance or something? It’s just him and me. I want to say something but I just stare. There’s no urgency in either of us.
The letterbox bangs closed as the postman retrieves his hand. I hear the letters hit the floor and I realise that they are addressed to a man that will never get to read them. A tinge of sadness comes over me as that thought lingers around in my mind, there’s lots he’ll never get to do. There will be no more chats, no more arguments, no more anything. I feel a tear well up in my eye and freefall down my cheek. I swipe it off my face before it makes it to my chin and falls to the floor. I feel embarrassed for showing any emotion. I didn’t pick that up off of the ground. The apple never falls far from the tree. Showing emotion, I felt guilt, ashamed. Why? I don’t know!
There’s no one here. I look back at him lying peacefully in his bed. I detect what I think is the remains of a smile on his lips; at least that’s what I hope it is. I hope that it’s from our conversation last night. We went through the whole meaning of life concept, what was I thinking? Talking to a dying man about death. I knew that this was coming for so long now that my feelings catch me by surprise. I am shocked, I think. I should phone the shop to tell Maria not to open. She has worked for him forever. Maybe I should tell her in person? Yes, that would be what he would want. Oh God, I start to think about the funeral.
I wonder will Tony come home for the funeral. Christ, I’ll have to arrange everything. It’s only Tony and me but he’s in New York. Last time he called, he wasn’t sure if he would come home, when it happened like. He is, was his father though. They hadn’t spoken in years, not since Tony announced that he was gay and then ran back to America. The father would ask me every so often, how himself was getting on? Himself being Tony. That changed when Tony met Robert, he sent a lovely letter, telling us about moving in together and how happy he was. Then the father would ask, ‘how’s himself getting on with himself?’ I often wondered was he genuinely asking or was he just letting it be known that he hadn’t forgotten about the ‘odd lad’, as he sometimes called him. I just gave him the Irish answer. They’re grand. No matter what is wrong with anyone in Ireland, they’re grand. If it were me, would I come home to his funeral I wonder? Jesus, I don’t know, it must’ve been hard for Tony, not being able to speak to him. I don’t know if I’d bother my arse. He didn’t come home when the father had been diagnosed. That news wasn’t good, he wasn’t given long, a few months at best. They were right; it had only been a few months. Jesus if Tony was ever going to come home it would have been then. There would have been no give in the father though. Maybe it will be easier for Tony to see him now, now that he can’t throw any hurtful remarks at him.
I decide against calling down to the shop to see Maria. I have so much to do; I’ll just give her a call in a few minutes, tell her the news and get her to close up the shop. That will be one less job for me to do. I suppose I had better phone Tony and tell him before anybody else. The phone rings and rings and rings, eventually Tony answers. There’s an uneasy silence on the line as he digests the news. He obviously puts his hand over the phone and I can hear his muffled voice telling Robert. He still doesn’t know if he’ll be home for the funeral. He says he’ll ring me later. I’m left in silence again, I stare at the mobile phone in my hand, I decide to ring our G.P.
He says he’ll be straight over, I tell him there’s no need to rush. God I hate using the phone. I phone the shop and a chirpy Maria answers, all ready for a chat. The news hits her hard, I can’t quite make out what she’s saying but I think that she has agreed to close the shop and put up a death notice.
I reach across the bed and put my hand on top of his. Jesus, I pull it back quickly, he’s freezing. I return my hand on top of his; this may be the last time that I actually get to be on my own with him. Funerals are busy things; people feel the need to be present. It’s hard to get a minute to yourself, talk about a minute with the deceased. I just stand there with my hand over his. I don’t know what to say but I feel like I should be saying something.
‘The ‘odd lad’ was asking for you’.
I can feel a bout of the sniggers coming on. I am laughing now, laughing hard.
‘ Himself and the boyfriend are coming home to see you; I think they’re even going to stay here, under your roof. What do you think of that?’
I smile and I think the remains of the smile on his lips, smile back at me.
‘You must be dead, you never flinched a muscle there’.
The doorbell rings. I rub his hand before going to answer it. That’s the affection out of the way.
The doctor insists on doing what doctors do. After poking and prodding him for ten minutes or so, he turns and gives me that slow shake of his head that you see in the movies. The signal of, no, he’s not going to make it, or yes he’s definitely dead. He pats me on the back and says he’s sorry for my loss. He’s already filling out the paper work, I’m wondering if he’s planning on charging the father for this visit? I suppose he has to. Whatever paperwork he’s after filling out, I’m now just after signing it, so whether he’s going to charge or not, I’m just after agreeing to it. My phone rings in my hand and startles me. I wish that I could tell you that my ring tone was ‘knocking on heavens door’, or something hilarious like that. No, it’s just a ring, like an old style phone. Bad news travels fast. Tony has obviously phoned a few people to tell them. I let the doctor out; he says that he’ll send an ambulance to pick up the remains. It’s odd to send an ambulance I think to myself, you always think of an ambulance as being in a hurry. Well at least the siren wont be blaring.
My phone rings again. It’s Robert, he tells me that Tony is in the shower and that they are going to get the earliest flight that they can. Oh God, I struggle not to laugh, Robert is so camp and I know that if the father had given them a chance, he would have had great craic with the two of them. I look at him in the bed as Robert is saying his goodbyes,
‘The odd lad and the boyfriend are definitely coming home’.
I give him a smile and the thumbs up. What else has to be done? How do I get a plot in a graveyard? Where will I book a hearse? Should I phone a priest? Is it too late for a priest? I see the ambulance pulling up outside. The paramedics are drawing the attention of every neighbour in the place. Jesus they’ll be around here like flies as soon as the ambulance leaves. I let the paramedics in and show them into his bedroom, I leave them to it. There are some things that I don’t need to see. I don’t want my last memory of him to be of two paramedics man handling him onto a stretcher. They don’t take long. I watch as they wheel him out, a blanket is left over his face. That means he’s dead in both the movies and real life. The neighbours have copped this too, I watch as a few of them bless themselves as the stretcher passes them. The ambulance leaves and the first of the callers ring the doorbell. I google undertakers before I answer it.
No one has called for over an hour. I got talking to an undertaker earlier. He said that they look after everything; I just have to call down in the morning and pick out a few things. Pick out a coffin and the lining.
‘What difference does it make about the lining in a coffin?
He tells me that some are more comfortable than others. I smile. I haven’t eaten all day. Would it be odd for me to go down and get a take away? With the father being dead and everything? The conversation we had last night. I wonder did it help him or scare him. He had brought up the subject of death, I just told him what I thought about it all. I wish I could ask him now.
‘Well, is there a heaven?’
‘Is it nice?’
‘Tell Peter, I was asking for him’.
I told him that if there was nothing after this life, if it all just ended, well then what harm? He would know no different. He seemed happy enough with that last night anyway.
‘Are you with the angels that you said you would be with?’
‘Did you get to meet your God?’
‘Did he say anything about me?’
The house is quieter now than I ever remember it being. There’s a ticking of an old clock that I can’t ever remember hearing. I was brought up in this house but I have never been here in such emptiness. The doorbell rings again, ‘sorry for your troubles’.