Anna was the youngest in her family. She was now on the verge of cutting the paternal noose from the thing on the hospital bed that silenced most of her childhood into the fray of background noise. In the room filled with mechanical instruments that gave the illusion of sustaining life, her brother stood as a meaningless pet like a stuffed furry thing forever stuck in a pose of hungry anticipation, a shadow to Anna’s right that froze in child-like fear. She should have relished the power she now had, extinguishing the existing nepotism that brandished her elder sibling, bringing to light in the sterile air her calm voice that would comfort and command. Such a voice was always there, but always underneath the sparkling praise her father reserved wayward toward her brother; it was her voice that always rang true even in disregard. During her teenage years, there had been no other to have helped amplify the voice above her shyness (her mother had died two years before Anna first saw the crimson drops of her own womanhood begin).
“Miss Showalter,” the doctor said. “It’s a difficult situation, I know.” He, too, had been a statue all this time, offering explanations that filled the air with sound. His babbling lifted upward in the room, creating waves of sleep-inducing sentences that floated away and reverberated back to her in wet echoes.
“In a case like this, there’s still time to reach out to other members of your immediate family to-”
“It’s not a case,” Anna said.
The board-stiff doctor stiffened further.
“I didn’t mean your father is just a case Miss Showalter.”
“It’s okay. You can stop.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Is that an answer?”
“I mean it’s okay. You don’t have to say anything else to me about it.”
The doctor gave a stammering smile, but Anna saw his eyes were tired and distant, a face trained to separate from the toxic fatigue within. How many times has he made this speech? Anna wondered.
“Miss Showalter, I do have to make it clear you understand this form before I give this to you and your brother to review. In fact, I’ll need to bring in other personnel to witness your signatures should you both wish to sign.”
“You mean this guy?” Anna pointed at her brother. She watched Frank Showalter flinch as she did this. He put his head down, standing there and staring at the ground. Anna thought of that shaky war footage of a Vietcong prisoner getting executed. It was one of those clips that her father ran often in supposed seclusion inside his private room, oblivious to the child that hid in the same room searching for entry into his mysterious world. She remembered the cowering, adolescent face of that VC prisoner pulled downward with eyes that never fully closed, waiting for the bullet to come.
Her brother surprised her, however, by fully closing his eyes, shutting himself from the rest of them in the room.
“Frank,” Anna said.
His eyes clamped tighter, creating a spider web of angry wrinkles that would probably take permanent residence on his face a decade later when he would turn forty.
“No,” he whimpered.
“No what Frank?” Anna said.
The doctor took a step closer to Anna’s brother. She thought the doctor was going to reach out and place a hand on Frank’s shoulder. Instead, he simply faced him and said, “Mr. Showalter. As I’ve said to your sister over there, there is plenty of time to make a decision.”
“I got to go,” Frank said. He broke wind; it was a loud, sonorous, moaning sound. Frank opened his eyes wide and bolted out of the room, holding the seat of his jeans with both hands as he ran pell-mell and bowled into a group of nurses nearby.
The doctor goggled at the splaying scrub-blue bodies that scattered on the white tile. He then turned to look at Anna.
“Is your brother…” The doctor grimaced and looked up, pretending to search for the proper word.
“He’s an idiot,” Anna replied.
“But is he… incapacitated in anyway. Does he have any condition that would affect his judgment concerning your father’s–”
“No,” Anna said. “He masturbated a lot in the bathroom we had to share when we were kids. He farts all the time like that, especially when he’s nervous. He’s probably out there right now with the beginning of a load in his pants. He eats like a dog lapping food out of garbage cans and is probably still a virgin from the looks of his GapKids sense of style. He’s a freaking idiot.”
Anna turned to look at the heap of old flesh that was her father, a flaked-skin man bone-thin with a mind empty of the need to survive.
“My brother’s an idiot and still earned the love of that man.”
Anna grabbed the clipboard cradled within the crook of the doctor’s left arm. She yanked it so fast from him that it made a slapping sound from the doctor’s sleeve.
“One moment, Miss Showalter. There is a group of people I’ll be bringing back with me to help you through this process. You should look over the form but please do not sign anything until I return.”
“Do you have a pen?” she asked.
“There’s one attached to the clipboard. Miss Showalter, you do understand the importance of the decision you are about to make, don’t you?”
“Go get your people,” Anna said, still smiling.
The doctor retreated with a sigh.
“I’ll be back shortly, then.”
Anna watched him leave the room. The scramble of nurses outside were now gone and Frank was nowhere to be seen. She looked at the clipboard, studying the verbiage allowing for non-voluntary euthanasia. She imagined the countless others who had to read such a form, perhaps scanning the lines on the pages with an uncomprehending gait, stunned by tumultuous sadness as they tried to scrawl a semblance of their signature on the large open area boxed at bottom of the page.
Her father was brain-dead; he could not survive without a breathing tube. Those statements were enough for the daughter of Edward Showalter to put his last day to an end.
Anna removed the Ember Medical pen snapped within clipboard holder and twirled it in her hand.
She knew it would be easy to sign. No last minute jitters. No unnecessary legal consultations to further clarify the pros and cons. No media-clad circus to cheer or jeer at her.
She went closer to her father’s bedside and looked over his face.
He looked sad, the outside of his gray brows drooping down.
She reached for his right hand, which was a mottled claw that nestled near the edge of the bed.
She was surprised at how warm his hands were. Blood was still swirling defiantly inside of him.
His soul is gone, Anna thought, and then held his hand tighter.
She fought off the urge to look around to see if anyone could see her alone with her father. Such a picture is completely normal in a hospital room, so there was nothing to be embarrassed about.
Anna put his frail hand on her face and unlocked her emotions.
Her heart fluttered with sadness and fresh tears came.
She leaned closer to him and hugged him.
It was their first hug.
“So this is how it goes, Dad?” Anna said. “This is how you finally show me you love me?”
The hand. Her father’s hand moved. Anna felt his grip tighten.
She shook in a combination of sobbing and giggling.
“Do you really love me, Dad?” she asked.
She felt another twitch in her hand. She squeezed back. He hears me, Anna marveled.
“Do you love me?” There was no squeeze this time. Anna leaned in and embraced the husk of her father’s emaciated chest.
She gave him a soft kiss on his cheek and squeezed his hand once again.
When the doctor arrived back with both a nurse and a bereavement counselor, Anna sat up and gave them all a smile. Her face was blotched wet with tears.
This is how it goes, Dad, Anna thought.
“I’m ready to sign.”
©Jack Lee Taylor 2016