“Is this Darcy? Darcy Preston from Budweiser Falls, Missouree?” the vaguely familiar voice bellowed into my ear.
"Yes. Yes it is. Who’s this?” I asked switching on my bedside lamp and seeing that it was almost midnight.
“It’s Merveene, Darcy. Merveene from Sunny’s calling long distance so I got to make this quick. Your dad’s real sick. You’d better come on home. That’s all I called to tell ya. Come on home and don’t dilly-daddle. You understand what I’m getting at?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be there tomorrow.”
“What? I can’t hear ya so good.”
I speak up. “Merveene, tell my dad I’m coming to see him. Tell him to wait for me. Please.”
“I’ll drive over in the morning. I’ll be there at first light to get the message to him. But you hurry.”
It was only after I hung up that I thought to ask why my mother hadn’t placed the call, but I already knew the answer. She didn’t want me there.
I called the airlines to make the flight arrangements and explained the urgency.
“Miss,” the reservationist said, “just so you’re aware, we have a bereavement fare. It cuts the cost in more than half.”
“I won’t be needing that,” I snapped.
I’d be on a 6:30 a.m. out of LaGuardia to Kansas City. I’d have a rent-a-car waiting for me and I’d drive like hell the two plus hours to get to the farm. Packing a bag, I stood in front of my closet for the longest time trying to decide if I should bring funeral clothes. Irrationally, I decided if I didn’t bring a dark suit, he wouldn’t die, so I didn’t, but he did anyway. It was just as well. My structured garments and New York tailoring would’ve stood out like a gangrenous thumb at his humble service.
“He’s weak,” my mother said opening the screen door for me. I’d been honking my arrival from a half a mile away. I rushed past her to his bedside. I held his hand and looked him all up and down to make sure he was really still here. When he opened his mouth to greet me, I saw he was missing a front tooth and his gums were bloodless and white. His toenails were so sharp and long they were poking holes through his socks, but his bedding and clothes were clean and his body didn’t smell, as I’d dreaded.
“Hi dad, Merveene tell you I’d be coming?”
“Yes,” a voice not his own replied. He had a tray with some lemonade on it at bedside and I held his drink up with a straw so he could take a sip. “Your mom wouldn’t let her in, but she shouted it through the window screen.” We both laughed a little. “I’ve been waiting. Say bye to my best girl. Now that you’re here, you look so pretty I think I’ll stay awhile.”
“Oh, dad. Thank you.” I kissed his hand and held it there to my lips. Being there in the room for two minutes I saw he was done rallying. “All the sweet memories I have of my life here are of you.”
He shook his head. “Wish I’d been able to give you more, do more for you.”
“Better mother,” he hollered, or tried to anyway.
That one really made me laugh. “That’d been a neat trick.”
“I fixed it with a lawyer so she can’t sell the farm to anyone but you, and then only for a dollar. She’s provided for. When she dies the place is yours.”
“I’ve always loved this place.”
“Liar. Might feel differently one day. It’ll be here for you. I want that.”
“You want anything?” he asked me. I felt it was a limitless question. I could’ve asked him for anything, anything I felt needed clearing up. But we were already clear. He’d held my hand crossing a busy, dangerous street, and let it go when we got to the other side. Deeply, we'd wished each other well, but the connective threads hung looser after that. That’s how we’d both needed it to be.
My eyes darted around the whitewashed room and then settled on the hand I was already holding. “Your watch.”
He nodded. And I took it off his wrist and put it on mine, the leather band still warm from his fevered arm.
“Darcy, I’m tired.”
“I understand. Mind if I sit here while you rest?”
He shook his head. I plumped his pillows and smoothed down his soft coverlet, letting my hand rest on his chest a moment to feel the miracle of his heart still beating. He closed his eyes. The sun, which had been streaming in both exposures went behind a cloud, and a shadow fell over his face, turning him from three-dimensional matter made of flesh, into a fading projection, the color of ash.
“Sleep, daddy. Get your rest. You worked hard.”
“That I did.”