I wrote this two weeks ago and read it to the Glenwood Writer's Bloc last night. Feel free to praise it / trash it in the comments!
Every night I get in from work and make dinner for my dad. Same meal every night: faggots and peas. It’s what he likes. He used to eat it as a kid at his nana’s house, as he always told me when I was growing up.
I never liked faggots and peas.
He’ll be sitting in the chair in front of the TV with the volume turned up really loud. I don’t know if he understands it. All I know is that when I try to turn it down he gets agitated. He sits in front of it all day. Sometimes he fidgets if he’s a bit uncomfortable, but he never gets up. He doesn’t need too. I change the catheter bags once a day. They’re never very full.
When I was a kid he used to shout at me for watching too much telly. “It’ll give you square eyes,” he used to shout. “It’ll rot your brain.”
I always think about that as I mash up the pigs' brains and peas.
When I put the food in front of him he always gives me a startled stare. It’s not a look of comprehension. It’s a stare as if he has just seen something extraordinary. Then he will look down at the bowl and stare at it. Then, usually, he will sniff it. On a good day he doesn’t sniff it. He somehow remembers that it’s food and just starts to eat it. But on a bad day, he sniffs it, and then dips a finger in it, then another finger.
He eats with his hands now. Cutlery is too complicated.
Afterwards, I clean him with several wet wipes. He doesn’t like that. He doesn’t like to be touched. He doesn’t like the sanitary lemon smell. He tries to bat me away with his dirty faggot and pea stained fingers.
But I’m stronger than him and I can wet wipe him despite his mute protests.
He doesn’t talk now, my Dad. He used to. He was a great orator. A preacher man of the old hellfire and brimstone school. Popular. People would travel miles to hear his sermons. I used to hear him practise in the living room while I did French homework in my bedroom above. I can remember him practicing his timing. Making his point by punctuating his words with silences.
I wonder what his god thinks of him now.
It’s hard to see somebody you love deteriorate. I remember my mum phoning me the night before she died. “He’s changed,” she said. “He’s not himself. I’m worried about what will happen to him if anything happens to me.”
That night something happened to her. Dad happened. There was some sort of misunderstanding and he reacted. The first I heard of it was when the policemen knocked on my door to tell me there had been a 999 call from my parent’s house. When they arrived my father was standing over my mother’s bloody corpse, silently straddling the body, staring into the middle distance. He wouldn't 'come quietly'. He bit at least one of the police officers as they arrested him.
I remember having to call my sister Jane and say: “Dad killed Mum two hours ago.”
Jane doesn’t approve of me caring for Dad. “He should be locked up,” she said to me when I asked her if I could bring him with me at Christmas. “He’s a monster. He killed our mother!”
“But he didn’t know what he was doing,” I protested. “He doesn’t understand.”
It didn’t matter. Jane didn’t want him in the same house as her kids. I understand why she felt that way. We ate Christmas dinner together alone, me and Dad, sitting in front of the blaring TV as the Queen wished us a happy and prosperous New Year. I almost imagined that he nodded along with it, accepting her blessing, while his dirty fingers rummaged in the bowl of faggots and peas in front of him, ferreting out the pieces of flesh, leaving the peas behind.
I know people think that it’s strange that I take care of him like this. I don’t know how long he will last. He seems so frail, and guttering, like a candle.
People say I should get carers in. But he would hate that. Or put him in a care home. They have great places now where you can take people who are sick and old.
But you don’t just turn your back on the people you love; on family, do you? He may not be the man he was. But he’s still my Dad. And I love him. Even if he has now turned into a Zombie.