Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Family Ties (a short story)

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!

Family ties

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.


  1. Very moving story. It's tough facing these kinds of questions especially when you throw in a moral dilemma of the kind posed here.

    However, I can't empathise with the character's reactions. I would be in the sister's camp.

    If there was a memory or recollection of special moment demonstrating the loving relationship between carer and parent I could possibly see a motivation for taking on such a responsibility, it would work better than just being told that the character loved the person.

    Instead it just seems like life has become a succession of ironies the most basic being that the carer had never really cared about their Dad before and now finds themselves doing so in a very intimate fashion.

    It's one of those situations where the reader can't help but fill in the gaps with their own experience and the story possibly becomes different to each person because of that. What does that say about me!!

  2. Like it! I mean, it's quite depressing in one way, but on the other hand, it's heartening that the son cares enough to care for his dad in this way. I don't think it matters too much whether your reader identify and agree with the son or not... even if they identify with the daughter, at least it makes yours a believable story... it's when the reader doesn't have an opinion at all due to not really 'entering' into the story that you've really got to worry!
    Particularly like: on a good day he doesn't sniff it.
    great detail.
    good 'show don't tell'!
    could you lengthen this and try to send to a woman's magazine or suchlike... perhaps give it a bit of a twist at the end..?!

  3. But it's got a twist at the end. His dad is a zombie.

    Why does no one seem to get that?