Soon after Andrew left the hospital for the airport he knew his father would die, and that’s exactly what he did. His mother was sleeping on a foldout chair, asleep for the night, while Dora, his little sister, sat on a stool studying her father’s ventilator. She was cycling through the machines again, figuring out which worked and which did not. The heart monitor appeared to be working, but the ventilator left her skeptical, something in the way the rubber flue trembled as it collapsed and bloomed, collapsed and bloomed. Her father was expending every last bit of energy, vigor, whatever it was, to keep the machines alive.
When the heart monitor flatlined and her father let out a last long sigh, she stood up and walked over to the side of his bed. Another machine emitted a series of excited beeps, and she touched his shoulder, still warm beneath his sweatshirt, and his hair, which felt like hair, of course, but she wanted to be sure. She wasn’t afraid. She was ready. She’d seen a movie where a woman placed coins atop her dead husband’s closed eyelids. Dora liked this, but her father was on his side. He looked happy, she decided. Plus she didn’t have any coins.
On her father’s forehead, shining under the muted glow of the overhead track lights, was a single red speck of party glitter which pulsed like a tiny cinder when Dora shifted her view. Quickly, before the doctor arrived, she used her fingernail to remove it. Holding it on her finger, she hesitated to let it fall to the floor. She wasn’t superstitious but flicking away the glitter seemed like an improper thing to do. How had it ended up here, and what had it celebrated? She could feel her confidence disappearing. She had no idea what to do with the glitter. A doctor and two nurses in breast-cancer T-shirts came into the room and checked her father’s pulse. Her mother sat up. “What is it now?” she said.
Her mother and the doctor went into the bathroom, from which Dora heard the awful pull of the chain light. The nurses began printing and tearing readouts from some of the machines, and Dora thought: receipts.
She searched her father’s face. It looked gray, with an expression that was not calm or serene or undisturbed—but gone. She wouldn’t cry; she had already cried. Crying now would be a big step backward. She could wail, or keen. People still keened, didn’t they? She reached under the covers and held her father’s hand, cold. Room temperature, but cold. The moment she touched it she wanted to let go but the nurses were watching so she held on. She imagined something inside of her unspooling like an anchor chain and trailing after him wherever he was going. Away, away. Now would be an ideal time to keen, but it wasn’t the kind of thing you willed your way into, you just did it, which was why Dora wouldn’t be able to do it.
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