End of Story

Here is my father on the last day of his exceptionally long life, lying in a rented hospital bed on a steamy mid-August afternoon, claiming to have spotted sixteen beautiful ballerinas dancing on his bedroom ceiling. Not some ballerinas, or a couple, but precisely sixteen; he is adamant about that. I am his only child, his only son, and seated in a folding chair arranged at his bedside, I comfort him, promising that the maintenance guys in the condo will make sure to get those dancers safely down from the popcorn ceiling above him. Knowing this, he will be able to exit this world a few hours later with a half smile on his slackened, soft-skinned face, just before giving Silviana, his caregiver, one last glimpse of his drowsy-looking, greenish-gray eyes.

Today, however, the expression on his face is one of resentment and barely contained fury, and I can’t believe what I’m hearing from this ninety-six-year-old father of mine. I have escorted him to the wall of windows in my parents’ living room—in an apartment just two floors below my own in this 1970s sky-scraping high-rise—and gesture to the lights of the city puncturing the pitch darkness so brilliantly. “Come on, Pop, you know the difference between breakfast time and dinnertime,” I remind him, though this is most likely overly optimistic thinking on my part. “So you’re just going to have to trust me when I tell you it’s not even close to breakfast time now. It’s nighttime. Come on, take a quick look out the window and you’ll see.”

He is significantly deaf in both ears, and my mother and I have no choice but to shout to him—often, regrettably, in the most public of spaces.

“Are you listening to me, Pop?” I yell as I cup both sides of his jaw in my hands and do my best to pivot my father’s face toward the row of windows.

“Don’t you lie to me, mister!” he says. “And don’t think I’m not wise to you and the way you’re always trying to pull a fast one on me.”

He’s calling me “mister” because he’s forgotten my name, and even though this has been going on for months, this memory lapse sometimes brings a momentary gloss of something resembling tears to my eyes.

This is not one of those times.

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