An odor that nearly knocks me over in the hallway behind the door cracked open,
the stench escaping from his bedroom, I open the door wider,
the drapes are drawn, the window is closed, the stink is wretched,
the room smells rank, putrid, beyond belief as I go inside the room, putting
a hand and handkerchief over my nose. I am shouting at him, telling
him he needs to see his doctor, get answers, we can’t keep going
this way, my yelling escalates into swearing, without me thinking,
only knowing the work of cleaning up his mess disgusts me.
“For Christ’s sake, Dad,” I yell, “couldn’t you get the hell out of bed and go to the bathroom?”
I walk by him without looking at him, my head down, going to the window
to open it. I spread the drapes apart and start to raise the window . . .
a feeling of familiarity entering my mind, I have done this thing before . . .
when the truth hits me. I stop lifting, stop swearing,
I just stop, stand still, realize what has happened,
jerk my head around to look at him,
in his bed, on his side, facing me, his eyes open but lifeless.
“Oh, Dad,” I say, as I look at him, knowing
I have to close his eyes, wondering
how I’m going to tell my mother, cooking
his breakfast in the kitchen like she has for fifty-three years.
Then I understand: She already knows.
We found him in his apartment on Hudson Avenue, where he lived alone,
not looking dead at all, more like seeing him napping in his favorite chair,
my father having rang the doorbell — no answer — Grandfather hard of hearing,
then Father letting us inside with the extra key he carried,
the lock always fussy, difficult to turn, he had to jiggle the key just a certain way,
the usual routine, our once-a-week visit on a Sunday morning,
to clean, to do Grandfather’s laundry, to take him out for lunch,
instead, seeing him in his easy chair, still upright, head falling forward, mouth parted,
with a near-empty bottle of Wild Turkey on a lamp stand next to him, the light on,
his flannel trousers and white boxers down around his ankles,
a spent Lucky Strike still between his fingers, ashes on the floor,
a small, charred black hole in the threadbare carpet, next to his bare feet.
“It’s a wonder he didn’t burn the place down,” my father said,
shaking his head, not a word spoken about anything else.
He immediately went to work, cleaning up the litter scattered about the place –
the old newspapers, the plates of food, the ants, the tossed clothes, the unflushed toilet,
the unpaid bills in envelopes not open, and the cigarette butts in numerous sandbag ash trays.
The steel window shades were closed, I reversed them, the morning light streaming inside,
then I pulled the drawstring, raised the shades, opened the windows, the fresh air a welcome relief,
my father refusing to let me do anything else to help him, saying it was his job to “fix things,”
that I should just “sit tight” as he worked to tidy-up the place, finally, pulling up his father’s
boxers and pants, turning off the lamp light, then making the appropriate phone calls.
Tom Bonville lives in Catskill, NY. He regularly participates with the Rensselaerville Poets and attends different open mics. Most recently, his poem, “Trout Fishing On Ten-Mile Creek” was awarded a share of 4th place in the 2020 Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Contest.