The Black Window
after Joe Bucciano's "Lull"
Copyright ©2017 by Christopher Conlon
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The morning my father died might have been filled with meteorological forebodings, thunderclouds, rain, savage whipping winds, but it wasn't. It was a pleasant and cool day in mid-autumn, the drive peacefully uneventful, my pulling into the drive without incident. The house itself, where I'd lived throughout my boyhood but never returned to since, might have become a Gothic castle: aged brick, ominous turrets, titanic spires looming in the sky, but it hadn't. It was a perfectly average tract house, somewhat the worse for wear in recent years since my mother died and my father had grown ill: looking at the familiar front I could see it needed paint, the grass was overgrown, the fence sagged. Still, it was just a house like the other houses in the neighborhood.
Approaching the walkway I noticed that the windows were in need of washing, especially the one on the storm door: it had turned impenetrably black. I knocked and in a moment the front door was pulled inward by the hospice nurse in her smooth white uniform; we had never met but we'd spoken on the phone. She asked if I was the son and I said yes. She smiled and reached to push on the storm door to let me in. As she led me through the foyer and into the back hall toward my father I could have been filled with grief or anger or trepidation, but nothing filled me, nothing at all. The hall was of course familiar, darker than I remembered, and as we passed my childhood bedroom I was tempted to stop and open the door, but I didn't. I wasn't afraid; I simply wasn't interested. The nurse's quiet professional voice updated me on the man's condition as we walked, but I hardly listened.
Nearing my parents' door, what had been their bedroom and then only his, I found myself curiously unsettled just for a moment, not knowing why; then I realized that it was odd to see no bottles in the halls, no empty cans strewn on the carpet, to detect no odor of whiskey or beer anywhere, rather an unfamiliar antiseptic smell. This didn't bother me; it was only odd. I felt nothing about it. The nurse opened the door of the last bedroom at the end of the hall and invited me in. It should not have been surprised, but was, to find no medical paraphernalia in evidence, no beeping monitors, no slow IVs dripping into his arm. It was just him, my father, lying in the bed. He might have suddenly raised up, a gigantic black form against the white wall of the room, he might have lifted his arms hugely and widened his eyes and shouted damning accusations at me, but he didn't. He looked quite normal, except for the slow turning back and forth of his head and the fact that his eyes had faded to sightless blue marbles. His arms were covered with gray pajamas. His hands were on his chest and did not move.
I asked the nurse to leave us alone for a few minutes and she silently stepped out. I might have taken that moment to reach to him, tighten my hands around his throat, choke him slowly until what little light remained in his eyes darkened forever, but I didn't. Standing there, looking down at the wreckage that remained of the man after all his years of ranting and rage, I felt nothing. He didn't know, the nurse had advised me, that I was there. He didn't know anything. He didn't know that he was on the Earth. A small clock, an antique I recognized from my youth, ticked quietly away on the table beside him.
Just as I was thinking of leaving I instead, completely on impulse, took his hand in my own. I had not touched my father in decades and it was a strange feeling, not particularly comfortable. I might have burst into tears then, dropped my face to his chest and wailed, but I didn't. I simply stood there, watching his head turn senselessly back and forth as steadily as the tick of the tabletop clock. I might have cursed him then, spit out decades of suppressed venom and resentment at him, but I didn't. Instead I placed his hand down onto his chest again and said softly, impulsively, clearing my throat as I began, that I wished him safe passage to wherever it was that he was going. With a last glance at the empty eyes, I turned and walked out of the room forever.
I felt nothing as I thanked the nurse. I felt nothing as I stepped into the car and started the motor.
I felt nothing as I looked one final time at the house, at its paint-starved front walls,
its overgrown grass, its dilapidated fence, and at the dirty windows, especially the impenetrable
black window as the nurse pulled the storm door shut. I drove the several hours home again and
felt nothing. I felt nothing as I opened my own front door, noticed the phone message machine's
red light blinking, moved to it and pressed the button and heard the now-familiar nurse's voice
telling me gently that a few minutes after I'd left my father had died. His ghost might have
materialized before me then, eyes huge, face red with rage, but it didn't. The room was quiet,
quiet and empty.