I read this to my students today in my classes, as this is my father’s birthday and he’s been on my mind a great deal lately::
spreading from the false fly
I sleep on my back and the light fixture showers my face with petals from the dried flowers we brought back from my father’s grave. The day he died, a light freeze covered the neglected lawn outside the ward window; the blades curved with the weight of the frozen water, as if they were the discarded ribs from Sunday’s roast. A bowl of fresh fruit sat beside his steel-framed hospital bed, despite his three weeks of unconsciousness. He unpeeled a greenish banana, looked at me with his good eye, and said I wasn’t to feel guilty for not being there when he died.
“Fear no more the heat of the sun,” my teacher said in our literature seminar. I recall a summer’s day when my father stood ankle-deep in the coldAtlantic water, trunks speckled with salt residue, his cheeks puffed out, body intact and goosebumps all over his bare skin. I chose to ignore his attempts to communicate with me, the subtly-put advice he tried to give me falling into the waves. After the class ended, I checked my phone messages and learned how a series of mini-strokes had left him without color and with one foot in Charon’s ferry.
After a long flight from LAX to Heathrow the payphone’s tiny screen flashed as I dropped the coins into the slot. Three rings. My mother’s voice. “Ah, he died this morning at six, as the sun was coming up.” I sat among the haphazard travelers and their carry-on bags waiting for the connecting flight to Dublin. Three cups of strongly-brewed Costa coffee; and in the cup, the spiraling sand dunes and sharp-edged marram grass, summer holidays in thatched cottages, the memory of his laugh.
What I remember of the drive to the funeral home was the dead bugs embedded in the car’s radiator grille—moths, an early wasp, and a mayfly. My father tied his own flies for fishing—a real knack. By the banks of the Boyne he wristed the bamboo rod back-and-forth, the soft ripples spreading from the false fly, ever outward, to where he stood in his waders in the river water, dead at eighty-three, but still unknowing.