Stories and Such‎ > ‎

The Gift

posted 25 Oct 2019, 13:29 by Fran Brady

Lynn sits by her father’s bedside, holding his papery old hand, waiting for him to die. The hours drag by; her back aches from the angle created by sitting perched on the end of a low padded chair; and her resentment simmers. Why was she the only one keeping this vigil? Why was she always the only one doing anything? They aren’t a big family: her mum died years ago; there are no aunt or uncles; just her brother, Peter, and herself, and the three grandchildren. Peter’s twin boys are in America, one in the frozen north and the other in the deep south. No one seems to have heard from them for some time, including Peter and his wife. Her own child, Bryony, does better by her sparse family, and she has always been the only person in the world who can get, not just a smile, but an actual grin and a chuckle from her grandfather.  


Bryony was here yesterday but, instead of relieving her at the bedside, she simply told Lynn not to expect her home that night after all. “I’ve got an idea!’ she said, and Lynn snorted. The time for ideas is long past. The doctors have had plenty of those and have even tried a few: the cancer in her father’s body simply pays no heed but marches relentlessly on. Lynn shifts in her discomfort. Her father’s frail hand is like a vice. 


‘Mum! Wake up! You’re almost falling off the chair.’ Lynn’s eyes slowly focus, and she sways back and forward. ‘Look out, Mum. You’ll pull poor Grandpa off the bed.’ She is still holding - or being held by - that frail, bony hand. She straightens her body and looks up to make eye contact with her daughter. To find that there is someone else in the room, a slightly built, middle-aged man. A complete stranger. What on earth is Bryony thinking of? Bringing a stranger into this room, this situation?


‘This is Mark,’ says Bryony, ‘the pastor from the church I’ve started going to. You remember I told you about it?’


Vaguely, Lynn recalls some unexpected Jesus talk the last time Bryony was home for a rare weekend from the ‘Yoonie’ where she seems to be blissfully happy, certainly happier than she ever was at home. She had not paid much attention, being too busy processing the large bag of laundry and filling a big box of groceries for the girl.


‘We believe in the Gifts of the Spirit,’ says Bryony. Mark says nothing, although he gives Lynn a quiet smile. ‘So, I thought Mark could come and pray for healing. That’s one of the Gifts.’  


‘Oh, yes?’ says Lynn. ‘The only gift I want right now is a cup of what passes for tea from that vending machine in the foyer. Go and get me one, Bee, will you?’ She expects them both to go but Mark only stands aside from the doorway to let Bryony pass. Once she has gone, he closes the door and comes over to the bedside. He lifts up the old man’s wrist and holds it, almost as if he is taking his pulse. Lynn thinks she sees his lips moving, and she feels her father’s vicelike grip begin to relax. Slowly her own hand slips out and she flexes her fingers gratefully.  


‘Would you like me to pray for healing?’ asks Mark. 


Lynn looks from him to her father. Anyone less like a ‘healer’, and anyone less like someone who can be healed, she has never seen. Mark looks like a stockbroker with a dog collar; her father looks like a corpse attached to wires and tubes. Mark takes her shrug as consent and kneels down slowly at the bedside, never letting go of that old hand. A silence falls, the only sound being that of the monitors attached to the tubes and wires. 


Bryony comes back with her tea and beams when she sees that Mark is at work. She nods encouragingly at Lynn, as if to say, ‘Well done for letting that happen.’ Lynn shrugs again. It seems to be her only response at the moment. Her feelings are blunted from the monotony of waiting out this agonisingly slow death. How like her father to milk it for every last drop! 


‘God help you if anything ever happens to me and you’re left to his tender mercies,’ had been one of her mother’s frequent refrains. She can remember it from quite an early age. Well, something did happen to her mother, breast cancer and death at the age of thirty-five. Lynn and Peter came to know their father as self-centred and uninterested, hugging his grief to himself, giving no comfort or attention to his children. They had both grown up self-sufficient in practical matters, deficient in emotional matters. 


She sips her tea, wriggling her stiff fingers, watching the strange little tableau. Bryony has gone to the other side of the bed and knelt down as well, taking her grandfather’s other hand. What do they expect to happen, she thinks, derisively? That the comatose old man will suddenly sit up and start talking to them? That he will throw back the covers and walk out of the hospital room? ‘Take up thy bed and walk’ she thinks, hysterically. Maybe he will pick up the bed and carry it out into the corridor. 


She closes her eyes and leans back. She is beginning to feel sleepy. No, not sleepy. Relaxed, calm, and light, as if a burden has rolled off her shoulders. She feels at ease with herself, a hard knot inside her is dissolving. Her head fills with childhood memories: Dad chasing her along a sunlit seashore, catching up with her, and swinging her off her feet, as they both laughed and laughed. Dad reading her bedtime stories, one after another as she commanded, until he fell asleep himself. Dad showing her what lay under the bonnet of his old car, unlocking the mysteries of engines, sparking plugs and carburetors. Memory after happy memory floods over her. 


When she opens her eyes at last, the room is empty save for the very still figure in the bed. The monitors have fallen silent and his frail old hand, lying on his chest, is tightly clutching a small wooden cross.