This story is by D Peterson and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The same number kept calling me. It wasn’t saved in my phone, but I knew who it was by the area code.
I ignored it and let it ring its allotted five times before it went to voicemail. For some reason they never left a message. Instead, they waited anywhere between a few minutes to an hour before trying again.
“Your phone is ringing.”
I glanced at the woman next to me. She had short white hair and a wrinkly face. Her body was swamped in a large brown coat that must’ve been uncomfortable in the heated bus.
I didn’t respond. The phone stopped ringing as it did before. But then it started up again, before it even passed the five-minute mark. This time, the woman nudged me to get my attention. Probably thought I didn’t hear her the first time.
I let her think that, opting to pretend that I didn’t notice it because of my earbuds. This time, I clicked the side button to send it straight to voicemail. It started ringing again, before I could even put the phone away.
I glowered at the screen.
“You should answer that.” The nosy woman said. “It could be an emergency.”
I clicked the button again for voicemail. Again, it rang. Irritated, I swiped up to accept the call and put the phone against my ear. “Hello?”
“Hello? Is this Eric Harrison?” a woman asked.
“This is he. What can I do for you?”
“Hi, my name is Annette. I am your father’s caregiver.”
I figured as much, but I didn’t tell Annette so. I tried to keep my voice leveled, so she wouldn’t know how irritated I was with her calls. “Okay, well, my sister is the one that handles everything about my dad, so I don’t–“
“See, that’s the thing sir.” She interrupted. “Your sister is on a plane right now, coming back from her trip.”
I recalled the text my sister sent me a few days ago. She did mention that she was going on a business trip, but she makes sure people can reach her about dad’s condition at any time, so the calls to my phone still made no sense.
“It’s…about your father. I’m afraid he doesn’t have much longer.”
The chatter of the bus faded away. My body went numb. The nosy woman’s stare couldn’t even affect me now. All I felt was the heat generated by my phone as I held it tighter.
“She asked me to call you, since you live close by. She thought that maybe you would want to see him one last time?”
Annette said that last sentence slowly, hesitant. Like she was trying to gauge my reaction, since she couldn’t see my face through the call.
I’m sure I looked as shocked as anyone would be at this kind of news. Inside, a flurry of responses bounced on my tongue. Most of them were bitter and enraged at the mere mention of that bastard. One of them made me want to laugh in this woman’s face, and tell her the many ways about how I’d rather be tortured than be stuck in a room with him.
But she didn’t deserve such vitriol. She was just doing her job. Instead, I asked her, “Is it just my sister requesting I show up?”
Annette didn’t answer right away. That was answer enough. She tried to spin some story about how my dad could no longer speak for himself, but I stopped her.
“You can tell my dad that I won’t see him.” There was a bitter, iron taste in my mouth as I said it.
“Are you absolutely certain?” she sounded concerned. “Your sister won’t be able to get here until tomorrow at least. And she doesn’t want him to be alone tonight.”
A tinge of pity did surface for the old man, but it faded as quickly as it came.
“I’m sure.” I said steely. “But thank you for letting me know.”
“Alright then, Mr. Harrison.” Now she sounded defeated. “Before you go though, do you remember the address of your father’s home?”
My sister told me once in a text—her own desperate plea for me to go visit him on my own. “1485 Chestnut Drive?”
“Yes, that’s the one. If you do decide to come, just talk to the nurse at the front desk.”
“Okay, well, thanks for the call. Goodbye.”
I didn’t wait for a response. I hung up the call and shoved the phone back in my pocket.
“Everything alright?” the nosy woman asked.
I laughed. Then I laughed again. And again. And before I knew it, I was laughing so hard that the other bus riders started staring. I didn’t care though. I was too busy watching a slideshow of those memories flood my brain like a dam that just busted open. A few were happy memories of my father, but almost all of them were of him screaming and yelling and swinging at me. I was yelling back a few times, but that only happened when I got tired of his latest tirade in that particular memory. The last one was of him striking me in the face and telling me to get out, and to never speak to him again.
I’ve kept my word all this time. Not even when my sister kept trying to make us meet and make up. The idea of going now, when he can no longer fight me, was both compelling and repulsive.
“I take it it’s not alright.” The nosy woman said.
I took a moment to compose myself. My cheeks were hurting, and some tears formed in my eyes. “Oh, no. Everything is fine. My bastard father is finally on his last breath, and I couldn’t be happier.”
The woman nodded, as if she understood. But her puckered lips and titled head told me that she was thinking. Probably trying to figure out what to say. Because, after all, most people are sad when their parents are dying. And here I am, seemingly giddy at the prospect.
“I take it your father was not a good man to you?” she finally asked.
I shook my head. “No, he definitely was not.” I nearly left it at that, but the nosy woman did ask all those questions. This is her reward. “We were always screaming at each other over the smallest things. He kicked me out when I was sixteen—couldn’t even be bothered to wait until the legal age of eighteen to get rid of me. He said that he never wanted to see my shit eating face again. Haven’t spoken to him since.”
“Well, I say good riddance to the bastard then,” she said.
It was so matter of fact, I laughed. The woman balked at me.
“I’m being serious. If he said to never speak to you again, then that’s on him. Especially if he has never, ever reached back out to you.”
I sifted through that slideshow of memories to see if there was ever a chance he did reach out. A handful of holidays that my sister dragged me to, I saw him. Remembering him slumped in his favorite chair, pointedly looking anywhere but at me, put a lump in my throat.
“Am I truly doing the right thing, though? Leaving him like that?” I glanced at the woman, who appeared to be listening. “There is a small part of me that wants to go. Maybe to give him a piece of my mind and let him suffer, knowing how much he hurt me. But I also want to just…let him die. To let him know that in his final moments, not even his bastard son cared enough to see him on his deathbed.”
The woman puckered her lips again. “I think that, at the end of the day, there is no right answer. No right way to handle this. So, what you should do instead, is do what you think would be best for you. Not what is right–but what action will make sure you survive the next day.”
The bus halted to a stop. There was commotion as people scrambled to get off.
“Well, this is my stop, young man.” The woman said, gathering her things. Before she left, she said, “I hope that, whatever conclusion you come to, it will lead you to a longer life than that father of yours.”
I gave the woman my best smile. “Thank you for hearing me out, ma’am. Hope you get home safe.”
She nodded, then shuffled off the bus and down the sidewalk. I watched her go as the bus started moving again, contemplating on her advice. A quick search on my phone, and I found out just how close he was from my house.
That meant that I had just until the bus stopped on my street to figure out what was best for me. Dad will have to wait until then.