'Father and Son' by Amy Rainbow
The crying’s the hardest. Every night. For hours.
It’s just me and him, now that my wife’s gone. I’m not bad at the bathing or dressing or hair brushing, but the crying… We have a routine at bedtime. He likes routine. Teeth, pyjamas, warm milk, sleep. Except he doesn’t sleep, not for long.
Today was a six out of ten day. I managed to wash the bedding and finally fit that stair gate. He’s started coming out onto the landing at night, and the thought of him falling…
I guess this stuff comes naturally to some people. To women. He follows me everywhere; I can’t even pee in peace. Oh, and the food. One day it’s finger foods, the next day it has to be puréed. I snapped today. Threw the whole bloody lot in the bin. And that look in his eyes… I took him into the garden and we sat and watched the birds. He loves watching birds.
That’s him now. I’d better go up.
As I open the door, ammonia air hits me. I wash him, change him, change the sheets, tuck him back in. I turn off the lamp. He begins to whimper.
‘Please! Just sleep!’
I slump down, hum a lullaby that my dad used to sing. Why can’t I be patient like him? He soothed me to sleep, nursed me through chickenpox, picked me up after broken hearts. Always there for me, such a kind and gentle man.
The room is silent. I stand. Another whimper.
I raise my hand and even in the darkness he knows. I collapse to my knees, hug him tightly, rocking, both of us sobbing now, both of us appalled at what we have become.‘I’m sorry,’ I tell him. ‘I’m so sorry, Dad. I love you.’
[First published in A Flash of Fiction the 2012 Worcestershire Literary Festival anthology. ]