Published: Feb 29, 2012 02:00 AM
Modified: Mar 02, 2012 02:11 PM
I recently visited my father in Philadelphia again.
This time I decide not to read to him as conjuring up his past makes him weep. I focused instead on touch and sight rather than words.
My father has always loved art. The first place he would take us, when we moved to or visited a new city, was the local museum.
In my computer I have several folders full of prints. I pull one of his captain's chairs close to his wheelchair and set my laptop on his knees.
"Dad I've got pictures. Let's look at some."
I place his long bony index finger on the advance arrow, hoping that by giving him some control over our experience he will somehow feel a bit in charge.
"Look at that brilliant color," I say of a Gauguin portrait. He doesn't seem to recognize any of the artists or the paintings. I shift to photos, the ones I've taken in the last year.
"That's your granddaughter Olivia," I say. "And that's your great granddaughter Lily." He traces the photos with his other index finger.
We linger for a long time at a lousy shot of some cows in a field. "I love cows," I tell him. "But the sun is behind them so it's hard to see their faces."
He doesn't say anything. We look at the photo. "Dad, you can press the forward arrow whenever you want."
His finger rests on the key but he doesn't press it. Maybe he has forgotten, in the last 30 seconds, that he's in command of our photo show.
I study his hand against the sleek silver and black of my MacBook. The back of his palm holds a large stain of purple, shaped like the continent of Australia. Veins cross like raised highways over his pale bluish flesh.
"Dad press the button."
I glance at his face beside mine and see that his eyes have closed. I pick up his hand hoping I can set it in his lap without disturbing him. His eyes open. "Where am I?"
"We're in your room, Dad."
He looks around, doesn't say anything.
"Does that hurt," I ask, lightly touching his purple palm.
He nods. Yes.
I pick up his hand, hold it to my lips, kiss it. I rub my cheek gently against his bruise, the way my cat Lucy nuzzles me.
"All better now," he says.
I close the computer and put my hand over his. He puts his left hand on top of mine. We stay that way for some time. Maybe he's listening to the Bach cantata playing on his radio. I think of a game I played as a girl with my friends. Someone would put one hand down and we'd pile hands on top, the bottom hand pulling out to slap the top of the pile. Hand on hand on hand."Look at your hands, Dad. Think of all the work they've done. Sawing, nailing, digging, typing, grouting, measuring."
Then I think of the Margaret Atwood poem "Bored" about the young girl who must accompany her father to the lumberyard, where they choose planks and cut boards for some project. The little girl is out-of-her-mind restless.All my life I loathed our home improvement projects. My older sisters were beavers, wanting to learn about rewiring, tiling, stripping the finish off wood. I just wanted to ride my bike and lie under the privet hedge out front making up stories in the cloudscape - the family sloth.
As soon as my father entered a room, my jaw would tighten. I always wanted out, to get away from his incessant need for activity, which to me seemed mindless, as though he were avoiding his thoughts. Our family never stopped doing projects and we all had to pitch in.
But now, he and I just sit, hands overlapping.