256 Words

The Things You Realize on Your Death-Bed

M. Stanley Bubien

"One last request," I mumbled.

My son stood over the bed, arms crossed, lips pulled taught. "What?" he said.

"You're here. Why?" I asked. I was wasting time---precious time---with a question like that. But I needed an answer.

"Strange request."

"No," I fingered the oxygen tube. "Just answer."

He shrugged. "You're my father. I'm supposed to be here."

"No answer." I tried to shake my head.

He took a deep breath and blew it out. I watched the rise and fall of his chest, the way his ribs expanded, the slight change of color in his cheeks. So intent was I, he'd already finished replying before I heard the words, "What do you want me to say, Dad?"

My hand twitched, "Never... mind."

We fell silent, neither of us looking at the other, lest we make eye-contact.

So this was the way of it, I thought. Ironic. I'd done everything in my power to keep from alienating him. I stayed out of his business. Let him live his own life. I quietly watched him pick his own college, move away, choose his career, marry the wrong woman. Even when he was a kid, if I didn't like one of his friends, I kept that to myself. The mistakes were his to make.

"You remember," I said, breaking the silence, but pausing every-other word. "That time. I taught you to ride. Your bike."

He cocked his head, frowned and squinted. "Um. I think I learned by myself, after the training wheels fell off."

I nodded.

Copyright ©2000 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.

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April, 2000
Issue #48

256 Words