“’Carry on, Willis’ – isn’t that what she always said?” I asked. I didn’t know if she ever said that; I was really pulling at strings here. “You have to… move forward… o-or something.”
“I am moving forward.” Willis said.
I clenched onto my stuffed rabbit as Willis sped up the car. Willis bought it for me before taking me for the ride. “No, you’re not.”
“Well, I’m skipping to the end. That’s moving forward, isn’t it?”
I decided to sit back in my seat – stop talking before I think. I glanced out the window for a moment, but the trees and the pavement were moving so fast, it made my stomach queasy. I stared at my rabbit, praying for it to give me something to say. Something smart. Something that’d make Willis stop the car. I needed something an adult would say.
I couldn’t think of anything.
“I never liked her.” I said without thinking. Of course. “She was loud and not that pretty and she never let me do what I wanted. I think it’s okay that she died.”
Willis gripped at his wheel. “Are you talking about… Artie?” I already began to tear up; I knew I shouldn’t have said anything. “Bastion, are you talking about Artie?!”
“I’m sorry!” I wailed. I started to sob and hiccup and cry. I couldn’t control myself anymore. I didn’t want to make my big brother mad… I just wanted him to see that I didn’t understand. How could I? I was so young and hopeful. I didn't understand suicide. I get it now – the romanticism of dying like your lover. Artie died in a car crash, and now Willis wanted out too. But how could you explain that to eight year-old me? And how can you tell your baby brother you’re going to take him down with you?
I couldn’t do it, no matter how much I loved him. "...I love you, Bastian." He said.
“I love you, Willis.” I said.
And I leapt out of the car, squeezing so tightly onto my toy.
"Don't trip on the floor on the way out," I call to my roommate from my bed, grinning as she flashes me her middle finger before banging out the door. My phone vibrates in my back pocket, and I roll over onto my stomach so that I can reach it. Propped up on my elbows, I yawn widely before holding it up loosely to my ear.
"This is Isla."
"Good morning, Ms. Hall," says a soft but authoritative voice at the other end. He has a nice voice, I decide, like a reigned-in Southern drawl. "I'm Dr. Wright. Are you the daughter of Mr. Richard Hall?"
"Unfortunately," I mutter, plopping back down onto my pillow. My dad is one of my least favorite subjects to talk about, before the senior prom incident and after Mom.
"Well, I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this... Your father has lung cancer."
"Uh, no, he doesn't."
"You haven't been in contact with your father for quite some time, correct?"
"You could say that."
"Well, I'm telling you now, Ms. Hall, that your father has had lung cancer for four years. He has thus far exercised his doctor-patient confidentiality privilege, but he because he only has weeks to live at most he has decided to finally tell you."
I push myself off the bed and begin pacing around the room. When I speak next, my voice comes out tight and angry. "Of course he did. Of course he uses his last fucking breaths to ruin my life. Tell him he can go take another smoke if he thinks I'm going to visit." I kick a nearby yoga ball; it knocks over a stack of books on the other side of the room. "Oh, and tell him I told you so about the cigarettes."
Dr. Nice Voice sounds shocked. "Ms. Hall, this is your father we're talking about! Surely you want to--" I hang up, throwing my phone down on my bed. I grind the heels of my palms into my eyes, letting out a stream of curse words as I assess my options:
1. Keep ignoring him; it's worked for the last few years and there's no reason to stop now. Possibly regret not seeing him for the rest of my life.
2. Visit him; he's dying. Possibly regret seeing him for the rest of my life.
I stay like this for what seems like half an hour, which somehow doesn't seem long enough. Finally, I peep through my fingers at the yoga ball.
"I've got to go see him, don't I?" The yoga ball lies inert as ever, and I heave a huge sigh as I grab my car keys from my nightstand.
I stop breathing for a moment when I see him lying on the hospital bed, surrounded by an army of beeping machines with an IV in his arm. His bushy eyebrows, his deceiving smile lines. The only change I notice (with a sort of malicious pleasure) is that his hair is almost as grey as his face. His eyes widen when he sees me, and he gives me a weak smile.
"My beautiful baby girl."
"Hello, Richard," I say as scathingly as I can, not moving from my spot at the opposite corner of the too-small room. He winces at the coldness in my voice, but doesn't give up.
"Sorry," I say waspishly. "Do you prefer Dick?" The words sound ugly even as I say them, but there's a twisting satisfaction in my stomach when I see the hurt on his face.
"Isla... I'm sorry. I should have called, I should have written, something. I was an idiot."
"Little late for that, don't you think?"
"I've missed your attitude."
"I haven't missed yours."
"Isla..." He shifts in the bed, straining to face me. "I'm dying."
"I know," I mutter, cringing internally at the hitch in my voice.
"You're crying," he notes, the obviousness of his statement infuriating me.
"Not over you," I say with complete honesty, furiously trying to dam the tears with my thumb.
"Over what, then?"
"I don't know," I whisper, even as the answer comes to me.
He waits as I blow my nose using a paper towel from the dispenser on the wall.
"I don't think you want to hear this," I warn him, shame beginning to prick the corners of my eyes again.
"Baby, Isla, of course I do," he says, even as he has already started shaking his head in denial.
"You said you're dying," I say brokenly, trying to avoid the horrible truth, the reason why he left and why she took her life and why I'm crying now.
"I... I can't bring myself to care."
The absence of surprise in his eyes threatens to rip me apart. I turn to leave, brushing my eyes with my sleeve.
"I'm sorry, Dad. I guess it runs in the family."