Five minutes? Or five months? I can’t be sure of time anymore. All I can do is listen from afar.
“I don’t know why I’m even telling you this,” she says. To the stranger over the phone.
At last it has begun. Though it is over for me.
Her hovering over me in the bedroom. Closing the curtains again and shrouding me in endless twilight.
I can see my waxen face reflecting the light from her eyes as she leans close. “Is there anything you need?” she is asking.
I hear my whispered breathing stop. Now no longer interrupted by my interminable whistle. Which bloody well annoyed her like metal scraping a frypan. Now I can’t even comfort her in that anymore.
I see her running for Dad. Down the stairs into the lounge room. Him still and silent. Him joining me temporarily in his state of suspended animation.
“So again it fell upon me,” she continues to her stranger.
I remember the phone calls. First the ambulance. I saw them brisk but unhurried. Felt them lay their gentle hands on me. Saw them again shake their heads. And her face falling apart.
Her calling relatives. Screaming at them for not posting on Facebook. There’s plenty of time for that, I thought at the time. Yell it all out at the funeral, I say. But of course, I’m silent now.
Until two weeks later. When Dad joined me. She found him caught mid-breath, remote still clutched in his clawed hand waiting for the next show. Waiting for the cup of tea, just like I used to make. That she never could of course.
As she tells the stranger on the phone.
And her life full of laid-back lawyers, bone-picking relatives and real estate agents all wanting their part. While I listened near but too far away to be of comfort.
“I didn’t even know what probate was,” she yells into the phone.
“Me neither,” he replies.
And I’m with her again. Leafing through photo albums, scrolling through social media posts, she sits cross-legged surrounded by stale clothes and dusted furniture. Every so often, she picks up a keepsake, holds it close, bows her head and weeps. As she tells her stranger.
“I’m still finding out who I am,” she says. “After all the years, I spent caring for them.”
The stranger nods. “It sounds cliched,” he says, “but there must be some silver lining in all of this.”
I see my daughter look down. I hear her breath. And as she speaks I see a new light in her eyes.
“I can never replace them,” she says. “But I can live a life that honours them.”
“That’s why we’re here,” the stranger replies.
She puts the phone down. It has begun.
And all I can do is agree and disappear.