Lucy never loved her father so well as she loved his sickness. “You’re a pitiful papa,” she’d say to him. “A daddy downer.”
She might find him seated at the breakfast table, coffee and toast untouched, staring at the same newspaper headline, his lip aquiver and nothing really to say. When Lucy offered to sing for him he muttered something or other, as if he could not recollect exactly who she was. If she sang for him anyway, she wouldn’t stop until he allowed the descent of a single tear.
On some mornings he might venture to the office, but on most he would return to his bed, cocoon himself in an old quilt and resume his study of the pocked stucco at the bedside. On a plastic tray she would bring her father a midday meal. “You’re one sad dad,” she’d say to him.
Lucy stood a collection of her finest dolls next to the bed in hopes that her father could make-believe. His face reflected in their glass eyes, unmoving. It was her father’s imagination that was failing, Lucy thought.
He failed to protest her painting his toenails in every shade from cherry to cerulean.
As the afternoons wore on Lucy would show to him any number of crayoned drawings: of their neat cottage home, of the monsters she imagined living in their cupboards. “We should do this always,” she told him as he wept in the sunsets.
With the coming dark he would beg for solitude, but she would refuse. In his lethargy, the father might push Lucy toward the bed’s edge but never manage to free himself of her company. Eventually fitful sleep found Lucy curled at the foot of the bed, so that when her father woke the next morning he might find her there. And for only a moment he might understand how completely one might be reduced by love.
Even when it finally happened, the bullet missed the most important parts of her father’s brain. Rather than termination he entered an indefinite paralysis, a persistent repose in which he remained present only in the depths of his eyes, not unlike the dolls she positioned in rows next to him. Lucy painted his toenails a blushing carnation, and she sang to him in the mornings, and together they were never so happy.
Alexander Luft‘s work has appeared in Yemassee, Midwestern Gothic, The Coachella Review and a host of other magazines. He currently lives in Sydney, Australia but sometimes calls Chicago home.