The list was written in black ink, capslock, on a page torn from a memo pad from St. Jude’s.
In no particular order:
POPSICLES GRAPE CHERRY
XTRA ShARP COLBY CHEESE
BUSH BEANS – ORIGINAL
PINEAPPLE UPSIDE DOWN CAKE
With this, we began our ritual of that first week he sat dying.
He mumbled, quietly; staring down, pointing, These mandarins. That’s those little oranges cut up mum used to like. OK. I know what you mean. Get a big can. His index finger moving down the envelope, Now, what’s this? Cheddar. Get the extra sharp. Get two. That way I won’t run out before you come back. Silence. Cherry popsicles or grape? I don’t know what I want, shaking his head like brain freeze had already settled in. I’ll get both, dad. Then you can alternate. The liverwurst’s in a long red tube, not those slices like last time. I like to make chunks and eat it on toast. I really like that. Get me some, will you? As he continued to free-associate his way through favorite foods of an 87-year life nearly spent, he pointed to a parking place near Kroger’s front door.
That was quick, Sunshine. Quicker than I make out. I shut the back door and sat down in front.
Will you stop and get me a strawberry milkshake? Get McDonald’s. That’s the only one I like. Aw, I hate to bother you. You should be home with the children. I hate feeling like this… It’s no problem, dad. Really. I enjoy spending time with you. Retrieving the shake from the drive-through lady, I handed it to him knowing it would sit, melt and separate like the rest.
We pulled back into dad’s preferred space near the front door of his apartment building. Are you really coming back on Wednesday? I hate for you to come all this distance. Really, it’s not necessary. You should be home with the children and your work. Really, dad, there is no where I’d rather be. I love being with you and hearing your stories. If you insist. Pause. If you’re really coming back, will you bring me some Folger’s? I forgot to write it down. Why did I forget to write it down? I bought some decaf in a red can, but I don’t like how it tastes. Turning off the car and clicking on Amazon, No problem, dad. I’ll make sure you have plenty of coffee.
I put the bread on the counter next to his quarter-full jar of Folger’s. Placing the new milkshake between becoming-old containers of his favorite pie, shrimp, potato salad and stuffed shells in the already-full refrigerator, I wondered aloud, “Should we let go of these other milkshakes?” No, I’ll drink em later. These cream horns feel a little hard. I like those. OK, dad, we’ll make it fit. Can I make you a sandwich on these little Hawaiian bread rolls? Wouldn’t that taste good? Just a couple of bites? I’ll take care of it. Now, you just head out and get home to your children. I handed him a peppermint patty and sat down while he turned up the volume on NCIS. Can you hear that ok, Sunshine? I’m so sleepy.