The snow is thick, alive and panting, a roaring wall of white in the space between my father and me. I am four, too big to be carried, the VW bug behind us in a ditch, steam rising from the hood. I look back and study its hard shell, its bright blue a bruise in the white. My father walks ahead of me, his black coat a shadow. I stretch my legs to fit his steps, but his gait is too wide and I stumble.
I call his name, but he cannot hear me. At the top of the hill, our home waits. It is small, and in the sun the brown paint pulls off in long, thin strips. Today, it is cloud white with snow. A light is on in the kitchen. My sister has already left for school. The bus slid down the hill and onto the highway the trucks plow all night, without mercy, without pause. My father drives me to preschool on his way to work, but our only car now waits, abandoned, where the creek fills in the spring.
I rise and my mitten falls and vanishes into the white. I call my father again, but he is too far ahead, his shape a ghost I recognize but cannot name. Still, I call and call, my voice lost in the wind. I can no longer see him, but I follow. I walk and walk. His footsteps disappear, but I feel him before me. Waiting, watching. My father will never lose me. I climb through the cold. I stumble, but before I disappear into the snow, my father appears out of the white, his hands lifting me into his arms.
I board a plane in the bright heat of Florida and land near the flat Midwest fields I once called home. I step out of the tiny airport and study the spring sky, a showoff blue that won’t last a month. Until just weeks ago, my father would be waiting for me, parked in the “Loading Only” lane. He would be early, a good hour before my flight was due, a Wall Street Journal folded in the seat beside him. His face would brighten as I stepped out of the sliding doors, and he would rise to greet me, one hand reaching into the back seat to grab one of his cardigan sweaters for his daughter who always forgot a jacket.
Today, I sit on a bench and wait for my uncle. Two nights ago on the phone, my father told me he was on a ship, a military base. All the people were nice, the food not bad. Better than they had in the Air Force. “They have so many women in the military now, Laurie,” he told me, pleased. “It’s really something.”
The nurse beside him took the receiver and said softly, “He’s a little confused” and then, softer still, “but he’s such a nice man.”
Last night, the day my father was released from the hospital and sent back home to hospice care, he suddenly woke, ripped the oxygen tubes from his face, struggled to stand, and told my mother, “I’m done. If this means I die, I die.” I boarded the next plane. My father never said anything he didn’t mean.
As I wait, I think of him on a hospital bed in the living room with the lace curtains, his long, lean body still asleep on stiff sheets, his lungs filling, filling. His breathing has slowed, the nurse said this morning. His pulse is erratic. Come as soon as you can.
I close my eyes. I feel my father walking away from me. My love for him is blinding, unrelenting. My pain is a land of its own seasons, and I am stumbling through it. I don’t know which direction to tilt my head. For fifty years, my father walked with me, easing every path. I cannot imagine a life without him in it.
I look out at the empty field before me and follow the green lines of the corn until they fade into white. The clouds are heavy, the air crisp. I breathe in and study the horizon. My lungs fill and fall. I can taste the line between the land and sky on my tongue.
Laurie Rachkus Uttich’s prose and poetry have been published in Brevity; Creative Nonfiction; Fourth Genre; The Missouri Review (Poem of the Week); Poets and Writers; Rattle; River Teeth; Superstition Review; Sweet: A Literary Confection; and others. She teaches at the University of Central Florida and leads creative writing workshops at a maximum-security correctional center for men in Orlando.
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