Thursday, 7 May 2009
THE OAK TREE - by Col Bury
Based on truth…
THE OAK TREE
If only I knew, but how could I? I was a young, cocky know-it-all and somewhat blinkered. A little acorn, I knew nothing yet.
It was the death rattle that awoke me. If you’ve ever heard one then you know it’s aptly named as it resounded around the house, stirring me as I slept. Semi-conscious now this sentence - or was it a premonition? - ran through my brain: ‘Your dad’s dead - that’s not a bad excuse for being late for work is it?’ Whatever it was, it certainly got my ‘lazy ass’ - as dad so subtly put it - out of bed.
My dad had been strict with me over the years; had to be really. I’d always had a sharp retort ready because I knew it all, right? Unlike my brother who always took dad’s advice, hung on his every word, respected him, was his friend.
I’d been restless all night, on edge, not wanting to receive another bollocking for being late after a customary late night writing, chasing the dream. I’d over-snoozed the alarm and had been scraping the barrel of excuses for one I’d not yet used, but my bullshit box was empty. There are only so many flat tyres a car can get and I’d already assured the boss I’d buy new batteries for the alarm clock.
When my mum’s high-pitched wailing accompanied the bizarre sentence about dad being dead I found myself bouncing from my bed. Opening the door I met Derek’s concerned face on the landing. We both took three steps at a time as the death rattle and mum’s shrieks became deafening.
‘He’s…near…the bin,’ cried mum.
I followed Derek outside to the wheelie bin and we scanned frantically.
Mum kept her distance, screaming from the hall. ‘No…no! In the… kitchen!’
The rattle continued, unforgettable once heard.
I found dad first. Beside the pedal bin, a buckled stool upturned in the corner. The stool my dad sat on every day - since his retirement from the Power Station two years prior - smoking and drinking coffee as he watched the world pass by through the kitchen window while stewing on the latest family drama. A born worrier; obviously where I get it from.
His blue eyes were open as he lay there on his back. Their sparkle absent, they stared blankly, heavenwards. The rattle had diminished. He looked more relaxed than I’d ever seen him, the worry lines less defined somehow.
‘Get an ambulance!’ I said.
‘There’s one…on the…way.’ I glimpsed mum peering through banisters where the stairs met the hall.
‘Aw, no…daaaad!’ yelled Derek.
I didn’t cry. There was no time for that. Mouth to mouth. Two breaths in…his chest rose. ‘It’s working!’ I pumped his chest then blew two more breaths. The slight regurgitation of dad’s last meal tasted bitter, but my focus remained.
My dad: The Oak Tree. Maybe I could save him and finally we could be friends.
But I soon realized I was just blowing air into his lungs, nothing more. I continued regardless, tears welling now, mum sobbing uncontrollably in the hallway as Derek hugged her.
A neighbour, Ken, rushed in to assist, taking over the resuscitation attempts and I stood back, knowing. Breathless, I glanced again at mum, hands over her face, her world shattered, retirement plans stolen. I knew, too, my Big Sis’ would take this real bad. And telling her filled me with dread. A vicious pain stabbed my heart.
When the ambulance arrived Ken stepped aside. The paramedics tried with their defibrillator, but drew a flat line and took dad with them, leaving us a printout as a souvenir. Gee thanks.
Numb, in a dream-world, we toasted my dad with his favourite tipple: rum and black. I tried to be philosophical for mum’s sake, though it didn’t really work. Too soon, too raw. Emotional wrecks, we went to bed.
As I turned out the bedside light and pulled the blankets up it happened.
I was completely and utterly engulfed by a feeling of warmth and love…God?…an angel?…my dad?...I dunno. I said out loud three times, ‘Thank you,’ with each wave of this wonderful yet surreal feeling. Then I drifted into the deepest of sleeps.
In the ensuing days I didn’t mention this and, to be honest, I’d forgotten about it as the funeral arrangements weighed heavy on us all. And, yes, my Big Sis’ took the news terribly, our tearful embrace lasting close on half an hour.
On the night of the funeral I’d gone on the old rum and black again - dad would’ve wanted me to – and I recalled the strange and incredible feeling I’d had the night he’d died.
Knowing Derek was a sceptic it was difficult to broach the subject as the last of the guests from the wake left, but the rum helped, a lot. I poured another each and plopped in a couple of cubes of ice.
‘Dek, I’m sure he visited me last week.’
He shook his dipped head. ‘Bollocks.’
‘Explain this then. When I went to bed the night he died I was overwhelmed by an amazing feeling of love.’
His head raised and he eyed me.
‘The only way I can describe it is an orgasm times a thousand.’
His gaze intensified.
‘But it wasn’t sexual, just…well, really powerful unconditional love throughout my body.’ I saw him shaking his head again. ‘Aah, forget it…I knew you wouldn’t understand.’
‘I felt that, too, arkid.’
I was taken aback and necked my rum. ‘Really?’
‘Yeah. But I didn’t understand it and would have kept it to myself if you hadn’t said that. Your description was spot on.’
I stared at him, shocked. ‘I knew he was dead beforehand, too.’ I then told him about the bizarre sentence.
‘So did I,’ he said calmly.
‘So his last act was to kick both our lazy asses out of bed then?’
We both laughed nervously and raised our glasses with a clink to toast dad.
‘Have we been touched by angels, Dek, or was it dad saying goodbye?’
Donning a pensive look, he emptied his glass and slapped it on the coffee table. ‘Nah…that’s all a loada bollocks that stuff.’
Typical of him. But I wasn’t so sure…
Over the years I’ve grown into an Oak Tree myself. Not as sturdy as my dad mind, the winds of life still make me sway somewhat, but I’m getting there. And I’ve a couple of little acorns now, too. They’ve already carved their names on me, which is a tad disrespectful: cheeky little mites.
I just hope they learn to appreciate me before The Oak Tree falls.
Col Bury is currently writing a crime novel and his ever-growing selection of short stories can be found on TKnC and A Twist Of Noir. He blogs and interviews crime authors here: