Nighttime Hungers, Part II
By Maggie D. Fedorov
Published Issue 108, December 2022
His fingers are stiff and unmoving as I weave them between my own. I saw him last in February, just after he’d gotten his diagnosis. Pancreatic Cancer, stage four. I think back to the last time we spoke, only just last week. Even then he’d seemed so full of life. Nothing in him betrayed the secret of how close he was to the end. This waxy, lifeless figure before me is not — was not — my father; could never have been.
“That’ll be Miller,” Mom says, peeking out the front window.
My brain, pulled begrudgingly from this far-away place finally registers the low drone of the Bobcat’s diesel engine coming to a stop in the laneway in front of the house.
“He’s early,” she glances at her watch, “We’re headed out to get the hole dug before it gets dark. Get yourself settled in. I left the key to the mother-in-law for you on the kitchen counter. We can wash and dress him when I get back.”
“Oh I also put out— ”
A loud THUMP from the other end of the room interrupts her. I jump in my skin; the percussive beating in my chest spreads with the electric warmth of adrenaline to my neck, fingertips and other more tender bits of flesh below the waist. My mother, on the other hand, is unphased.
“That damned bird has been beating its head against the glass all day. Be grateful you’re not staying in the main house— ” she smiles, “— it’s enough to drive you crazy after a few hours.”
She opens the front door just as Miller raises a fist to knock.
“Won’t be long,” she says with a wink, “Make yourself a drink.”
I wave, and she shuts the door behind her.
“Sorry Daddy,” I loosen my grip on his bony fingers, “ I guess I’m a little jumpy. I didn’t mean to squeeze so hard.”
My knees creak as I stand from where I’d knelt on the floor. I can see twelve or thirteen smudges on the window overlooking the freehold where the bird had struck it. I draw closer, and I’m surprised to find it neither dead nor in a state of panic. It stands peacefully, knowingly; as if it had been trying desperately to get someone’s attention all day and now only waits for my acknowledgement. I know this bird. It’s a wren. A little thing; identifiable by its round body, upturned tail, and barred underside. The bird cocks its head left, then right, and finally flies for the tree line.
Daddy didn’t believe in coincidences. Had he the means to communicate I’m sure that even in his present state he’d be trying to convince me that Wren had come to us with a message from the spirits. I, on the other hand, cannot so easily suspend my disbelief in such things. I’m a modern woman. It’s far simpler to convince me of things that are tangible. “Make yourself a drink.” It’s tangible. I’m easily convinced.
I hobble into the kitchen and for the first time since yesterday I smile a real smile. An unopened bottle of Jack waits for me there. I pull a tumbler from the shelf, pour two fingers of whiskey, consider for a moment, and splash in a little more to make it an even three. If there’s Jack on the counter, then undoubtedly there’s root beer in the fridge. I grab a can of A&W, pop it open and top off my glass. My socks slide my feet away from me on the hardwood. I feel like a child again with my cup fizzing little bubbles into my nose as I drink, letting my feet carry me away from both myself and this moment until I come to a stop wedged into the ninety degree angle where the flooring meets the cabinetry. I sit here in my fugue state until I feel the familiar warmth of the buzz guide me once more to my feet.
Armed with another drink for fortitude, I pick up my duffel bag from where I’d dropped it in the entryway stopping briefly to give Daddy a kiss on the forehead on my way back through; penitence for my absence between now and my last visit, as if a few kisses and some hand holding with a dead man could possibly make up for the time I should have spent at home prior to this week. Who am I kidding; it’s more than just a little bit selfish. Tomorrow we put him in the ground and forevermore I’ll wish I could hold his hand one more time and not be able to. (it lay in the dirt and pulsed as if it had a heartbeat) At the same time, I can’t fuckin’ wait to have it all behind me.
I can’t tell you how long I spent sitting at the edge of the guest bed staring into the abyss at the bottom of my empty glass before the patio light came on. A low fog hangs in the air now, thick like cotton. I keep my eyes on the stone path beneath me, placing carefully each step I take towards the back door of the main house. The fog parts for me, pulling away from places I’ve yet to reach. It strikes me that tonight the earth has been split open to receive Daddy, and the opening of the mist is perhaps a reflection of that for those of us left to grieve him on this plane of existence. As above, so below.
The savory smell of pumpkin wafts around the corner from the kitchen as I shut the door behind me. For a moment things almost feel right, as if Daddy is only just behind the closed doors of the den listening studiously to Rachmaninoff and preparing to compose for the evening, except (rocks jutting from the edges of that God-forsaken pit could easily have been mistaken for teeth) I’m almost certain there’s not enough liquor in the world to get that dream out of my head. The hole’s pulsing has been seared into my mind’s eye.
I grab the bottle of whiskey and pour myself another as I slide into a seat at the bar.
“All settled in, then?”
“As settled as I’ll ever be. Thanks for this,” I reply, raising my glass.
“Dinner’s at 7:30,” Mom says, “I bet we could have him washed and dressed in forty five minutes between the two of us, what do you say?”
She seems anxious to have it done, and I can’t blame her. I think we’ll both be happy to give him back his dignity. It’s hard to look at him in the state he’s in: slack-jawed with dark stubble above his lip and wide, wandering eyes.
“I’ll get to working out the Rigor Mortis if you’ll do his shave, deal?”
I lay in bed with pumpkin soup and Old No. 7 warming my belly and a microfleece blanket warming my feet, but sleep does not come easily. Minutes become hours until half past two in the morning I give up and resign myself to the armchair in the corner and allow my mind to play. (the hole gave one final, ferocious pulse) I wonder about Alma and how the gallery opening went. I’ll call her first thing in the morning, I decide. I think of Daddy lying in the Great Room wearing the same suit he wore to my graduation, and looking so unlike himself. And I think of the space in the ground that will be, by this time tomorrow, filled once more with dirt and what remains of the man that was once Edgar Vincent Holmes.
I lay my head in my hands and close my eyes for just a few seconds until a warm, orange glow seeps through the thin veil of my eyelids like the sunrise through a sheer curtain. Something has triggered the motion light outside the door. Coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, elk, and even bears are no strangers here, but what sits outside my window at this hour genuinely surprises me. Wren has returned, and he has brought with him a companion. The two birds perch on the window sill and stare directly at me, as if beckoning me to join them. I feel drawn to them; and so, wrapping my blanket tightly around myself I peek through a small crack in the door. The birds don’t spook, but hop to the ground in front of me and I step outside to meet them, shutting the door behind me. Only then do my midnight friends make for the forest.
Standing before the towering thicket of trees in front of two great, yellowing tamaracks, I kneel at the edge of the gaping wound in the earth and begin to weep. The ground shakes beneath me; an insidious, hungry pulsing that sends chills down my spine and raises the small hairs on my limbs. I know how this ends. Off-balance, I fall and again am consumed by the darkness that has haunted my dreams for as long as I can remember.
To be continued.
Born and raised in the Greater Seattle Area, Maggie D. Fedorov began to develop her inquisitive nature and lust for exploration when she was very small. Maggie considers herself a lifelong learner, and as such she spends much of her free time reading, researching, honing her skills in the arts and other hobbies, and naturally, planning her next adventures!
Maggie’s writing stems from a desire to delve into and capture what it means to be human at its very core; this tug-of-war that we play with the elements which mold our lives as we fight and embrace them, and using our observations to develop more vital roots anchoring us to the elements we all battle and nurture in our own lives. It was out of a compulsive need to share this form of expression and exploration that Maggie Fedorov, the writer, was born.
Maggie shares her travels and her life with her husband, Sam. The two are often found indulging in desserts, collectively dreaming about their future fur babies, and attempting to achieve Nirvana through the flawless integration of bad puns and dad jokes in normal conversation. See more on her Instagram.