(George F. Walker, one of Canada’s most prolific and popular playwrights, pens an elegy to his father in seven part. Esoterica will syndicate one part each day leading up to Father’s Day. Read Part One, Two, Three and Four here.)
By George F. Walker,
A call from my sister.
Except maybe she was sniffling.
“Are you okay?”
“He died alone.”
Well I’m sure his mother was still there. I didn’t actually say that. But I thought it. Because he’d been seeing her at the foot of his bed for the last couple of days.
“Mum was tired. We were all tired, so we left.”
“You all left?”
I shouldn’t have said that. There would be a price for putting it that way.
“Where were you?”
And there it was.
“We wanted you to go replace us at the hospital.”
“He died alone”
“I know. But you can go now, right. They want someone to identify his body?”
“I don’t know. You can ask when you get there.”
“Maybe I’ll just call the nurses’ station.”
“Just go okay. They want to take him down to the morgue. And Mum wants someone to see him before they do that. Just go.”
So I went.
To the hospital. Up the elevator. Out into the Cancer Ward (where hope hangs by a thread) and into his room, where I pulled back the curtain and looked for a long almost breathless time at his lifeless body. A nurse poked her head in, and I said just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever said in my life.
“Yeah. It’s him.”
She just looked at me …
“Do you need a few minutes?”
And I thought … To do what? Stare at his absence? Fully take in the fact that he was as gone as he could possibly be. I cradled his head and wept until I was shaking.
Bye, Daddy. Hope you find your mother. Your father. Your little sister. Your three dead brothers.
Ah this fucking life. Or as he’d said to me just a month before that. At the beginning of his deterioration: “So this is what it comes to.”
Then that mischievous grin.
“But it comes to us all.”
I left his room. Went down to the parking lot. And tried very hard to forget what I’d just seen. No luck with that. No luck erasing that picture of my father as a corpse for many years, actually.
When I thought of him that’s what I saw. Even when I talked about him the corpse is what came into my mind. I tried. Seriously hard. And eventually he came back to me. His voice. Glimpses of him fishing. But it took longer than it should have. And I still don’t know why I had to go and do it.
Identify the body?
In case it had been replaced by another one?
Questions I asked my mother after my father died. I guess I thought she wouldn’t last long after he was gone. Fooled me though. She kept going for 14 years. Good for her. Because there were things I wanted to know…
What was her father like?
She looked at me a little suspiciously
“I loved him.” And that was it. That was all she wanted to tell me.
What was her sister Violet like?
“She was beautiful. And before she met that pig, she was funny.”
Yeah, Violet’s husband was an ugly drunk. I’d heard all about him from… someone. Probably one of my older sisters.
“He got her pregnant and that was it.”
“She couldn’t get away from him?”
“And go where?” And then it happened again.”
“He raped her.”
“Who told you that?
“Dad. Or Margaret.”
“Yeah they knew all about the bastard. And she got pregnant from it.”
“And it happened one more time?”
Uh huh. There was a third child on the way, and she was too young. Two was hard enough. Dealing with him and three kids, that was going to be too much.”
“So, she had an abortion?”
“She got herself butchered, that’s what she did. Had it done to her on a kitchen table. Bled to death before she got home.”
It was a back-alley procedure. My father told me that Violet dying like that broke my mother’s heart. And for a long time her spirit. Government “people” took the two kids away from the monster. Put them in a home. Found them new families. And my mother and her other sisters were never told where they went. Unless they were. And kept it to themselves.
I asked my dad if mum’s father drank.
“She loved him” was all he’d say.
I don’t think people realize how difficult life in this city was for an awful lot of people.
When my father worked for the city, he sometimes ran things. One of those things was a large public bathhouse on Sackville St. It was for the indigent. People just passing through. People in boarding houses with only toilets. For five cents you got a bar of soap and a towel. The clientele was rough, and dirt poor. Some of them barely hanging on. But the building itself was kind of wonderful. Huge and Old. It had probably been something interesting before it was a bathhouse. And it could have been something interesting later. Maybe a library or even a theatre. (Sure!)
But they tore it down a few years ago when no one was looking or caring. We had an apartment on the top floor. And on my way to school in the morning. I usually saw a lot of the truly unwashed waiting at the front for the place to open. Unwashed. Unwanted. Unemployed. Most of them greeted me warmly as I passed, and they all seemed to love my father.
I’m pretty sure he related. Some of them must have reminded him of guys in those hobo camps. In those boxcars. On the rails.
(To be continued…)·
George F. Walker is one of Canada’s most prolific and popular playwrights. Since beginning his theatre career in the early 1970s, Walker has written more than 30 plays and has created screenplays for several award-winning Canadian television series. Part Kafka, part Lewis Carroll, Walker’s distinctive, gritty, fast-paced tragicomedies illuminate and satirize the selfishness, greed, and aggression of contemporary urban culture.