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A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. September's Theme: "Relationships"
Volume 4 Issue 6 ISSN# 1708-3265
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The Last Time
by Iain Pennington

The last time I heard my father's voice was during our Sunday morning phone call.

I remember the cool lick of the new spring sun through the window, and razor-edged shadows slanting along the walls. Through this our words flowed like water, easy and free and full of laughter. Our words soared and dipped and rolled through the hours as the morning passed by, and when we were done, I felt full and happy.

The next day, my sister called with the news.

After, I curled up and hugged my belly. From deep in my throat came a high keening wail that hovered in the air. It came out with my breath, escaping, without my intention. I had never made such a sound before.


The last time I touched my father was on a cold slab in a cold room in a cold building.

I touched his cheek with my fingers, which I had never done in life. He looked wrong, as though his flesh had shifted under his skin. This face, that was etched in my genes, that I knew in all its ages from faded brown photos and slide carousels and jumpy Palm Springs videos, this face was a trick. It was like him but it was not him.

I laid my palm over his still heart, his shining medals. He was hard, cold, like hollow wood. He was a shell, a husk. This was not my father.

There was no one to talk to here, no reason to linger. I left, unsatisfied.

The next day we gave his ashes to the sea.


Long after, I walked with my father by the sea.

Gulls whirled and shrieked in the gusts overhead as we walked the water's edge. Foam licked our feet, slowly erasing the shadow footsteps pressed in the wet-packed sand.

In a frenzy I punched the air with my fists. I was screaming. My words were one long howl of rage and pain, savage thrusts at the heart and guts and balls of this man my father. I had no reason and no mercy and nothing holding me back.

WHY WHY WHY weren't you there when the bad boys chased me WHY didn't you take me with you that day WHY didn't you say sorry WHY didn't you love me WHY didn't you hold me WHY didn't you care WHY didn't you love me WHY WHY WHY.

He took every hit unflinching. His eyes never left mine. His smile never faltered. He never missed a step.

Then somehow it was over. The rage was gone, as though it was never there. We walked, side by side, silent and peaceful.

There was a cottage. Wooden steps led down from the front porch to a path. My father and I were walking up to it, the wind and the sea at our back. Sitting on the steps were my mother and my sisters, watching us approach. They were smiling.

And then I was sitting with my mother and my sisters watching my father approach.

He stopped before me, smiling. He reached out his hand, and I reached to take it. I saw his hand curve over mine, and I saw the lines in my palm through the back of his hand. I saw my fingers through his clearing skin. I looked up and saw the sky and the sea and the whirling clouds through his fading face, in his loving smile and his warm sad eyes.

He was leaving.

Slowly, slowly my father faded to invisibility, to nothing, into the wind and the light and the sea. Finally he was gone, and all that was left was my mother and my sisters and my empty hand.

And that was the last time I saw my father.

Iain Pennington (c) June 2006

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