The woman had an accent, a soft southern thing that most people probably found comforting. Nancy took her hand out from under her father’s hand, arranged his fingers back in place, and patted him gently before she stood up.
“Some of them, it’s like the body is there but the soul’s already gone.”
Nancy didn’t bother to reply. Alzheimer’s could strike at anytime, but it had taken her father when he was still young. In high school she’d barely noticed when Dad forgot things or needed directions, now, just ten years later he barely spoke. She missed him. Sometimes holding his hand and remembering the things he had said made her feel better. That was why she bothered.
“Tommy asked me marry him,” she whispered to the man on the bed. “It’s not the way I thought it would be, but I’m going to be a bride. I just wish you could walk me down the aisle.”
She gave him a quick kiss and headed home. She had a lot to do, but she’d wanted her Dad to be the first to know.
The smell of coffee called her out of a deep sleep. For a second she was sixteen again, ready to take her driver’s test. Dad made coffee. Then her memories shifted forward, she was going to her first day at work, fueled with a cup of coffee the way Dad made it. Then back again, to her college graduation, how much her head had hurt with the hangover, how Dad had left the coffee by the side of her bed. She finally came fully awake and realized that today wasn’t one of those super important days. Except that maybe it was, since this was the first morning she’d woken up engaged. Her smile turned into a frown as her feet hit the floor. She really did smell coffee.
Down the hall she brushed it away. The visit to the nursing home made her think about Dad, which made her think about coffee which made her-
She stopped in the kitchen watching the old coffee pot sputter to a finish.
“Good morning sweetheart.”
It didn’t make a second’s worth of sense, but there was her father, looking healthy and hale in a plaid shirt and worn blue jeans.
“You kept my coffee pot.”
“It still works and, uh…” she looked at him sitting at the small breakfast table as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
“Why don’t I get that for you?” He stood up with a grace he hadn’t had for years and took the empty coffee cup from her hand. She couldn’t think of what to say, how to tell him this was just unnatural, which question to ask first. “I’ve been thinking about what you said, about Tommy.” He added one sugar to the cup, then one tablespoon of creamer. “You know I always want what’s best for you, and if you’re happy I’m happy but…”
It was so Dad, to let his voice trail off like that, so normal. “But?”
“I want you to have the kind of love your mother and I had before she died. I know you’re alone a lot and it’s easy to want someone there for you but…”
He passed her the mug and she took her first sip, waiting for him to finish.
“But for heaven’s sake Nancy, if you want companionship get a dog. Don’t marry this man just because he asked. You’re worth more than that.”
She laughed halfway through the first taste of coffee, the warm liquid getting caught in her throat. “Oh Dad.”
“Now don’t you oh Dad me. Do you love him? I mean with all your heart and soul? Is he perfect for you?”
“Well, no.” She took another drink of coffee. She wanted this to be some sentimental moment, but she knew that stern look in his eyes.
“Then why are you settling? You’re not lazy, never have been. Or don’t you think it’s worth the work?”
“I… I don’t know. I guess I never thought about it,” she stammered, caught like a little kid. In the bedroom her alarm clock clicked on, even out in the kitchen she could hear it.
“Well, looks like it time for me to go. Think about it though. He’s not worth you, baby-girl.” Her father took the coffee mug from her, gave her a warm hug, and then walked toward the front door. She could only stand there, still confused, the alarm ringing in her ears.
“Dad, wait! I love you.” She started but he was half out the door.
“I know and I love you too. Now go get that alarm.”
He shut the door and left, giving her nothing to do but to follow his orders. In the bedroom, the alarm screeched its fury at being ignored. She sat on the side of her bed trying to work through what had just happened, she could hit the button to silence the alarm without thinking, she could talk to Dad without thinking, but understanding what had just happened… that would take a lot of thinking.
Except she realized, that maybe it didn’t. Maybe it was all just a dream. She looked around the bedroom at the sunlight coming in, the alarm clock, the bed. Probably a dream. It wouldn’t hurt to check and be sure.
The same nurse picked up the phone, her accent making the words a song, “St. Francis Nursing Center.”
“This is Nancy, I was visiting my Dad in 103 last night.”
“I remember, sugar.” It sounded like sug-ahh and only made the morning seem more unreal.
“How is he?” She stopped, cutting herself off, not wanting to know the answer. What if her father had died in the night? What if the dream was meant to tell her that? What if-
“Same as he was. I told you, sugar, sometimes the soul’s moved on but the body’s still here.”
“Right. Of course. Thank you.” She hung up the phone, looked around the room again, then decided: it was a dream. It could be nothing else. The father she loved was gone, the only thing left was a shell. As much as she wanted it, her father would not magically recover to give her advice. She reminded herself of that through her shower, and while she got dressed. On her way to the kitchen for breakfast she took a final check in the mirror. Everything looked fine except the engagement ring.If it was a dream that meant her subconscious thought Tommy wasn’t right for her. She slipped the ring off her hand. It wasn’t the first time she’d thought that. Maybe she should just get a dog.
With her mind on the best way to give back the ring she walked into the kitchen and picked up the coffee that was waiting for her. It was cold and she dumped it to pour a fresh cup, never stopping to wonder who made the pot.