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My flight was delayed and now I get to watch the sunrise. I’ll chase it all the way to Toronto. 

I’m seeking to be moved by all the littlest things lately – the slant of that roof in the sun, its crooked line against that cloud. The colour of that scarf. The paint on her nail. The bad art I did this morning. The way ice froze over cigarettes in the ashtray. The long-awaited conversation. My dad’s coughs over the phone.


I’ll spend a week in Toronto to be with my dad. He had chemo on Wednesday, it’s Sunday now and he’s feeling sick. I had dinner with some old friends last night at my grandpa’s favorite Chinese restaurant, Yueh Tung at Dundas and Elizabeth. I took my first steps there, as the story goes. I imagine my grandpa must have liked that. He may have laughed at the time. I remember counting the layers of the thin plastic tablecloths and seeing how they puckered around my nails when I tore through them.


My dad’s hands are unchanged by his illness just as I remember my grandpa’s being. I can’t stop thinking of it, my grandpa’s hands lying on the hospital blanket, my dad’s resting on his stomach as he naps on the couch. My grandpa’s nails were clean until he died.


I send a sext in the guest bedroom, the office with a mattress and big ficus tree that was once my grandfather’s, a weeping fig, while my dad watches football in the living room. He’s sick from his chemo a few days ago, he’s feeling sorry and ill, he doesn’t want the dinner I cooked for him earlier. I ate my portion and his and now I need someone to rub my belly. I want to sext you about belly rubs.


My dad sits with his feet in an electric foot massager that a friend gave to him years ago. The friend is dying now, my dad just found out. An email from the friend’s ex-wife. She says their daughter is sad but fine, whatever that might mean. 

He keeps watching football. The quarterback does something that excites him, he yells and claps. He coughs. Settles back into the blanket that used to be my grandfather’s. 

How connected it all is. How like holding hands. This man dying then the next and the next. That one too. How we manage it all. How we water the ficus. Watch as the blanket pills. Call it what we do – grief, loss, circle – as it fills us and empties us as it will. Leaves us. Returns.


I picture the way both my dad and grandpa held their open face sandwiches, heavy with mayonnaise and anchovies and covered in a single piece of crisp romaine, rye bread toasted dark, fingers strong and flat against the lettuce so nothing escaped bite by bite. Nothing sounds so good as my dad or grandpa eating crunchy food. The toast and lettuce. The fresh radishes my grandpa would put out in a bowl alongside garlic-stuffed olives when he had company. Martinis made with artichoke hearts. The light beer he’d drink from a thick ceramic mug.


I’ll think of the morning when my lover wouldn’t share her strawberries with me because they weren’t sweet enough. When she spoke under her breath about the fruit flies in the kitchen that had been bothering her all summer. She made traps for them with vinegar and plastic wrap which sat next to the ones she made with cider the day before. I would watch as a young raven collected peanuts she put out for him in a little dish on the back porch. I’ll think of how she made us eggs for breakfast and apologized again because she knew I didn’t like them much. How she made me want to say small and imperfect things that meant nothing and then she discouraged me from words like nothing and always which are too absolute. How she played guitar in those sandals she bought online and didn’t like.



The next morning my dad’s still excited by the game from the previous night. He acts out a football play he saw his favourite quarterback do last week, he says he has a little crush on him and his green eyes. He says these things are good to watch, these careers of sports superstars, because they could end at any moment – one wrong tackle, a hurt back or ankle. He returns to the couch to text his friend who also may have watched. He likes to speak of it, to share excitement. How connected it all is. How like boys and sports.


We pass the next days on the couch. The chemo churns his stomach. We take turns being comforted by the duvet I used to sleep under on my grandfather’s big corduroy couch, the couch that now fills my dad’s living room. He takes the blanket from my bed sometime early in the morning when he wakes and spends the day under it. I take it from the couch once he goes to bed and sleep with it. One night I get my period and worry I will bleed on the pilled white fleece, I’m restless all night thinking about it but don’t do anything to prevent it.


He tells me about a Chekhov story he loves, all about a man who dreams of growing gooseberries. He reads it to me and when his eyes grow tired I read it to him. We shift under the blanket. We turn on the TV and switch between football and a sitcom. I send an unanswered text. The water boils on the stove. I forget to make the tea.


I spend the morning and then the day moving between the bed and the couch and feel like the only person in the world lazy enough to do this. I’m face to face with my phone. My dad face to face with the TV. A weakness he only allows himself when he feels sick. I hold my phone inside my open book so it seems temporary.


In another morning the lover will share her bed with another woman. That morning this other woman might kiss her shoulder, as I often did. In the afternoon they might share a beer that they will squeeze a lime into. Or drink cheap wine. They won’t be able to find the corkscrew. They’ll be relieved to find it’s twist-off. They might talk about me, I wonder. They’ll sit together into the evening as we would. Maybe they’ll pull a string across the floor for the cat. They’ll give each other a sweet smile.


I use the electric foot massager that sits under the coffee table. Michael gave it to him, the friend he just found out is dying. How connected. We talk about Michael as we watch football that night. He brings out a stone from a box somewhere, he says Michael gave it to him years ago. He puts it on top of a stack of books on the coffee table. He shows me an email he just received from Michael’s ex-wife, she says he might go tonight. If not tonight soon. He closes the laptop, “my sweet michael”, and yells in excitement at the way the running back has barreled through the other team’s attempted tackle. “There’s such a dance to it”, he says.


The downstairs neighbour plays cryptocurrency videos loudly throughout the day. My dad plays beetthoven’s Symphony No. 7 to cover the sound. He moves in a specific way that shows me he’s irritated. I realize this intimacy we have. When I wake in the morning I know how he will be feeling by the way I can hear him moving around the apartment, preparing his green tea. This intimacy. I wonder if this is something I will miss when he’s gone. All these things I might. The voicemails from him I try to save. The times I record our conversations just to keep. These intimacies. These many tiny sorrows.


The next morning I wake to the ficus tree that used to be my grandfathers. My dad would care for it when my grandpa was out of town. He keeps it in his office now. I realize that I’ll kill it when my father dies, it’s inevitable it seems. It will drop its leaves as quickly as the one I bought half-off from the Home Hardware some years ago. My house will be too drafty for it, not enough light. 

The thing I remember about saying goodbye to my grandpa was the way his head smelt when I kissed him on the forehead – sweet and soft. Like a child. All these little intimacies.


It’s Saturday. We sit on the couch. I write a poem. I suppose this was a poem too. I go back and forth all the time: everything is a poem, nothing is a poem.


One evening the lover will drag a string for her cat and I wonder where I’ll be. Being held or not. Loving her still or not. Our fathers were in the hospital at the same time – hers for his heart, mine with a cough. I wanted, at the time, to prove that I could grieve like her. Present and full of tears. I wanted to be the raven she put out peanuts for, the fly she trapped with vinegar. I wanted to receive her love in an open and uncomplicated way. How connected it all is. How like holding hands. This man dying then the next and the next. This love to the other. The cat chases the string across the floor.


My dad tells me about Bertolt Brecht’s Alienation Affect. Neither of us slept well the night before. I look up his name (bertoll bret) to learn how to spell it. He tells me how Brecht urges us to look at the familiar in a new way. How we are simply an actor portraying a character, aren’t we? He looks through his CDs as he asks me this. He selects one to put on. He dances in front of the window where sun comes through in the morning. I say I used to sing this song around the campfire. He dances still. He doesn’t hear me. He says I was almost in a dance troupe once, you know, we were going to tour Paris. He has his arms up and his head back.


I wonder what my grandpa would think of my father’s illness. My dad wouldn’t like me calling it an illness. “I don’t fight with cancer”, he says, “I dance.” Arms up. Head back. The window where the light comes through.


In some morning she’ll lie with lover after lover and none of them will be me. Some early morning her father will die or mine will and we won’t hold one another and her tears won’t rest on my shoulder. Or they will. I will or won’t see how her hair changes as it grays and how the lines around her eyes and mouth deepen. I will or won’t meet this other woman and see them in love. In some early morning we’ll all be kissed with our eyes still closed. Or we’ll all reach to the other side of the bed and be surprised to remember it’s empty. Or we’ll all wonder how to grieve, how to be loved, we’ll all. We’ll all.


My dad calls me when I arrive home, after a long plane ride and a long bus ride. I’m looking forward to a shower. He tells me Michael has died. That he spent most of the night awake and thinking about him. Happy thoughts, he said, remembering Michael’s different types of laughs. Remembering his old blue truck. Remembering his daughter’s pink room.


How connected it all is. How like holding hands. This man dying then the next and the next. That one too. How we manage it all. How we water the ficus. Watch as the blanket pills. This love and the next. Call it what we do. Grief, loss, circle. It fills us and empties us as it will. Arms up, head back. Leaves us. Returns. How connected. How like holding hands. The dance. Everything is, nothing is.


Kate Brooks is a writer and painter who splits her time between Toronto and Halifax. Her work uses experimental narration to engage with the ubiquitous through the scope of the prosaically personal. Centering primarily around themes of desire and grief, her work has been longlisted for the Room Magazine Fiction Contest, twice for the CBC Short Story Prize, and shortlisted for the Malahat Review Open Season Award and Metatron Press’ Prize for Rising Authors, and placed third place in Quagmire Magazine’s Short Fiction Prize. Her writing has been published with WHOIS journal, Probably Poetry Collective, and Metatron Press’ MicroMeta, among others.