The following excerpt is part of the blogging project, The Life and Times of Tara #TLFF
That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.
– Emily Dickinson, Poem Number 1741
She used to imagine she’d find out while cutting sweet potatoes. Something about the monotony of slicing through tough roots felt apropos. She’d feel a brief chill moments before answering the phone call from her mother. She’d have known what her mother was going to tell her because she was intuitive, perhaps to a fault. This scenario, she imagined, played over and over in her mind for several years. The thought became more obsessive throughout her late teens and early twenties. This was the only way she could imagine it; to experience her father’s death from a safe distance.
The peeling of thin slices, layer by layer kept her mind occupied. The chomping sound, like biting into a sour apple, provided a soundtrack for her thoughts. Still, she couldn’t avoid her legs from going limp upon remembering the day she sat by her father’s bedside. She was transfixed by the vein that pulsated on the right side of his neck. Every hour that went by the slower the vein would pump. Any moment now, she thought to herself, he’d be gone.
She used both hands to press down on the knife to make a swift cut. Sweet potatoes are resistant. Her forefingers numb from cutting all afternoon. Calluses forming. Her hands were swollen.
She remembered her father’s hands. His fingers were thick, bloated. His nails yellowing. His hands were turning pale white, but the age spots were still visible. Rigamortis was setting in even though his heart was still pumping. He wasn’t leaving without a fight.
The water was boiling for too long prompting her to drop the potato slices in the shallow water that remained. The potatoes were submerged. She poured white and brown sugar on top of the potatoes, then seasoned the slices with nutmeg and cinnamon until fragrant. Insider her small apartment it felt hot, stagnant, and humid from the boiling water. It felt like home.
She hadn’t lived with her father for several years. After he became too sick for her to take care of alone, he was moved to the family home down south. They were roommates for nearly a decade. She had her own room, he had his. There was also a spare bedroom for him to paint, and for her to dance. They were two artists living under one roof. Like father, like daughter. They’d congregate in the family room on week nights to watch cable news. They’d gather on the deck at midnight to gaze at the southern stars. He’d tell her with insistence that there’s no way we’re the only ones alive in the universe. If so, what an entire waste of goddamn space. Her father believed something was out there in the stars, though he was never quite sure. She liked to believe in the hypothesis that something was out there wandering about, but she needed more evidence. The conversations and debates never grew old. She always believed that her father, although significantly older in age and experience, consider her as an intellectual equal. He encouraged her to question everything. Though he didn’t explicitly tell her to, she learned to question authority by observing the life he led. He didn’t always win, but at least he was heard.
While living together she’d cook and he’d wash the dishes. Thanksgivings were a deal. She’d cook a massive meal that included turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, pies, greens, all of which they could never eat. He’d hand-wash all of the plates, silverware, pots, and pans, despite there being a dishwasher. Neither minded taking the time to finish each chore. For them, home life was a system of looking out for each other. Patiently.
An hour had passed. The sweet potato slices were soft and ready to go in the oven. She drizzled marshmallows over the tender slices and placed the pan in the pre-heated stove. Several minutes later they were ready to eat.
It had been five years since her father passed away. Five years since she sat next to his stiffening body. She’ll never forget the waiting. Never forget the musty smell in the bedroom or the heat that surfaced from anxiety’s curse. She’ll always remember watching when the vein stopped pumping, and she’ll always recall that moment when she whispered to herself, “that’s it. It’s over.”
She sat alone at the small dining table looking down at a hot plate filled with the syrupy-glazed concoction. The marshmallows slid from the potatoes like butter on a warm skillet. She swallowed a fork full. They were the sweetest potatoes she ever ate.