The Short Story Series were originally published on Through Frog Eyes as a collaborative effort between a guest photographer and my writing. I am relaunching the stories individually for all those who are new to the website and Marie Balustrade´s writing. The IOE Series features guest photographer Ismael Ortiz Escribano from Spain for four stories. Click HERE for the full set.
The sun was setting behind the hills as Sean McAllister left the clinic in a daze. He didn’t register scintillating rays of colour that seemed to set the clouds on fire, nor did the loud group of teenagers walking past him seem to make any difference to his world. The two large malamutes that sauntered past him dragging their owner along as he held their leashes normally would have made him stop and laugh, probably even take out his camera as well. Instead, all he could bring himself to do was zip up his jacket and shove his fisted hands into the side pockets. Two weeks, that was all the doctor had given him; not two months or even two years during which he could have accomplished so much more. Two weeks to live. How was he ever going to tell his family? As he blindly made his way towards the car he felt the drops on his cheeks. “Rain, I’m going to miss the rain” he muttered to nobody in particular, only to realise that the drops were his own tears.
If he only had two weeks to live he was definitely not going to sit around the house twiddling his thumbs waiting for Death to arrive. Leaving the motor running, Sean jumped out of the car, dashed into the house and grabbed his two daughters from their playroom, flipped the jackets from the wardrobe, kissed his startled wife in the kitchen passionately, promising her more when he returned, and ran back to the car.
“Have we been naughty Daddy?”
“Yes, Daddy, are you taking us to the police?”
“No my darlings, it’s just the opposite. Daddy is just feeling different today. I want us to do something unusual and fun. Who wants fish and chips?”
“Great! That makes three of us, and we’ll bring some for Mum and Nan home, but after we have fried Mars bars and cokes.”
“But Daddy! You tell us every day never to eat those things?”
“And you spanked me once for having a spoon of ice cream before dinner, remember?”
Sean stepped on the breaks gently, pulled the car over to the side and turned around to look at his little angels. “I want you to remember this day. When you grow up and have children of your own, I want you to be able to tell them that your Daddy was not just a basket of rules and homework, but he could break away and be naughty too.”
“You’re being weird Daddy, but I like this”
“I like the weird Daddy too. Can you be like this more often? It’s not as scary.”
Sean turned back to face the steering wheel before his daughter saw the tears well up in his eyes. Two weeks was not enough time.
The most difficult part was telling his wife. They had feared the last visit to the oncologist knowing that the sharp increase in Sean’s pain, memory blackouts, and seizures were not not good signs. The cancer had spread viciously and rapidly over the last six months, invading the organs the last two months. Sean had waived chemotherapy and radiation treatment, having seen the horrible effects on his mother and cousins, and wanted no part of that. He wanted to live his life as normal as possible, be there for his children and make love to his wife as passionately and spontaneously as he could, knowing that he was on borrowed time. Looking out the window, his hand trembled slightly as he put his cup of tea down. The swing in the garden brought a bittersweet smile to his face as he recalled the day he and his uncle struggled to assemble it. The children were impatient while his mother and wife cajoled them from the kitchen, saying that would be the first swing ever assembled without a screwdriver and a brain. It had been a gorgeous day by Scottish standards, and the joyous laughter of the children echoed in his memory. Making a mental note to check the bolts and secure the seat again, Sean smiled as he wondered whether he could convince his wife to play with him on the swing once all the children had been tucked into bed. Mother was too deaf to dear anything anyway, and she removed her hearing aid when she went to bed, so they would be safe. Two weeks. How was he supposed to pack a planned lifetime with his beloved into two weeks?
The pain radiating down his back and abdomen was excruciating but Sean ignored all this for the sake of little Matthew sitting on his shoulders. These father-son walks were their special time together and the little boy always looked forward to the open space and adventures. Living with so many girls at home was stressful and both Sean and Matthew escaped for their “man time” as soon as their chores were done. The large, gentle, protective hands of the father held the son’s legs firmly as they walked down the path into the moors. There was a patch of trees with several fox holes where they liked to sit down and have their tea. It was Sean’s favourite part of the escapade because it was always his chance to catch up with Matthew and find out what was going on in school. He was not a very talkative boy, especially when his chatterbox sisters were around, but when it was just the two of them, Matthew seemed to make up for lost time and told his daddy everything his little mind could remember. Two weeks. Who was going to take six-year-old Matthew on these walks afterwards? Who would ensure that his little boy got his “man time” away from all the women? He had a birthday coming up next month and it broke Sean’s heart to think that he would no longer be around to help his son blow out the candles for any other birthdays, or give him his first driving lesson, share advice on his first date, move furniture to the first bachelor’s pad in uni…
“Hurry Daddy! Why are you so slow today? We might miss the foxes and the rabbits will be waiting for us too.”
“Och! Aye son, sorry m’lad, Daddy was just a little distracted. Did you bring your secret laser sword?”
“I had to stuff it under my shirt while the girls were combing Nan’s hair. They will be plenty mad at me when they find their toy mixer gone!”
“Attaboy! But be sure to give it back properly and say sorry. Remember this Matt, you will always be their big brother, and it is your duty to protect them and make sure nobody bullies them.”
“I thought that was your job Daddy… “
“Yeah, well, I can’t always be in three places at the same time. I need an assistant knight in shining armour, and that is you.”
Sean stopped, put his son down, looked around for a stick and said “Kneel young man, so I can formally knight you”
Matthew’s eyes shone with excitement and scrambled into a kneeling position with one let propped up like he had seen on television, and bowed his head.
Sean squeezed his eyes shut, inhaled sharply and prayed for courage. “I dub thee, Matthew McAllister, Knight and protector of the McAllister clan. You shall defend the honor of the McAllister name, clan, and women for as long as you live. Rise Sir Matthew Gallahad and fulfill your destiny!”
“What does a Knight answer daddy?”
“I think he just says ‘I shall do so with all my heart, faith, and courage’ “
“I shall do so with all my heart, faith, and courage.”
Sean looked up to the sky pleadingly “Lord I need 20 more years, not two weeks!”
Walking home from the bakery stopped to look at the old run down car on the side of the road. He knew exactly whom it belonged to and how it had ended up there. It was one of the best kept village secrets that he was privy to. But today he looked at the car with different eyes. His children were too young to be told the story, and he and his wife had different memories of that car as well, since that was where he had proposed to her ten years ago. They were young, sweaty and had just finished making love in the back seat when he grabbed her by the shoulders, lifted her chin, kissed her nose softly, and looked into her eyes. “I want to grow old with you and still have sex in this old car when we are 80. I want our children and grandchildren to see this and know that this car is not junk, but part of our family history. I want you to be the first think I see in the mornings, and and your hand to be the last thing I feel when I fall asleep at night. Marry me and let us build our castle of memories together.” The car was parked now, and it would always be theirs, but he would no longer be able to live up to his promise of making love to her at 80. Two weeks was all he had to show her how much he loved her.
Two weeks later, Sean lay on the hospital bed and turned his head to look out the window. He could barely hear what his wife was saying or the doctor. His mind was so fuzzy from the medication and everything sounded like distant echoes to him. He knew he could somehow muster up the last remaining energy to tell her he loved her, but somehow he couldn’t get his mouth to open either. The sky was blue today and there was even a bit of sunshine peeking through the trees. This would have been a good day to take Matthew on an adventure, or the girls on another food escapade. He felt little hands on his forehead and tugging at his ear.
“I love you Daddy. Get well soon we we can have more ice cream.”
“Daddy I miss you, Mommy can’t build my doll house with the pillows like you do!”
“Will you take me on a walk to visit the foxes soon Daddy? I can tell you all about my Knight adventures yesterday when Harry tried to steal the girls’ lunches”
Sean smiled at them and couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.
“Why are you crying Daddy? Shall we sing so the fairies come to take the pain away?”
The nurse stuck her head in the door and signalled that visiting time was over for the children. They kissed their father one last time on the forehead and filed out of the room silently.
My ride has come. Time to cross the river.
He squeezed his wife’s hand, closed his eyes, and handed the ferryman his coin.
Two weeks were all he had, and they were over now.