I bent down and picked up a wilted flower from the floor. It was crushed, pink and white petals swirled flat. The edges were brown.
“What have you got there, Peggy?” asked my father. He stood near the window, one hand clutching the desk next to him and the other tugging at his shirt collar. He insisted on wearing button down shirts even though he couldn’t handle buttons anymore. I stood up, watching him cautiously. The stroke had hit his left side hard. His fingers, once dexterous and nimble, now plucked at his collar, as if taking comfort in the repetitive movement.
I looked at the flower and made a puzzled face. “Camellia?” I asked, though I knew exactly what it was.
“Ah,” he said, squinting at the squished mass in my hand. “Camellia Japonica. Looks like Les Marbury if one was wont to discuss variety.” His words were slurred, but his memory was mostly back now. He didn’t remember everything from before the stroke. I had planted the Camellia bush with him when Tom and I had first bought this house.
My dad had picked it out, along with the fruit trees that marched across the back of the property. He complimented me now and again on the trees, and the wisdom of my choices. He remembered that he had studied botany, but not that I did as well. Sometimes he remembered that my mom died three years ago, sometimes he did not. I told him now that she was away visiting my sister now when he asked where she was. Making him live through the blow of her loss, over and over, was more than I could bear.
The late afternoon sun stole through the window and gleamed on his silver hair. He looked at the flower in my hand, then shifted his weight and took a tentative step forward, his fingers grazing the desktop. His left foot lifted an inch from the ground then clumped back down, reclaimed by gravity. I closed the distance between us quickly and raised the flower up as both offering and distraction. My father tried to close his eyes but only the right one closed completely. He sniffed at the flower.
“Not much scent to it, is there. Much prefer Hermes when it comes to the Japonicas.” He frowned. “Still, the colors just might make up for the lack of perfume. Not a bad choice for a residential flower.”
I put the flower in my pocket and glanced at his right hand, now pressing hard against the desktop. I risked moving a few steps away to grab his walker. I rolled it to him, the wheels catching on bedraggled streamers left over from the party. It got stuck and I leaned down to untangle the bright colors.
“Here Dad. Why don’t you sit on the couch for a bit?”
I hovered by him as he lurched his right hand over to the handle of the walker, then his left. A glance from him drove me back and I purposefully turned and busied myself with half filled glasses and plates smeared with cake. He hated it when I hovered.
The whole house was in a shambles. There was confetti in the living room carpet, balloons in the pool. I felt my face tighten. The whole party my father had sat outside in the shade, watching silently as the guests moved around him. An unwillingly still eye in the center of the storm.
The party had been a success. My daughter Beth was engaged now, and well on her way in life. Maybe one day Beth would be cleaning up from her future daughter’s engagement party, keeping an eye on me. I’d be old and cranky and defiant, yelling at her because I couldn’t yell at time, or death, or strokes.
I kept my back to my dad but I could hear the squeak of his walker slowly move through the room, then his exhale as he slumped onto the couch. His breathing was loud and labored. The sound of a lawnmower buzzed into the room and my dad laughed, a short bark of triumph.
“I told you, if you didn’t nag him he’d mow the lawn,” said my Dad.
“What good is mowing the lawn now?” I asked in exasperation. “The party is already over.” I turned to face my dad, checking that he was safely on the couch, nothing twisted, nothing caught.
“He’s got the blade too high. He’ll have to cut it again next week.” My dad peered out the window, then sat back, crumpling in on himself.
My breath caught for a moment. My eyes went to his chest, looking for and finding the rise and fall. He was fine, just tired. “You hungry Dad?”
“Nope. Might have a bit of a lie down.”
I went over and helped him up. He was stronger now than he was right after the stroke, and so was I. Between the two of us we got him standing, him towering over me frail and thin. He clutched his walker and started towards his room. I returned to stacking paper plates, watching him out of the corner of my eye. Slowly, he navigated his walker around the furniture, and I thought about getting rid of the coffee table again. It would give him a straight shot to his room rather than having to maneuver his walker around so much.
After he turned into the hallway I tiptoed over and peered at him as he inched away from me. He turned into his room, face focused, bottom lip jutted out in concentration. I moved quietly down the hall and listened outside his room for the creak of his bed. I stood there for a while, listening for his breath, breathing along with him, willing each inhale and exhale.
My phone buzzed and I quickly slunk out of the hallway before it woke my dad. He was such a light sleeper. The living room was still a disaster, with stacks of food clogged trash. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the crushed camellia along with my phone. It was still beautiful, even squished and turning brown.