Copyright is held by the author.
MY FATHER pulls me aside suddenly, the strength of his touch beyond what is necessary. He catches my pant leg and a hand full of flesh so that I whelp.
“Quiet,” he whispers, “I want to talk to you . . . privately.” I guide my father onto a remaining wooden stool in the almost empty house. He is blind so his sense of whether we are alone is determined entirely by his sense of hearing, which is failing. From across the room my brother, David, looks at me with a look of he asked you, I’m out of here. Neither of us wants to be here, cleaning the last remnants of my father’s house. He has insisted to be present one last time before his life is sold from under him.
“Have you found it yet?” he whispers.
“The vibrator?” he answers getting irritable as he always does at my inability to read his mind.
“The one for your back?” I ask.
“No!” he snaps. “The one I bought for your mother.” I am not known to be slow but this conversation is completely baffling. The beginning of his mental deterioration?
“Well? Have you found it? It should be in her night table.”
“No. Like a . . . marital aid?”
I tell my father that we are in the living room. Most of the furniture has already been sold so the house is empty except for the personal belongings which we are now packing. Frustrated, father manoeuvres himself along the walls in search of his quest. By feel he is able to determine the dining room, my bed room (Carved Loretta’s name behind your headboard — didn’t think I knew — he says with a smile.) and reaches his goal, my parents’ bedroom. I imagine him navigating in this manner when my mother in the later stages of her illness was unable to get out of bed.
Being in their bed room feels strange. It was always out of bounds. A room filled with my mother’s perfumed senses when she was young and in the last days of her life with the antiseptic odour of medication and death. At night the door was always closed a sign for us to keep away.
“They do it in there,” my brother David informed me. He was older and I presumed he knew what it was that they were doing. I did not ask.
Now my father’s frustration is complete and he manoeuvres himself to where the night tables should have been to continue his exploration. The tables are gone with the rest of the bedroom furniture, sold to a purveyor of used furniture. I lead my father to the one last chair left in the bedroom and eases himself into it as though he would never leave.
When he realizes that the furniture is missing he asks, “What have you done with the contents?” I give him the bag in which I placed them. His hand sinks to his elbows feeling amongst mother’s rosary, pill dispensers, hand embroidered handkerchiefs, bible, and newspaper clippings of David when he won a science award. None of these things are brought out. He can’t see them anyway. He sits back in his chair, exhausted.
After a while he whispers, “When I was no longer able to perform my obligations as a husband, I went with your mother to purchase a vibrator. We went downtown to a store were a very nice young lady helped us.” His voice is lyrical and there is a slight smile on his face, a remembrance of their passionate life together. The image of my father dressed in his suit and bow tie and my mother in her Sunday best discussing the pros and cons of vibrators and dildos comes unwanted to mind.
Even though he cannot see me I look away. I cannot look him in the face. The last thing I want is to have it explained to me by my father.
“If you find it get rid of it, discretely. Or if you . . .” and Loretta can use it. I finish for him in my mind. Martial aids are beyond helping Loretta and I.
Discretely meant away from my drunken brother who would use the knowledge to entertain a generation of family cousins at reunions. Hey kids did you know that Uncle Ralph and Aunt Ruth used a vibrator? Probably had a copy of the Kama Sutra tucked under her rosary.
My brother has gone to get lunch so I have about a half hour to find it. After looking through all the likely places I go downstairs and look through my father’s tool box — the irony does not escape me – the kitchen utensils (In case the mood struck my mother while cooking?) and any other storage place I can remember.
When I come to report my non-success my father has fallen asleep. I watch his steady breathing, his chest moving in the same cadence that I assume it moved after he and my mother had shared their intimacy. After it. This was the first time that I thought of them as flesh and blood, loving so much that when the flesh failed they did not abandon each other but sought other solutions.
I suspect that my mother had disposed of it not long after my father became blind and when she came ill. The consequence of discovery would have shamed my mother more than the cancer that was destroying her. She would have been methodical about it, hiding it in with the household garbage. And she would have watched the pick up so that nothing went wrong. Then she would be trundled back to bed realizing that the life she had had with a man that she had loved, the love which produced two sons, was a distant remembrance. The memory of that love would make what was coming bearable.