Second Prize

Second Prize Story Winner
2024 Short Story Competition 

By Deryn Pittar

“I wanna die!”

His plea breaks my heart. I can’t help him take the last steps in his long life. Can I? The temptation to grab a pillow and hold it down over his face makes my hands twitch.

The months of running after him have exhausted me. Love oscillates with hate as we live each day, etching this existence on my memory, carving a canyon in my heart. No one should have to watch their father die like this. An only child, mother recently deceased and a father fading away, blighted by cancer, I am drowning, pummelled by sorrow.

When more alert and not so ridden with pain he wanted me to promise to help him die. I refused. Morally and legally, it was wrong. I said no, and earned his wrath and disgust at my weakness of spirit.

All the years he’s loved and cared for me and I couldn’t promise to do this one thing for him. “Just one small thing,” he growled.

Small is quite the wrong word from where I stand, watching him wither.

“I can’t, Dad. It’s against the law?”

“Who would know, Karina? Tell me. Who would know?”

“I would,” I’d cried… and yet at this moment I could cheerfully kill him. Rage climbs my throat and threatens to choke me. I leave him, the sun beaming through the glass, warming his bones, now only covered with skin, his muscles wasted. He’s always cold these days, so I’ve wrapped him in a rug and tucked him in. His pleas, for me to end it all, and his thrashing about slides the blankets to the floor. Twice I’ve tucked him in already.

Despair smothers me. I miss my mother, mourn my lost marriage and wish my children were not scattered around the world.

I need to get away from him. When the sudden shower stops, I throw on a raincoat and slam the back door as I leave, hoping the pill I’ve given him, will keep him asleep for an hour.

Too bad if he wakes. Let him suffer. I’m suffering too as we travel this torturous journey. Then guilt hits me for wishing pain on my father. A friend once pointed out; nobody dies until their heart stops. It seems his heart is strong and he probably wishes it wasn’t.

I pace along in the cool air, embracing the bite of winter, kicking fallen leaves and dodging rain drops flung from high branches. He’s right. God, I hate how he is always right. No-one needs to know. But, can I live the rest of my life with my conscience? Who said it’s illegal to ease the suffering of a loved-one, when the ultimate cure to it all is death?

Have the people who make these laws ever nursed a dying parent? Do they come home to find their father stuck in the bath because while they’d been out he’s decided he wants a bath more than anything in the world? Have these lawmakers ever struggled to lift their loved one’s dead weight onto a stool, as they stand calf-deep in cold water, trying not to take the skin off their father’s buttocks as they haul him up? Have they ever supported him as he grabs the edge of the bath and stands on thin pins while they wrap him in a towel, and lift one leg and then the other over the side, to the floor. Have they ever towelled dry the thin frame and observed their father’s manliness hanging withered and small between his legs?

Have they ever wondered, like me, the miracle that they began their own life through that appendage, to grow inside their mother, to become the person they are now—making these draconian laws? Have they?

I bet not one of them has done what I’ve done. They would have other people to do this for them. Other people to care and clean – while they pontificate on points of law.

 And now I’m a woman contemplating murder; a daughter pressured to kill. What sort of a law does this to a child? Age is irrelevant. You are always father and daughter.

The sun vanishes as a cloud bank arrives over nearby hills; dark and indigo it marches across the sky as if doom is about to fall. Thunder rolls around the hills and a lightning flash catches the side of my vision like a fiery stake. I could burn in hell for what I’m about to do – if I was religious. Perhaps if I espouse religion then hell will not exist.

To be a good daughter, a loving daughter, a kind and grateful daughter, I will need to do as he wishes. Law, morals and ethics be damned. My first duty is to my father. The Bible say ‘Honour thy mother and father’.

He‘s right. The solution is simple, so easy, and painless. Empty the bottle, give the pills to him all at once and then we can both rest and sleep, except his sleep will be everlasting.

My mind set, the decision taken, I increase my pace and hurry back. I will do this for him.

“I’m home, Da’,” I call as I close the door, shutting the wind outside. “Nearly got wet. It’s about to pour again.” I walk down the hall, talking cheerfully to arouse him but he lies still. Almost as I’d left him, but the blankets awry, the sun now warming his feet. I reach and gently pat his shoulder.

“I’ll get the pills, Da’. We’ll do this together. You’re right. It’s not fair. You want to die and I can help you.” My hand strokes his hair and the chill of his body cools my palm.

A vice grips my heart. The decision is out of my hands. He has gone – alone – without me beside him, holding his hand as I’d promised. Just as I’ve made the decision to kill him – now I can’t to do that either.

I am a useless child. A quivering, hateful mess of a daughter, but I also have a solution. The bottle of morphine pills – I can use them and stop all this nonsense. A double funeral will be as cheap as a single one, if the damn kids ever come home to find us dead, together.

I hurry to the kitchen before my resolve weakens. The medicine bottles are scattered across the bench and when I find the right bottle…it’s empty.