Azaleas by Rachel Hoiles Farrell

A woman goes to Ohio to visit her father. She drives a thousand miles through snow and rain. When she arrives, she finds her father asleep on the kitchen tile. He’s too tired to move to the bed or the couch, he explains. Impossibly, irreconcilably, desperately tired. He says this in a whisper—he is even too tired to talk. The woman asks her father if she can bring him a pillow. No, he says. But the daughter insists. She’s a good daughter, and she doesn’t want her father to have neck problems. The father says he doesn’t care if his neck hurts. Everything else hurts, so why not the neck, too? It feels wrong, he explains, to spare one part of the body when the rest of him must suffer. The woman notices her father is shivering. At least let me bring you a blanket, she says. Her father tells her to fetch one from the refrigerator. In the crisper, he says. Under the mushrooms and onions.

The woman, worried about her father’s state of mind, buckles him into her car and drives him home to Georgia. She carries him through the door in her capable arms, lays him in bed, tucks the covers up to his chin. You’ll never be cold again, she tells him. She gives him a little bell to ring in case he needs anything. She brings him nourishing meals on a tray with a multivitamin and a glass of milk. She bathes him and combs the tangles from his hair. She explicitly instructs him not to wilt or wane. Still, she can feel him diminishing. She bundles him in a sling while she performs her chores, cradling him against her chest, coaxing him to settle when he wakes to cry. She knits him socks and beanie hats.

One day, the woman enters her father’s room to find him curled on the hardwood floor. He’s tired, he explains. He needs to lie down. But you have this bed, the daughter says. Blankets, a pillow. A little bell. Blood coursing with milk and vitamins. Please, her father says. Tears run down his face. Please, can he please have a moment to lie down. The woman goes out of the room and closes the door. She goes outside and pulls the trellis away from the porch, crawling under the house through darkness and dirt until she is under her father’s bedroom. Through the floorboards, she hears him crying softly. She knocks three times. He doesn’t answer. She knocks again. A beetle nests in her hair. The dank smell of earth washes over the woman. She knocks again, listening and waiting. In the yard, azaleas bend toward the sun. The woman knocks again.

 

Rachel Hoiles Farrell is a writer in Georgia. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published in Jezebel, Joyland Magazine, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, PANK, Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. She recently wrote and co-produced the digital web series LOST/FOUND in collaboration with Outjogging Pictures. You can find out more at rachelhoilesfarrell.com.

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