A Visitor in the Night
by Charles C. Cole
My father had a heart attack about 18 years ago. His first night back from the hospital, after having a quadruple bypass, he “changed.” He became very child-like and very affectionate. After a nap in his favorite recliner, he looked at my mother sitting nearby and said, “Who are you? It’s my birthday. Can I have a kiss for my birthday?” He got up and kissed her, sat down, then did it all over again.
My mother and I called the number we were given for any noticeable complications. They said it was likely caused by a blood clot, and he should be himself “after a while,” after it “passed.” Honestly, perhaps irrationally, I thought if he went to bed, he’d die in his sleep as my maternal grandfather had done.
My father was restless so, though drained by recent events, my mother and I stayed up with him. I lay on the couch to his left and watched TV as a distraction with the volume low just in case Dad felt inspired to sleep the night in his chair and needed the white noise. My mother sat in her loveseat to Dad’s right, quietly reading Ladies’ Home Journal until she fell asleep sitting up.
“Dad, how are you feeling?” I asked when we were “alone,” half-afraid of the answer.
“Is that me? Good, how about you?”
“Great,” I said. “Do you know where you are?”
“Right here.” He noticed the TV remote control on the end table between his chair and the couch.
“What’s this?” he asked. “It has buttons!”
“The remote control.”
“Of course it is!” he cooed. “What does it do?”
“You can change channels on the TV. Do you want me to show you?” I reached for it, but he pulled it away. “I want to do it!”
“What do I do?”
“Aim it at the TV, press 1 then 3.” So he did. It was a commercial for a store in Portsmouth that sold appliances.
“That’s funny,” he said. “Isn’t that funny?”
“Okay,” I said.
“It is,” he said, “because the thing the remote control changes...”
“Because the guy on the TV is talking about another guy on another TV. Get it?” He meant the salesman was standing in front of a TV which was running another commercial for the same store.
“I get it,” I said.
The commercial ended.
“What happened?” he asked.
“It’s over,” I explained.
“That wasn’t very long.”
“You’re right,” I agreed.
“It’s my birthday!” he said a little overenthusiastically for the late hour.
“Dad, Mom’s sleeping. We don’t want to wake her.”
“Right,” he agreed. “Why?”
“Because she’s tired. It’s been a long week.”
“Longer than other weeks?” he asked.
I changed the subject. “May I have the remote control?” I asked.
“But I like it,” he said. “What else does it do?”
“It can change channels.”
He giggled. “That sounds funny.”
“You can turn the volume up — but don’t. Or you can turn the TV off.”
“Why would you do that?”
I thought quickly. “To give it a rest. Everything needs a rest. You can always turn it back on later.”
“Will I need a rest?” he asked.
“Absolutely,” I said.
“Will you turn me back on later?” he asked, with unnecessary solemnity.
“I’d like that,” he said. “And it will still be my birthday?”
“This is a great place!” he said, patting the arm of his recliner with his free hand. “I like it here!”
“We like having you here,” I chimed in.
“And I like this!” he said, patting the arm of his recliner again.
“Good,” I said, a little impatiently, “because it’s yours.”
“Really?” he asked. I could tell he meant it and, for some reason, it broke my heart, like the longer this conversation went on, the less chance he’d return to normal. But that was just me worrying.
“Dad, you think you can help me talk Mom into going to bed? She needs her rest.”
“She’s resting now,” he said. Then suddenly, “It’s my birthday! Do you think she’ll let me kiss her on my birthday?”
“Let’s let her sleep for now.”
“Okay,” he allowed. “ I know I should know, but what’s her name.”
“And what’s your name?” he asked.
“Thank you, ” he said. “This has been fun. For me. Sorry if I asked so many questions.”
“Are you going to rest now?”
“I’ve got to get back, I think.”
“To the hospital?” I asked, confused.
“That’s funny,” he said. Then seriously, “To the others. I promised I wouldn’t be gone long.”
Honestly, I thought he meant the people who had died before him, like his childhood friends, Bob Bailey and Walter Small. “You don’t have to go,” I said, reassuring myself. “Just maybe rest for a little while. Then you’ll be good as new.”
“I feel good as new now,” he said. “This is the most wonderful place I’ve ever seen! And you’ve been great!”
“Don’t go,” I said, a little apprehensive now.
“What a wonderful place!” he said softly, closing his eyes.
Dad appeared to drift off. I listened closely to his breathing, afraid he was “giving up.” I couldn’t help myself, so I tapped his forearm gently but insistently.
“Dad? Dad, can I get you anything?”
He sighed and half-opened his eyes. “How about a new heart and a winning Megabucks ticket?”
“Charlie, I’m done,” he mumbled. “Let your old man sleep. We’ll talk about it over breakfast. Maybe your Mom can make us her special waffles.” He closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
I awakened Mom. “He’s fine,” I told her.
She looked at me blankly, a little asleep and a lot scared. “Are you sure?”
“I just spoke to him,” I said. “He called me by name. He’s himself again.”
Copyright © 2011 by Charles C. Cole