He entered the room silently, hiding the tremor in his hands. A shallow silence hung in the air, frozen in place with cancer and discomfort and the smell of failed recovery.
He sat down beside the bed where his daughter lay asleep. He hesitated, afraid to wake her, but afraid to let the silence linger. Her entire appearance had drained and shifted painfully since he last shared her presence. Her eyes had sunk deep into her head, carving canyons into the skin below her eye sockets. Her thin frame had grown even thinner, like a whittled fragment of kindling just waiting to be lit. He took a deep breath and covered his face.
He sat there, lost in an ambient duration, until she awoke. Her stomach lurched several times before her voice finally rasped words out of the shallow silence.
She told him that she’d hoped he would visit, that she’d hoped that for a very long time. He started to pull a shriveled apology into his hands and offer it to her, but she refused it, leaving his fingers full of the most sincere words he’d ever imagined. So instead, he just asked her how she felt.
She lied to him, saying that she was feeling better. She hadn’t known the right way to answer that question for a very long time.
Finally, the silence began to freeze once again. She stumbled through thoughts and years of memories, but instead of converting them into words, she laid them to rest in her mind.
Growing up, he rarely appeared in her life. After the divorce, he had disappeared entirely, but she still recalled the small, shattered slices of their times together. His gift to her on her twelfth birthday, or when they went grocery shopping and bought only ice cream. But instead she buried those thoughts, and allowed only one to ripple to the surface.
“I want to die.”
He said nothing, until finally, she broke the silence:
“I want to. I want it.”
“Don’t say that. Please, don’t.”
“But I do.”
“No, you don’t.”
She said it, again and again, until he grabbed her shoulders and looked into her sunken eyes. He paused, and felt his hands quiver. She breathed heavily and deeply. Their faces crept close to each other. He smelled the dark stain of cancer on her breath.
He leaned away, and stood, his fingers still trembling in the cold silence.
Her voice rasped, and he tried to warp the words he heard to form something other than a plea for ending her life. He stepped backward, away, to the door.
“I’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll visit you again. Tomorrow.”
He’d go back the next day, and the next, and the next. He’d replace all of the missed days of her eager childhood with these poor excuses for time shared together. He’d visit her every day from now until the day she died, but he would not let her abandon herself.