By: Varak Babian
* This short story is based on Hakop Karapents’ Armenian short story ՙՏղաս, Արեւն ու Ծովը՚ (“My Son, the Sun, and the Ocean”), from a collection of Karapents’ short stories titledՙՄի Մարդ ու Մի Երկիր՚ (“One Man and One Earth”).
During our usual late afternoon walks, my son holds my pinky while we explore the impressive foliage dancing by our footsteps. His desired talking point always stays the same. He doesn’t fuss with any rogue tennis balls. A mischievous chipmunk won’t thrill him off course.
His forehead dimples with curiosity. I can see him thinking. This visual showcase of sudden thought pivots into an audible request.
“Dad, let’s go to the sun.”
My gaze sets on his face. The sun’s reflection salutes me via bright blue eyes.
“One day we’ll go, my prince. When you grow up to be strong.”
His lips turn into crimson petals. He’s bothered.
“But..but..why not now?”
“We can’t go now. The sun will have already set by the time we get there.”
The urgency in his face tilts his torso forward. His stare summons my face. His chest swells with the thirst of light.
“But there’s still light out, Dad. If we can walk to that hill,” His rough finger nails point ahead. “Then we’ll be close to the sun.”
I look over at the modestly shaped hill, and the sun winks back. Rich, with deep orange. Festering energy. It’s true, the sun does look very close.
I want to believe that it’s true. That the sun can be visited, that time can be spent with it. That behind the hill, there are eagerly crashing waves of light.
“My prince, the sun is tired. After being outside all day, all it wants to do is get some rest. I don’t think we should bother it.”
My son might have gotten his mother’s blue eyes, but he has my stubbornness. He shows off his own blend of hard headedness, and I feel unexpectedly proud.
“But…but.I…I want the sun. You promised me the sun.”
“I promise when you get big, when you get strong”
“I’m already big!”
“When you get even bigger.”
“I’m already quite strong.” Confidence controlled his cadence. I love him so much.
“When you get even stronger.”
When reasoning doesn’t seem to work, he resorts to the primitive. Yelling. Stomping. Shaking his head with protest. He moves his little head clockwise, then counter clockwise. My son has summoned his inner gymnast, as his once red shoes dig into damp grass.
“The sun! Dad, the sun! Why can’t I have the sun!”
I stand beside this mini person, and I’m overwhelmed with love and companionship. Countless, beautiful memories bind our collective journal. Powerful dedication towards a child, a son, before that child was ever born. His voice, the echo of distant melodies- revved up in reverie.
Yet, that only lasts a minute. The next moment we’re strangers, caged in different worlds. He, my son, has his sun. And me, the soil. What will I do with my soil without the sun?
A sudden yelp.
“The sun’s melting, the sun’s dying!”
He folds his frame around my legs. Fear and grief cripple his impressionable reality.
The sun, with impressive dedication, hastily manoeuvres past the hill, planting its final rays on the scantily clad trees.
It’s fire. An ode to hues.
“No, my prince, the sun’s not dying. It’s just resting for the night. It’s very tired. The sun did a lot of running today. I promise, it’ll be out tomorrow.”
“Then why is it getting darker?”
“It’s not, the sun’s just snuggling under the covers.”
“The sun should sleep over at our house!”
“The sun’s house is right over the hill.”
“I want the sun to come to OUR house.”
“The sun has family waiting for him at his own house.”
“The sun’s mom will be left alone. She’ll worry all night. She’ll miss him.
My son holds my pinky, and raises his chest towards the departed sky. He looks over towards our home, its dark green shingles peeking between rows of bark. The sun performs its final pirouette, reflecting through my son’s salty ocean blue eyes.
My prince will have countless more times with the sun. It will give him light. It will give him life.
“Let’s go home, dad. I miss Mom.”
I’m always under a lot of pressure. I suppose at one point, I would have allowed missed calls from my parents to accumulate. Not anymore. I feel like a surgeon, without the prestige or pay. I’m always “on call”. Always ready to process potential bad news.
Scenarios involving coffee with friends, or watching the home team over beer and mounted TV sets always happen close to home. I’m not sure if Cyndy from my local bar is actually flirting with me, or just casually compliments my “ocean blue” eyes to encourage my 20% after tax approach. Home is not so different. I’m never unplugged. When I nap, I monitor the fluidity of footsteps making their way across hardwood. Was that a fall? Just a heavy footstep? When channel 24 tells me how cold it’ll be for that said day, the volume is always just so. Low enough that audible distress could be noticed.
Loss of dexterity in fingers. Having trouble buttoning up shirts. Feeling lethargic. Chairs with additional padding. Tonic water for cramps. Raised toilet seats. Metal bars in the shower. C-pap machine. Frequent need for naps. Loss of appetite. Muhammad Ali dies. Every Wednesday with the personal support worker. Bi-Pap machine. Every Monday and Wednesday with the personal support worker. Loss of appetite. Chocolate flavoured Ensure. Every Monday, Wed, Friday with the personal support worker. Leonard Cohen dies. Shortness of breath. Decreased mobility.
We used to live right by Edwards Gardens. I remember lying about it in middle school. People would have thought I was rich and privileged. It wasn’t true, but more importantly, rich and privileged wasn’t the vibe I was going for. The girls I was trying to impress all had turmoil in their lives.
My dad and I would often go for walks at the garden. We had our favourite trails, but often we would steer away from them, head instead towards the small faux-bucolic hills and just walk. Talk.
We moved out of that house when I was relatively young. I remember Princess Dianna had died that weekend. That’s all that was on T.V. My mom and sister had cried. Long after the princess’ death, we would often visit “our” garden. An enclosed botanical wonderland was added. Different benches. Same trails. Rolling hills. Evolving friendship.
I tend to always lean towards the analytical in any given thought process. I will often engage in a quick and solitary game of “worse case exit strategy” when I enter a public space; malls, movie theatres, subway platforms. It sharpens the mind, and it’s funner than a Sudoku puzzle.
I’ve been this type of analytical of my Dad’s age for as long as I can remember, and have been getting myself mentally ready for quite some time. Different formulas have been practised. He got married at 46, had me when he was 49. Carry the 1, minus the 2. That means when I’m 16 he’ll be…When I graduate high school he’ll be… when I turn 25 he’ll be…When I touchdown on 30, he’ll be…
He forever spoke to me like I was a grown up, his equal. I remember discussing the movies he would take me to regularly. I was a kid, but he would ask me about the lighting, about the score. Clipped articles from a number of publications would be left on my desk. Always accompanied with endearingly illegible cursive. “Interesting, no? Let’s talk about it over breakfast.”
He loved writing people cards. An often-repeated opener of “I feel like good people should be appreciated, so here I am appreciating you.”
We go to the hospital every 3 months for follow-up appointments. The anxiety starts to set in about a week before, growing in purpose as the circled date on the promotional fridge calendar gets closer. It’s always on a Tuesday. Tuesday is clinic day.
We pass by our old house. We pass by our old park. The sun is peaking through familiar trees, over the rolling hills.
“Your curiosity towards the sun always made me smile. My prince, do you still like it as much?”
“Yeah, I guess.” I catch myself being dull with my response, and immediately feel bad about it.
The sun is keeping my dad company through the passenger window. Winking at me through his dark, tired brown eyes.
He used to drive, but that stopped 3 visits ago. My dad compliments the interior of my 13 year old Chrysler Intrepid. He’s been in the car several times before. His expressed fondness towards the no frills, grey colour scheme is meant to spark conversation. I’m too stressed to take the bait, and I let silence signal a right turn into the parking lot.
“It’s the R Wing, just after that bend in the road.”
“Yup. I come with you all the time right? I know where it is.”
His face turns sad. “You’re right. I’m sorry”
“You don’t have to say sorry Dad, I just…forget it, I’m sorry.”
I find a spot, and hop out to pump change in the machine. I start regretting how I spoke to him. Then, I question if perhaps we took away his driving routine prematurely. I worry his morale is damaged as the machine makes a noise, scoffing, as it spits back all the coins smaller than a toonie.
Overpriced ticket meets dashboard, and I remind my dad about how it’s all going to go down.
“So like I was saying, we’re going to see Jerry, Olive and then the main guy, Dr Berkovitz. That young Ukrainian guy comes in before Berkovitz. He asks all the questions, if there has been any changes during the last 3 months, etc, etc.”
“He was quite bright. We spoke about classical music.”
“Bingo. That’s the one.”
He looks worried. “Right. I just hope we’re not here for too long. How much did you pay for parking?”
“We’re good for the whole day just in case.”
“The whole day? Yikes. I suppose the money goes to a good cause. I read somewhere once that the money made on parking at hospitals, helps with underfunded research facilities. God bless Canada. You really feel there’s a rhyme and reason for everything.”
“That sounds like a romantic idea, but I’m pretty sure it’s a third-party company kind of thing. They make all the money.”
I soured his idealistic parking money reasoning, without actually being sure about my own bullshit conclusion. I’m a terrible son.
“So, dad, no need to make small talk or be anecdotal with any of them. Tuesday is clinic day for the wing, so we’ll have limited face time with each of them. “
“I appreciate the reminder, and I’m equal parts happy and proud that my prince has the situation under control”. A quintessential, my dad thing to say. I love him so much.
“You got it Pontiac.” He is taken aback by the comment for a moment. His forehead dimples with thought. I observe the reference being recalled.
“That was a funny commercial. I wonder how they come up with those ideas. Probably a room full of people brainstorming, revising. Wow…Imagine how proud that person who came up with the idea felt.”
We walk side by side. My arm ready to guide, to support. The sun decides that it is time to tuck away for a while. It tip toes underneath the clouds. I can’t feel its warmth, its energy no longer palpable.
Tears are forced back, but some of them prove to be determined. I bite my lip and light a salty cigarette
He comes to a halt. His gaze meets my face. “My prince. I’m not taking my phone with me, have you got yours?”
“Yeah we’re good.”
I wonder how many more sunsets me and my dad will have together.
“Good. Just in case your Mom calls. You know how she worries.”