Pathfinding

by Sue Ann Connaughton

         

Your father wants to move out of the in-law apartment you built for him. He’s found a getaway, a beachfront bungalow. As his chauffeur and personal ATM, you accompany him to view the property.

 

He settles into a dusty Adirondack chair on the bungalow’s east-facing porch. You pick at paint flaking off the front door.

 

“I can watch the sun rise over the water, while I drink my coffee.”

 

You remind him that he doesn’t drink coffee, not anymore. He says it tastes like vinegar.

 

“Walking on the beach is good exercise.”

 

You mention how his cane sinks in sand.

 

“I’ll walk without my cane. The cool sea breezes will help me sleep better, too.”

 

You dig in and suggest his afternoon naps and night sleep might be disturbed by noisy beachgoers.

 

“You’re a killjoy, you know that?” He looks defiant. “I love this house.”

 

Killjoy. You wince. He hasn’t called you that since the time you refused to finish your chocolate ice cream cone because you heard another kid order peppermint stick. Over and over, you whined that peppermint stick cones were your favorite, until your father drove back to buy one and you ended up not liking it.

 

He had said, “I’ll just plant another money tree in the yard, so we can buy ice cream for the killjoy to throw away.”

 

Every spring, you throw money away on your father’s latest housing experiment.

 

Two years ago, he chose a cottage in the country with “clean air and a peaceful atmosphere” but no way to get to doctor appointments, the grocery store, or anywhere at all. You adapted your work schedule to drive him around, like he did whenever you missed the school bus or wanted him to attend a parent-child event.

 

Last year, he insisted upon a downtown apartment, “so convenient to everything,” but the crowds jostled and frightened him, so he spent most of his time lying on the couch, watching television. He asked you to do something about the constant sirens from police cars, fire engines, and ambulances. You told him you couldn’t make emergency vehicles vanish the way he used to make objects disappear from his closed fist at your birthday parties.

 

You walk down to the beach to think. Seagulls, scavenging along the shoreline, scatter when you get close. The briny air salts your lips, stings your eyes.

 

 You want your father to stop engineering these moves, to stop wishing for his own private retreat. Eventually, visiting nurses won’t be sufficient to care for him and he’ll need to move into a full-care facility.

Today, you’ll refuse to pay for the beach rental. You’ll tell your father you want him to live with your family, to interact with your children. Today, you’ll tell him.