Jack listened to the nurse on the other end of the phone.
“Your father…stroke… heart,” the nurse said.
“Uh-huh. Is it serious?” Jack asked.
“Well sir, did you say you’re his son?”
“Yeah, my dad’s only.”
“It’s as serious as it can get. … Coma.”
“Coma?” My dad? What?”
He had to admit his mind had been elsewhere. The nurse now sounded exasperated.
“Your father suffered a stroke. Are you listening? His heart is also failing.”
“Holy shit,” he said more to himself. “I-I didn’t know. Can I see him?”
“Not tonight. I think it would be best to come tomorrow morning.”
“Are you sure? I’m a few blocks away.”
She paused. “I’m sorry visiting hours are over and this unit is very strict.”
“Okay.” He hung up the phone, but didn’t move for a few seconds. The news settled over him. He walked from the phone booth to the elevator. Did Linzie say 2307 or 2703? Shit. What was he doing? His father was dying…the hell with getting laid. He stepped back and looked for a place to sit. To have heard a human voice tell him his dad was near death was different than reading a telegram. The seriousness of the situation exploded. He looked up from his seat near the check-in area. There was a crowd of people--- all seemingly happy going about their business.
“Jesus,” this wasn’t a baseball game where win or lose there was a tomorrow. His father will be gone…forever. No appeals. “Huh.” He gazed down at the carpeted floor. He focused on the intricate pattern of the design and the interlocking of the colors. He found no relief. He stood.
His father for most of Jack’s life had emphasized the positive. Despite what his dad had been through in the war he was an optimist. A believer life was worth living.
Jack walked toward the big windows that surrounded the large open space he was in. He saw the blue waters of the lake and the tall buildings that watched over Lake Shore Dr.
His father had come to Chicago with nothing but a ten dollars gift from H.I.A.S. a Jewish organization that aided immigrants. Dad was not a bitter man, despite having lost everything. He refused to live in the past. He adapted even shortened the family name. Jack thought back to the arguments he had with him about college. In the end his father supported him when he left school to play baseball.
As a kid, Jack had a sense his parents were different than the other families on the block. He intuitively knew that underneath his father’s perpetual smile, lurked a sadness. The melancholy would come out of nowhere---at a park, singing the Star Spangled Banner, eating a good dinner. It would flash across his father’s face and then the feeling of heaviness was gone.
When Jack was ten or eleven his mother left. That was one of the few times he saw his father cry. His grief didn’t last long. About a week later his dad pulled him aside. Jack hadn’t picked up his glove or watched a ball game during that week. His dad put his arm around him and said, “I vant you to know. Your mother is a good person. Ve tried. It didn’t work. The var never left her. I can’t live that way. That vas a long time ago I don’t forget, but I can’t let it rule me.”
That was it. We went on.
Jack heard the bell of the elevator. He turned from the window. Laughter came from the bar area. He saw couples holding hands. People with luggage walked to and from the elevator. What the hell? He couldn’t visit him. How he spent this night won’t change anything. His dad would understand. He was practical. “Yankaleh,” he’d say, “alvays seize an opportunity. Those tings don’t vait.” Jack smiled at how real his dad’s voice sounded.
He went toward the elevator and waited. The door opened and he got in. He pushed the button. It was for the 23rd floor.