(Excerpt from The Lemonade Year, finished novel seeking representation.)
At the nursing home no one says the word “dead” to me. They all say “we’re so sorry for your loss” like perhaps Dad has just been misplaced and will turn up underneath a couch cushion. It’s not their fault really. There is nothing good to say and saying nothing would be worse.
A nursing aid named Oliver helps me load Dad’s belongings onto a cart and take them out to my car. We don’t say anything to each other as we walk out into the sunlight and unpack the boxes into my trunk. What a weird job, caring for these people you can’t possibly make well.
I thank him for helping me and extend my hand to shake. He takes it and presses my palm between both of his.
“Nate was an awesome guy,” Oliver says, referring to my father in a familiar way that makes me jealous. “I miss him.
“Thank you,” I say and I mean to press my other hand around his but instead I step closer to him and we embrace.
After the usual “hug time” expires I feel Oliver attempt to step away, but I can’t let go. I’m clinging to him in some pathetic effort to stop time. If I move, the funeral will take place. Jack will move out. My dream of having a baby will never be realized. My life will go on and I’m not sure I can bear it.
Oliver obliges to spare my dignity and steps back in to the embrace. The side of his neck and his shag of dusty colored hair are a hideaway and I have no idea what’s come over me. I breathe in deep to get my wits back about me. I pull back from him enough to be face to face with him and to my own amazement I kiss him. Right on the mouth. What the hell?
“I’m so sorry,” I say, finally pulling away, my face hot with the inappropriateness of my actions.
OMG. I just kissed my dead father’s ex health care worker. BTW he’s completely gorgeous.
This of course will get numerous “likes” and comments of “you go girl” and “living vicariously, more details please.” And inevitably someone will respond with a “OMG, your father died! I’m so sorry” bringing it all back full circle.
I make one of those gestures people give by shaking their head and hands as if the movement can brush away the incident itself.
“Don’t worry about it,” Oliver says, looking me in the eye, making no return gesture of dismissal. “You’re sad. We’re sad too.”
I feel like I should explain myself, my marriage, it’s demise, how desperately I need companionship, how much I want a baby, how awkward I feel around my mother and how losing my Dad feels like I’ve been orphaned. How worried I am that my brother won’t come to the funeral. How embarrassed I am that I just kissed a stranger. And everything else that can’t possibly be voiced.
“Thank you,” I manage say, looking away from Oliver’s eyes and then back up again. “Do they train you guys on the right things to say? I’d like to compliment you to your supervisor.”
“No,” he says with a smile on his face. “I just know how you feel. Sort of.”
I sense a story there, but it’s not one that this relative stranger and I have time to share. He has work and I have everything that comes after this moment.
Oliver nods and I close the trunk over my father’s things.