It had been four years.
Sighing, I turned off the ignition and stepped out of the car. A gale blew, sending the stale leaves adorning our driveway into a frenzy. New Jersey was brisk during this time of year, everyone traded their halter tops for sweatshirts and trips to the beach for rendezvous at Starbucks.
I diverted my attention toward the barn. It was still the same eggshell white. I remember my dad pushing me in a cart at Home Depot, looking at paint samples. I remember how he let me pick out which shade of white I liked best.. I remember how he let me sit on his lap as we watched the painters dip their brushes into the paint cans and bring them back and forth on our wooden barn. I always looked up in awe, my mouth wide open, mesmerized by the rhythmic strokes.
That’s when I asked dad to buy me an easel with some paint canvasses. I spent hours on end mixing colors, and, much to my mother’s distaste, spilling paint everywhere. Dad always threw his head back and chuckled whenever she complained, he used to say, “Syd is gonna make us proud with her paintings one day, won’t ya, Sport?” which was my cue to grin and nod repeatedly until Mom cracked a smile.
I pulled my cashmere scarf closer to my neck as the wind began to hiss. Biting my lip, I ascended the white, marble steps and stopped at the large, red oak door.
It had been four years.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the house keys. Shaking, I attempted to unlock the door. Stop shaking! I thought, reprimanding myself. I was somehow unable to turn the key into the lock and fell to my knees at the foot of the door, sobbing. The house, the painting, the machine, beeping loud enough to taunt me from over here, was all too much. Get yourself together, I thought, wiping my face clean, you don’t have that much time left, more importantly, HE doesn’t have that much time left.
I stood up, and jammed the key into the lock and continued sobbing inaudibly. The living room looked untouched ever since I left. The glass coffee table sat in the same spot. The burgundy coasters resting atop it unmoved. I glanced over at the window sill facing the driveway. I remember running past Dad’s silver Range Rover every afternoon, from the bus stop, his head poking out of the same window sill to greet me with a silly face. Everyday I dashed up the steps, and jumped on top of him as he enveloped me in a warm hug. I still remember that day, senior year, when Dad wasn’t standing at the windowsill. When I didn’t run past his Range Rover, but an ambulance, sirens crying out like my mother on her knees.
Gritting my teeth, I marched past the kitchen and dining room and opened the door leading to the basement. Deep breaths, Syd, I told myself. I counted the number of times my boots clicked against the wooden stairs. 12. 12 steps. 12 years since our barn was painted. 12 years since Dad bought me my first art supplies.’
I flipped the lightswitch and began to make my way down the dimly lit hallway. A couple of light bulbs flickered as I stopped in front of the door to my “creative space.” You made it this far already, I encouraged myself, you can’t chicken out now. Palms sweaty, I turned the brass door knob and stepped into the room.
Flakes of teal paint adorned the unfinished walls, my smock still covered in various shades of blue, red, and pink. Holding back tears, I reached for the dustiest canvas. My first painting. It was of the whale I saw at the San Diego Zoo when Mom had a conference in California. He was magnificent, and I demanded that we take him home.
“Mommy, can we take him?” I insisted.
“Sweetie, how is he gonna fit in our house?” Mom laughed.
“We can shrink him in the washing machine and then put him in the bathtub! Remember when Daddy’s shirt shrunk in the wash? We can do the same thing! Mommy, please!” I insisted.
“Yeah, Mommy, I wanna keep him too!” Dad joked. Mom had signature mix of exasperated and amused on her face.
“Well, Syd, if you are on your best behavior, then I will consider taking him home. And that goes for you too,” Mom said, wagging her finger at Dad as he laughed.
“You know, Syd, whales are my favorite animal,” Dad whispered in my ear. That’s when I knew what my first painting was going to be.
I spent an entire Saturday drawing and painting my masterpiece. Dad gave me the gift of art and I wanted to give him the gift of his favorite animal. Five hours later, I called him down, to show off my first work of art. My heart thumped as I heard Dad walk down the stairs.
“What did you wanna show me, Syd?” Dad inquired, as he opened the door.
“Mommy said we couldn’t bring the whale home, so I thought I would bring it to you,” I walked across the room, handing him the canvas.
“Syd, I’m breathless!” he exclaimed.
“I know,” I responded, smiling.
This- this is great! Can I keep it?” Dad beamed.
“Of course, Daddy, it’s for you!” I responded. He wrapped me into a warm hug.
I stood in the same place where he hugged me, all those years ago, and smiled until I heard a small beep from my purse. I reached in and pulled out my phone. It was a text from Mom. “Syd, Dad wants you here ASAP!” I texted back, “omw soon,” and turned off my phone. I dusted off the canvas and shut the door of the room behind me.
I turned the key in the ignition and began making my way out of the driveway. I adjusted my rearview mirror once before turning onto the street. I missed it. The barn, the house, everything. I sighed and began driving away.
I made my way to the ICU section of the hospital. The smell of hand sanitizer and saline flooded into my nose, sickening me. The fluorescent lights nearly blinded me as I made my way to the room.
“Syd!” Mom stood up from the chair she was sitting on as I walked in.
“Mom,” I rushed over and hugged her. I could feel the tears streaming down her face.
“Don’t forget Dad,” Dad muttered. He grinned as he lay in the hospital bed. Mom and I reached down to embrace him. He laughed weakly, and then began coughing.
“Dad, please, relax,” I said, patting his shoulder.
“You got it, Syd. Did you get what I asked for?”
“Of course I did.” I showed him the canvas.
“Can I hold it?” he asked.
“If you can,” I handed him the canvas, and watched his shaking hands grip it.
“This is great, can I keep it?”
“Of course, Daddy,” I clenched my fist, trying to hold back my tears, “it’s for you.” The heart monitor adjacent to his bed began beeping slower and slower. Mom buried her face in my shoulder.
“I love you two so much,” Dad w.
“We love you too,” I held Dad’s hand as Mom began sobbing on my shoulder. The machine beeped one last time, this one longer than the rest. I squeezed Dad’s hand one more time.
It had been four years.