My father lay dying, gasping through the oxygen mask. I admit I was hovering, knowing the end was near, and not comfortable with it. He was my mentor, the patriarch of the family business. He had taught me most of what I know, and this end was not fitting for him.
He beckoned me over with a finger twitch. I bent over him, looked him in the eyes, and he smiled up at me.
“Joey, I’ve been waiting to tell you this for forty years. Pay attention.”
His other hand came out from under the covers, trembling with the effort. In it was his tool of choice in the family business. A short steel scratch awl. He held the wooden handle with confidence, even this close to the end. The silver metal gleamed. He kept it very clean, although I knew it was stained with the blood of at least two hundred thirty souls. Business had been good.
“One day, Son, this awl will be yours!” He cackled at me then, collapsing back on his pillow, gasping for breath and sucking in oxygen as fast as he could breath. I gaped at him, not believing his wit and timing.
“You know where all the bodies are buried. You were the only threat to me, and I taught you so you could be loyal to me and I wouldn’t have to work in fear. I’m trusting you to keep the business going.”
He gasped at the end of this long speech. His skin had a bluish cast to it. The oxygen wasn’t helping. Through the translucent skin I could see a vein pulsing, throbbing.
“I want just one thing from you now. It has been a long life, and I’m ready to go. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m tired, and I just want to sleep. Take it. It’s yours now. I’m finished.”
It wasn’t my Dad’s life that was flashing before my eyes. It was the faces of all the men, and the few women, who he had helped across the same divide he now faced himself. There was no historical record. I was the record. He was leaving me behind as his legacy.
I bent over him again. “I hear you, Pop. I’ll do what you want. You won’t be forgotten.”
He smiled, and his hand opened. I reached out to him and took the awl. The handle was warm. He must have been saving it for me for quite some time.
I stood up, bent down to kiss my father on the forehead, and slid the awl into his ear and through to the left side of his brain. His eyes widened, his body surged up slightly, and then fell back onto the bed. I slid the awl out. There was no blood. That’s why he preferred it. The fogging on the oxygen mask cleared.
I picked up the phone and dialed.
“Rhyerson’s Funeral Home. How may I help you?”
“This is Joseph Wickerson calling. My father has just passed away, and I believe he made his funeral arrangements through you. Could you tell me what I should do next?”
“My deapest condolences to you, Mr. Wickerson. I talked to your father last week and he said that you might be calling. We will send a hearse over immediately and take care of everything. There will be some papers for you to sign, but you shouldn’t concern yourself right now. It can be a difficult time, and we will do all we can to help you through it.”
I thanked the man, put the phone down, and slid the awl into my jacket pocket. Then I sat and waited.