Short Fiction ~ Denise Eaton
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 18
Ship’s captain, he’d been. Dapper, upright, commanding. Now, on this brightly-lit ward, little more than a cadaver remained, skin a waxy blue, morgue-ready.
‘Hearing’s the last to go,’ the nurse had said. ‘You should keep talking.’
What about? Simon had wanted to ask. Destroyers? Mainsails? The bloody shipping forecast? If conversation was painful while his father was hale and hearty, ‘a spot of cancer’ wasn’t going to open the floodgates.
But ‘I will,’ he’d said dutifully, and watched as she smiled and turned her attention elsewhere.
It was visiting time again, and twice a day the tide of wearied loved ones washed up around each bed, proffering flotsam and jetsam from the foyer shop. News from the outside world was delivered with unnecessary pomp, and questions were asked - about the food, about what the patient had watched on television, about how they were feeling that day. Simon often listened in, hoping for snippets he might use himself, some hint of a normal relationship. He thought of his own little boy and hoped that when this time came for them, the conversation might at least flow.
‘My turn for Davy Jones’s locker,’ his father had said when the diagnosis was delivered, and Simon had found himself explaining the euphemism to a bemused young registrar.
Six months, apparently, with a fair wind behind him.
And now at that very edge, Simon wanted to shake his father and shout, why could you never talk to me? He looked around the ward for courage, at the hugging and hand-holding, the soft whispered words, looks of tenderness and loss. He took a deep breath.
And then, on cue, his phone pinged in rescue. In the café, the message said.
Later, sitting by the window with his family, he turned his head to hide the salty tears and stared out at the horizon. ‘Daddy sad,’ his little boy said, brow furrowed. ‘Why?’
‘Because my daddy is very ill, and I can’t tell him I’m going to miss him.’
And all at sea he felt lost like never before.
Denise Eaton came to writing late in life, enrolling on Sheffield Hallam University’s Creative Writing MA in her 60s. Working with local actors from I’ll Have What She’s Having, she helped create ‘the show with a big heart.’ Their productions, featuring Denise’s scripts and poetry, have been staged in various cities across the North of England including the Buxton Fringe Festival. She was selected to take part in the Sky Writes initiative - a partnership between Sky Studios and New Writing North - and created a comedy drama pilot for TV. Through a mixture of monologue, script and short fiction, Denise’s work explores the effect we have on one another.