In my youth, I crafted a marvellous device…
My father’s middle years were greeted with a gruelling, torturous ailment. To look upon him, he appeared sullen despite a happy family; miserly with a trust fund in the bank. He grew quiet and soon scorned the companionship of his closest friends.
I stirred the nerve one day to ask what was going on. The reply, sad and teeming with loneliness, came that he was in some amount of pain, my boy and that the doctor couldn’t help him. But for his eyes, slowly dimming from teal to a merciless grey, his body retained all the health and supposed-vigour of any man his age. Friends began to speculate on this “pain”: if he wants to hole himself up with whisky and darkness, he can bloody well just say so. A charade they said. A front.
Before long, even I lost belief in the very man who raised me. If a team of doctors couldn’t root out the cause and Dad couldn’t describe a single symptom of this ailment, then there wasn’t one. He pushed us away and we willingly retracted.
For years, my doubts were left to fester: the once-immutable belief in my Father resurfaced and I knew that he, that great man who raised a family from nothing to comfort, would never abandon us. There had to be something more. There had to be a way to understand.
I started working tirelessly. Hours blended to weeks and sleep became a daydream as my toiling stripped our bank accounts bare. Then I had finished. My device was ready.
The man who greeted me from behind that knocked-on door was a shadow, a haggard impersonation of my first words. We talked, reminisced and I even laughed. He nearly smiled.
I left him with a trinket. It resembled a small hourglass filled with carmine vapour, rather than sand. To remind you that time is just a perspective. If you’re not done yet, just turn things around and let the sand fall the other way. He smiled at the idea. I made him promise that whenever the pain seemed insurmountable, and only then, he should flip the hourglass and remember that he’s not done yet.
That night, for one hour, I knew the most profound agony. Each atom blazed like flame, my stomach roiled and rumbled with a malicious virus and it was all I could do to keep breathing. After an eternity it passed, and I sank into fitful sleep.
I woke the next morning to a message. It was from my father. He spoke of the marvellous device that had vanquished his pain. His words sang with pride and gratefulness for the temporary miracle I had wrought. The laughter in his voice was like a solitary candle in a lifetime of darkness.
I never told him the truth but I lived in a constant fear that he might turn to my hourglass. Fear became phobia and led to a dark, lonely world of paranoia. The stress, the intermittent and excruciating agony made me delirious and irritable.
One day I woke to another message. A note, pinned to a parcel. I know what you did, son. You gifted me with a life I’d long sacrificed to pain. Time for you to live your own.
The box was a collection of broken glass, a splintered wooden frame and a single photo of my father, smiling.
I wept, and embraced a crippling sorrow.