My best writing comes directly after a catalyst, some sort of trigger which, when pulled, catapults my words onto the page like shots from an automatic machine gun.
In the case of my first book, the one I am currently working on, the trigger was the death of my father.
My father was 92 and lived on the other side of the country. Despite this, we had fallen into a comfortable and regular routine. Every Sunday, around 7pm eastern standard time, one of us would phone the other. I can’t remember when it became a competition but it would upset my father if I was the one to make the call.
It suited me better that way as I could call him on my mobile from wherever I happened to be at the time. If I had to wait for him to dial, I would have had to sit next to the home phone. For years he was the only reason I kept the home phone connected.
So, every Sunday around 7pm, we would talk for a few minutes. Our conversations were always the same.
“How are you?”
“Fine. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m ok. Getting older you know. More aches and pains. How are the boys?”
“They are all fine. Nothing much is new. What have you been doing lately?”
“I can’t do too much now. My eyes are not good.”
“Have the carers been this week? Have they cleaned?”
“They come, but they don’t do anything.”
“And are you taking all your medications? Has the doctor seen you?”
“Oh, he doesn’t come very often. He has forgotten me…”
“And your medications?”
“Well, I don’t need all of them…”
“Dad, please take your medications. You know the doctor only gives them to you if you need them.”
“But the doctor doesn’t know anything. I know how I feel.”
“Dad, please. I can’t come over every day to make sure you take them, so you have to do it yourself.”
“I know, I know. But you are ok?”
“Yes, Dad. I’m fine.”
“OK, well you look after yourself.”
“And you too Dad. Take care.”
There was so much I couldn’t tell my father. I could never complain about anything because, unlike my mother but very like most males, my father would immediately attempt to find a solution. Usually it was a solution I didn’t much care for. The few times I complained about work he basically told me to do whatever the boss tells me to because a job is a job and I should be grateful to have one. If I talked about looking for a new job with higher pay, he would caution me not only about leaving the security of the job I was in, but also against anything with higher pay as it would mean paying more tax.
It was also difficult to talk to my father about my three sons and what they were doing with their lives. Invariably anything they were doing was wrong. He thought they could get better marks at school, play less sport, watch less TV, spend less time playing video games and more time studying. I, on the other hand, had no such concerns. It was safer to simply leave them out of the conversation. Of course the fact my father had never been interested in his grandsons and had never wanted them to visit, contributed to the difficulty I had in talking about them to him.
So, there we were, in our comfortable weekly routine, when one Thursday, while I was at the hairdresser, I checked my phone to find several missed calls from my father’s neighbour and a Western Australian phone number I didn’t know. While my colour was setting I listened to the messages. They were from a doctor in the Emergency Ward of Fremantle hospital. My father was dying.