My father never sat still for a second. When he wasn’t at work, he was working around the house: building, painting, repairing. Now, although remarkably healthy for a man of ninety-two, he is physically incapable of creating the things he once could, such as the chaise longue in the picture below.
A while back, I was trying to come up with an idea for a flash fiction contest. The premise? Write a complete, untitled story in fifty words or fewer without using the letter ‘e’. I pondered it for a day or two. Then, as I was driving along a country road, I spotted a man on a ladder, re-painting the tired green trim on his two-story house. That triggered a memory: something my brother had told me, something that my dad had told him. Dad’s words? “Last night I built a whole house in my head. Getting old is tough. Body can’t do the work.”
There it was, my story idea! But I couldn’t use the words house or head (no e’s allowed.) I also did not want to use the phrase last night because of word count limitations. I came up with a story and submitted it to an On the Premises mini contest; I edited the result slightly before including it in my short story collection, Passages. Here’s the final cut:
Today, I built a mansion, foundation to rooftop.
Laid floors, hung doors, put in windows.
Alas, no triumph.
Today, I built a mansion, but only in my mind.
My body is old, sagging. My hands? Arthritic claws.
I’m stuck, longing for past skills, biding my days…
waiting for God.
I treasure this short piece, not because it won any contest (not even short-listed) but because it is a candid portrayal of the inevitability of the life cycle. And, of course, because it was inspired by my father. Thanks, Dad.
To all the Dads out there: Keep talking, sharing, telling, building legacies…
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My best to you,