Thoughts of a Dying Man

Written by Erin Nust

The crackling wood in the fireplace and the violent gusts of wind, which slammed their way to the window, lullabies the old man. 

He sank in his red velvet armchair with his legs outstretched on a matching footstool. It was his favourite spot in the whole house. On the walls, hundreds of books with the knowledge of thousands of years watched old Peter Bennet, the Spike as he was known in the military, fading away from this world.

Above the fireplace, a younger version of himself hung in a painted portrait. He still carried the same nimbleness in his brown eyes and, although his age, he maintained the witty smile with the perfect teeth. 

Poor old Peter Bennet had met a lot of women before, during, and after the wall, but none of them managed to break the facade of the charming man other than his Gen. She was the daughter of a baker, but she had the heart of a soldier. They met at a bar where she worked as a singer after her father died. Peter was first attracted by her full red lips and the big green eyes, but when he talked to her he found out Genevieve wasn’t all about looks. 

They spent two happy years together until Peter was called to fight for the War. After six months of his service, he received a letter which announced Gev dead from pneumonia. Peter was crushed and even though his fellow soldiers tried to console him with promises of new loves in his life, he knew well there wouldn’t be another person in his life like Gev; he was right.

He got married of course. He married a nice girl named Grace and they had a son. He never gave his heart completely to her and he was feeling guilty for it. Grace was kind and loving and the mother of his child, but she didn’t have Gen’s lion heart, nor the bravery to win him over the way Gen had done all these years ago.

When Grace died, Larry was already twenty years old and in search of his own destiny. Peter had taken his pension and enjoyed his free time mostly in the library, where he studied history and the achievements of great men. He was unnecessary to his son, now.

He could recall the memory of Grace’s death clearly. It was still fresh in his memory, which played sneaky tricks on him, lying about where he left his reading glasses or if he had taken his pills that day. It was late December and Peter hoped Grace would manage to live another year, but her health was deteriorating since September when the blood tests had bad news for her. She was lying on the bed wearing her favourite satin nightie and Peter was standing by the door. Larry, blessed with the optimism and the vibrance of youth, was holding her hand as she heaved for one more breath. Peter knew the relationship with his son was lost the moment Grace left this world. Peter saw him wiping his tears on his face with discretion as if he was in the presence of a stranger. That night they sat on the kitchen table together and smoked silently in the darkness. 

“After mom’s funeral, I’ll have to go back. Lots of college-work,” Larry said and climbed the stairs to his old, childhood bedroom. Peter was fighting with himself to find the words, any words, to talk to his son, but an invisible wall made the effort worthless. It was too late for them.   

Peter liked to think he had a good life, if not a good, then surely a full one and he rarely regretted things he had done. Now that he was sensing his life coming to an end, Peter realized he had some regrets, always regarding the way he treated his family. He was a good husband,  but not the best father; he always put his duty first and, most of the time, that meant for Larry he would have to grow up fatherless.

 They had years to have a proper conversation with each other, Peter thought swallowed by his armchair. The realisation disappointed him.

I am dying and there is no man alive who will shed a real tear for me, he speculated and it made him sad. All of the generals and sergeants loved him. When you share your life with someone and you even are in danger of losing it as well, your base becomes your family and your real home family are just music in the background. 

An owl hooted outside the window and the fire weakened as the time passed. Old Peter Bennet, the Spike, was happy to know he would leave his last breath in his favorite room, on his favorite armchair with joyful memories and others not so pleasant. Most importantly, he was happy to know he served his country the best and he was loved by most people he met in his life; as for the mistakes he had made during his life, in a time like that, he was proud of them too.     

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