My father's roommate at the veterans’ home is dying. I've known since yesterday, when an assembly of family suddenly appeared, filling his half of the room. My father has known for about a week, when he heard the tell-tale moaning rumble of the old man's breathing when at rest, the signal he has come to recognize—having outlived a half dozen roommates at this point—as a sign that an unseen threshold has been crossed.
"You don't have much time left now, Brother," my father had said to the man. The nurses swatted his arm and rolled their eyes at the absurdity of his prediction. After all, his roommate still got up and about to enjoy outings and socialize in the common room. My father could only shrug his shoulders. What could he say?
"You can hear death coming before you can see it," he tells me.
Meanwhile, on our side of the curtain, Naked and Afraid is playing on the television. I take note of the man who has fashioned what can best be described as not a loin cloth but a loin log around his waist. Surely a maple leaf could have done the job, but my father suggests the man wants to get a few dates once the show is over. We are laughing to the point of tears, and I notice that our laughs are identical, some kind of shared genetic quirk, perhaps, that makes me feel closer to him. We hear the hospice nurse on the other side of the cloth, urging the dying man to eat a few bites of ice cream.
"Just leave him alone," my father says in a voice loud enough for the family to hear. I feel my face flush, and I urge him to whisper.
"People only listen closer when you whisper, Munchkin."
Back at my mother's house, in the silence of these late hours, I am whispering in the dark, hoping that everything I need to say can be heard, that the next time I pull the curtain to my father's room, I am met with that familiar laughter for one more day.