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Last Call · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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The Last Call With Dad
Here's how it didn't happen:

"I'm a little too tired to talk," he said. "Maybe later?"

It didn't happen that way because it was my mother who picked up his phone, and stepped down the hallway of what I only later learned was a nursing agency.

Here's how it didn't happen:

"I want to say I forgive you for not telling me about the prostate cancer," I managed to push out through the emotions choking my throat. "But I'm not even sure there's anything to forgive."

He didn't say anything. I took it on faith he heard me.

"You didn't want me to remember you as ... unwell." That was a complete lie, as all simplifications of complex truths are. Christian Science teaches that we are beings of pure spirit, that sickness is just a reflection of our separation from God. He was a church elder. So of course he wasn't unwell, until he was. Until the rambling call with Mom in which I finally managed to extract that he had eaten less than a handful of food in the past week and a half.

But something was separated from God the whole time. A little mass his doctor discovered years ago, that he ever more vociferously refused to get biopsied, until his doctor gave in and said there was no point; at his age the operation might be as fatal as the mass. Mom let that slip after three all-nighters at his bedside.

Not telling me that was what I was trying to forgive him about. Or, more accurately, to not have to forgive him about. He respected me deeply and loved me with his whole heart, and the nature of that respect was a quiet omission of the truth.

He was too tired to speak, but even in the silence I could hear disappointment. I was treating this like it was real. I wasn't reacting like he was going to stand up in half an hour and drive home like nothing ever happened.

A little stabbing in my heart whispered that I was wrong. There was something to forgive.

I hoped in his silence he forgave me.

Here's how it didn't happen:

"I'm proud of you, dad," I said through the tears, leaving out the "whether or not you make it through".

After a night to sleep on it, I had chased my tail right back around to a pale, perverted secular shadow of what he wanted in the first place. If he had been open about everything, expressed his desire not to have his last years marred by increasingly excruciating medical interventions, and asked me to support him in his effort to die with dignity, I would have accepted without hesitation. But why should he have had to ask me for permission for dignity? Shouldn't that have been his right all along?

I was pretty sure "proud" was the wrong word. But I was desperate to let him know that things were okay between us.

Here's how it happened:

"How are things going with church, dad?"

"Oh, alright," he said. "Paperwork. Always so much paperwork. How'd that story go?"

"I got it published! The pay wasn't great, but it's enough to buy you a copy of the magazine when it comes out."

"That's great!" The pride was audible in his voice. "It's a big step."

"Thanks, dad."

"We should catch up," I said. "I've got some weekends free. Still on to go meet at that Chinese place in Springfield? The kids are over at Karen's this month but I can show you all our videos."

"Things have been a little busy," he said. "Later this month?"

"Sounds good," I said, and penciled him in for the 25th. "Love you."

"Love you," he said.
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#1 · 1
· · >>Fenton
There are some nice lines there, and there’s more than ample evidence of the author’s competence.

The main point of the story, namely the absence of communication (or incomprehension? hypocrisy?) between father and son (daughter?), is an interesting choice, but as Cassius whispered to me, this format might be a little too cramped for the story to fully address what it was set out to do. In fact, although we get a fairly good grip on the father’s personality, we fail to learn anything about the son/daughter and the reason why that situation arose in the first place. This lack of context makes it difficult for me to relate to the narrator, and so I’m pretty much let at arm’s length, though I know there’s a lot of emotion in subtext.

The idea of presenting three hypothetical branches to illustrate the inner state of the narrator is a nifty trope, though.

I think this story would need a little more space to breathe. Currently, it feels a bit crippled.
#2 · 2
Another top contender:

My only question concerns the term "nursing agency" at the beginning. If the father's so sick that they're hiring a home-care nurse, why is he there at the agency for the mother to answer his phone? Or is it a hospice and they're checking the father in to stay? And then once Christian Science comes into things, I found myself wondering even more. Would hiring a nurse from an agency be acceptable while going into a hospice wouldn't? I don't know what Christian Science teaches in that regard.

Yes, it's a minor quibble. But in minifics, every word counts, and those two words--"nursing agency"--just generated a lot of questions for me.

#3 · 1
There isn't much to say here. I liked this one, even though I didn't feel very engaged with the protagonists. And I can't really point why or where.
Maybe it's because, as >>Monokeras said, because you have so little space to tell that kind of story. But you still managed to tell something that 's more than decent, that is enjoyable and, most of all, not over-the-top/trying-too-hard.
#4 ·
the "didn't happens" at first feel like regrets that the call wasn't as dramatic and important as it could've been. just some mundane chit-chat. But I get the feeling that this fic is subverting that, because the mundane talk feels so smooth and peaceful by comparison. It was the right kind of closure they both needed. So despite the possible regrets, maybe it was as ideal as it could've been.

It unfolds a little awkwardly. I feel like scenario #2 is a little bit too long. I like how tense and chaotic it feels, but maybe it's providing too much information. It pulls me out of the "didn't happen" framework just a little.
#5 · 3
Congratulations to Baal Bunny and Miller Minus for their medals, and Monokeras for the mortarboard!

This is less author's notes than context: this story is about 80% nonfiction.

Some of you may have noticed that I've been a little silent this week. A week ago Saturday -- during the minific writing period -- I got a long, late-night rambling phone call from my mother that my dad was in a ... Christian Science version of a convalescence home, nursing home, I still don't know what they call it and I don't have good words to communicate the nuance of it ... having serious health issues (which due to the Christian Science they were doing their best to deny, but she let it slip that he hadn't peed recently and that immediately got me concerned about severe dehydration). I immediately dropped everything and arranged to head to San Francisco the next day to visit him -- which would later end up turning into medical intervention (with his grudging consent), and me sleeping more or less on a chair in his hospital room for a week straight. It has not been fun. He is, thankfully, discharged and recuperating now, with the immediate crisis behind him, and I'm finally back home as of yesterday.

At the time, though, what I was hearing over the phone sounded awfully scary, and I wrote this as catharsis. It was typed more or less at a single pass straight into the writeoff.me website text box, with some edits to smooth things out and change the regional details enough to not be personally identifiable.

The ER diagnosis was acute kidney failure due to urinary blockage (when your body can't expel toxins they just sit in your bladder and, if bad enough, kidneys, poisoning you from the inside). That turned around quickly once he got a catheter and IV. The urinary blockage was most likely caused by the prostate issues mentioned in the story, which were in fact new to me as of last weekend. If I hadn't lived within driving distance of my father, and he hadn't gone to the emergency room, this is more or less how my story would have turned out. But he's still around to talk to me. His last text message was "tired but good" and I'm seeing him again on my way to Babscon.

It's been kind of a wake-up call on a lot of levels though.

Tell your family and/or friends that you love them today. I was very lucky, both in getting that wake-up call and in having any sort of warning at all. (My ex-wife's father died suddenly of a heart attack and was gone in between the time her mom stepped out to run errands and when she got home.) And you all be well.
#6 ·
Interesting way to begin the story. I'm curious what kind of prostate mass would be life-threatening to operate on, when age is the only mitigating factor mentioned. I assume this is something that's metastacized elsewhere in the body, but it's worth saying so. I'm also curious how religious the son is. I mean, I can see from the dad's perspective that he sees the illness as a kind of failing he doesn't want to admit to his son. That's different (and quite possibly in addition to) the standard one of not wanting to cause stress.

Okay, now I'm getting confused as to how extensive the "didn't happen" sections are. I assumed they applied to a couple paragraphs, but literally nothing before the "here's how it happened" actually occurred? Because I can see him doing different take on what he actually says to his father. But in the second one, his father is incapacitated beyond the ability to speak, and yet that's not actually the case, I think? I'm not sure why he's imagining that very bleak, extended episode. I'm not even sure how much I learn from it. His inner conflict, yes, but what's more germane is how he actually feels, not how he might have felt.

I'd like to know more about him, though. He's struggling with losing his father, but everyone would. Other than that, the only peek I get into his personality is his struggle with religion.

This kind of strikes me as one of those stories that turns out to be a dream. When it's revealed, I yell at the screen, "Wait, so I wasted my time reading something that didn't matter?" It's hard to pull that off, but at least we're told ahead of time this didn't happen (my confusion notwithstanding).

What does prove effective here is the juxaposition of the normal with the tragic. His last call was so mundane, and then that was it. And that's often the way these things go. Nice realism, I like the sentiment, but it was a tad confusing to me, and there's something unbalanced-feeling about spending so much word count on what didn't happen, particularly when one of them is so much longer than the other or the real stuff.

Still, this'll sit high on my ballot.

As I alluded to earlier, I'd already guessed horizon on another story, so based on the writing quality here, I tried picking Zaid. Oh well.