A blizzard of literary proportions blanketed Manhattan with snow the Sunday after Christmas, wind playing the city in whirls and eddies, like yarn at the paws of my cat. Subway service was suspended, and the city’s three airports closed to flights while they chipped away at the drifts around the planes. But your scribe – and my father – had already departed Cancerland. He did not travel back to these “robust and healthy United States.” Barely a year from his removal to the provinces, this leavetaking came sooner than family and friends expected; his writings indicate an intention to stay a while longer himself. No doubt there were missives in mind, still to be shared with you who have traveled with him through these dispatches at Esoph’s Fables.
Cancerland felt far away in some respects, to me, the elder child of one of its most brilliant and eloquent abductees. But in the early months of Peter’s travels, it cost him little to keep in touch, with us and with you: broadband internet passed for postage. He hopped in the car to visit me on the glorious coast of Maine, and gladly traded sleep for talks with my brother, long into the night, again and again. He tinkered and tampered. He put things on wheels, and what wouldn’t take wheels got hung on the walls. E.B. White saw “nothing in space as promising as the view from a Ferris wheel,” and I imagine my father felt himself to be at the top.
Then in September, there was the relocation from Chemoville to Radiation City. This latter proved to be a province more remote, and it became difficult for him to keep us apprised of things. Postage costs were exorbitant from the backcountry: an hour or three awake at the keys, seatbones stark against a chair, and all with scant provisions to fortify for the journey. His wit was agile as ever, but physically speaking, the man had no reserves – through the progressively narrow, rugged Passage of Esophagus, little could get by near the end. Still, at least while Peter dwelt there, my brother and I knew his contact information. It was possible to sit beside him in the flesh, even if his flesh was dramatically reduced; to share a meal, even if swallowing had become a trial. Although it was never the same after the tumor staked a partial claim to his vocal chords, we could hear his voice.
So, where to next? Would that we could track Peter’s flight, but the last I saw, the snow had done a far better job of burying our father than we ever could. Still half expecting to be notified of another dispatch, awaiting a hoarse phone call — we’ve been fumbling around for scraps of comfort, and finding a few here and there. The very book on Kierkegaard my brother wrote about half a world away in Copenhagen this December had been pulled from the ranks of Dad’s bookshelves, and laid on top. Nick never mentioned he was reading it. A silver-clad Hebrew prayer book sat nestled in a stack of files on the windowsill in Dad’s bedroom; the laminate card poking out marked the prayer for the passing of a father.
Another shard of solace bears a little explanation: perhaps you’ll remember reading this summer of the lengths Peter went to keep his cat Tigerlily safely off the patio. He wrote, “I have been through six iterations of the screen curtain already, and even when I myself have trouble opening it, Houdini does not. I can be sitting outside working on something or another, and there she is, at my feet, with the screen curtain taut, lovely, and apparently undisturbed in the distance behind her.” Well, my father died at home, in the custom comforts of his apartment; we like to think these were his own terms. He was alone, which we care much less to think about. The door to the pavement garden was wide open when he died, no screen or anything. And the cat stayed in with him – his face taut, lovely, and apparently undisturbed in the distance behind her.
Don’t unsubscribe yourselves from Esoph’s Fables just yet. We’ll let you know when next we hear from him.