June 18

Fathers’ Day

 

Desmond followed the hospital signs toward room 621.

His father had been in an accident of some kind, but he couldn’t get clear information from the call desk when he’d phoned.  Just come in right away, the duty nurse said.  He needs to see you.

Reaching the designated room, Desmond stepped inside.  A healthy man in a hospital gown sat up in bed, turned his attention away from the blaring television to acknowledge the visitor.

The man wasn’t his father.

Desmond looked past, checking behind a mid-room partition to locate his father as a second patient.  The other bed was empty.

In his distress at the unspecified news, he must have gotten the room number wrong.  He headed out the door to get better information from the nurses’ station.

“Desmond?”

He didn’t recognize the voice from the bed, but the stranger’s cry had been so plaintive that it stopped him in his tracks.

“I’m sorry,” Desmond said.  “I don’t know…”

“I’m so glad you visited.”  A smile spread across the man’s face.  Instead of making him look happy or healthy, the smile made the man seem older and more frail.

But still not his father.

Desmond and his father had lost touch for many years, but they’d found each other again recently.  After an unexpected reunion, with sincere forgiveness on both sides, they’d had many visits and phone calls rich with memories of happier times.  It had been wonderful to have his father back in his life again.  Desmond hadn’t realized what he’d been missing.  It was as if the world finally made sense again.

So who was this imposter in the hospital room?

“You’re such a good son,” the stranger said.  “Remember that time when you broke your mother’s vase, and how you cried, but I helped you glue it back together and she never found out?”

This was one of the memories Desmond recently shared with his father.  As they spoke, he’d relived the childhood pain of anticipating his mother’s anger and disappointment; he’d remembered how impossibly grateful he’d been for his father’s help.

“I fixed it,” the stranger said from the hospital bed.  “Good as new.”

Desmond imagined his real father in some other room, with some mysterious illness.  There had been some mix-up at the hospital:  the wrong birthdate typed into a computer, the wrong name printed on a wristband.

But…the wrong memories, transferred to another patient?

And as Desmond looked at this man in the bed, he saw some faint resemblance to his own features, how he might look in thirty or so years.  But he considered, also, how parents and children can change to each other, especially if they drift apart.

We’re different people, he thought.  Both of us.

The stranger kept talking, recounting events from Desmond’s past.  No one else could know these events in such detail.  But it wasn’t his father.  It wasn’t.

As Desmond stepped out of the room, the stranger shifted into a story about a carnival, a fun house attraction with distorting mirrors.

Further down the long hallway, a group of people were gathered around the nurse’s station.  Many of them were raising their arms, and their voices.

From a nearby room, he heard a woman scream.  “Who are you?” she shouted.  “What have you done with my father?”