The son sat on the park bench, watching his father. He was wearing corduroys. No one did that anymore. The father soon returned with his hand behind his back and sat down next to him.
“I wanted to give you something,” he said. “Something I remembered you always liked.”
His son stared at the smudge of coal dust on his father’s neck as his father brought his hand around. It was a cold day in Pennsylvania, too cold for the ice cream his father offered. It was one of those cones with a band of chocolate and peanuts sprinkled on top.
The son stared at it for a long time, trying to decide. His father kept giving him things. He didn’t want things. The father hadn’t understood about aerospace engineering, how it made his heart sing. He did understand about a sweet tooth.
“Thanks Dad,” the son said, staring at the ice cream. It had begun to melt just a bit from his father’s hand. If he drew it out any longer he might as well throw it in his father’s face. He took a bite, right from the top, felt the peanuts like hard kernels, tried to cover them with the cream and swallow them together. Maybe his body wouldn’t notice he’d just poisoned it.
He ate the rest of the ice cream fast, wanting to let his body soak up something other than the peanuts, but he could feel the itchiness beginning, the unease, the nasty feeling of revulsion begin to kick in.
His father sat back and stared up at the sky smiling.
“It’s nice we can talk like this-”
“Dad,” the son choked.
He awoke in the hospital, staring up at the coal smudge on his father’s neck. It didn’t surprise him. He’d seen all the way to the other end of his father’s gesture. This, or refuse his dad. What was worse? His father sat looking at him, eyes red-rimmed.
It wasn’t just an allergic reaction, the doctor told him later. He said a lot of things about GFRs and hemodialysis vs peritoneal dialysis. It all meant he had kidney failure. He needed dialysis until he could get a transplant.
“I’m not a match, son,” his father whispered. “I tried. I wanted to give you one of mine. I wanted to give you…I’m sorry.”
His son shrugged.
His first dialysis was painful. He threw up, but his father was with him. He had to be with him to drive him home, but he stayed through the four hours too. He came back the next time. And the next.
While the machines whirred and did whatever mysterious thing it did to keep him alive, the men began to talk.
The son talked about engineering and the future of the world, and the father talked about the mines and the men. And the son smiled one day at his father. He’d never wanted things. He’d wanted time. And now they had time.