A tear runs down my nose and falls from the tip before I can reach up to wipe it away. I blink, looking upward in hopes that it will forestall more tears. The first drops right into the mixture I’m stirring on my stove. No matter. Such a small amount of salt and water shouldn’t disturb it. This isn’t the important stuff, anyway. This will just help to ease his joint pain.
The creme needs to simmer for a bit. I take a moment to wipe my face with a clean linen. I try to be discreet. I don’t want Vane to see that I’m crying. I’ve never liked looking weak in front of people, and I don’t want to look weak in front of him.
He’s not paying attention to me, anyway. I’ve given him some tea, but it sits forgotten on the table in front of him. He’s not interested in the tea, or in conversation, thankfully. He’s had his head down, cushioned by his folded arms, for the last several minutes.
I go back to grinding up the herbs and seeds in the mortar next to the stove. This will stay raw, though I’ll mix it with goat’s milk for Telan to drink. It’s the only thing I know to make that might help. “Might.” I keep thinking of it that way, as something important, something I can’t mess up, because there’s a chance it might help him.
It won’t, actually. I know that it won’t. There’s honestly no point in even trying, for Telan. It doesn’t matter. I have to try for me, because if I don’t at least make an attempt, then I will have failed him. At least when it’s over I’ll be able to say I tried to do something about it. I’ll be able to look back and said, “Well, at least I tried.”
“I’m going to miss him,” Vane says. His voice is muffled. He hasn’t taken his head off of the table.
“Don’t talk about him like he’s already gone.” I want to say this harshly, but I don’t have the energy. It comes out sounding deflated. Disappointed.
“Right.” Vane sits up. He covers his face with his hands. “Still. We didn’t get along as well as we should have, these last few years. But I’m still going to miss him.”
“He’s your father,” I say. I don’t want to be having this conversation. I don’t want to talk at all right now. I want to focus on the powder, because I have to get it right. I have to.
“Yeah.” Vane moves his tea closer, but he just stares at it. “Yeah, but sometimes it felt more like he was… I don’t know. It’s all mixed up in my head. I wanted to say that sometimes it felt more like he was everyone’s father, and not just mine. Sometimes it felt like he wasn’t my father at all, and he was just the Village Head. Or the old Village Head.”
“He can be both things,” I say. “He cared about you, but he cared about everyone, too. That’s just what fell on his shoulders.”
“Most kids get a dad that cares most about them, though.”
I’ve never heard Vane sound this dejected. He’s the confident sort of person, one who likes to pretend he’s more manly because he doesn’t show any of his weaknesses to other people, especially women. Especially me, someone who’s been on his father’s side for so long.
I don’t have an answer for what he said, or if I do, it’s not one I have the energy to think about. The powder is mixed. The creme is done simmering. It has to cool, so I take the pot off of the stove and place it on a cooling rack. I whisk it briefly before leaving it to sit.
I had Vane bring me some fresh goat’s milk. It gave him something to do. I pour a bit into a cup, then I stir the powder into it with a spoon. The powder won’t dissolve in the milk. It won’t be very pleasant to drink, but that doesn’t matter.
There’s a chance — a tiny, tiny chance — that Telan will get better if he drinks this. It’s such a small chance that I don’t dare even let myself hope. Making the powder isn’t even an act of hope. It’s just the only thing to be done. Even if it doesn’t help him make it through, it will ease some of the pain he’s feeling. It will let him sleep.
I’ve given him my bed for now. I couldn’t bare to put him on the couch. I’m not worried about getting sick, once my bed is free. The problem is with his heart. His eyes flutter open as I enter the room. His breath comes with difficulty, but he’s tracking me. He opens his mouth to speak. Nothing comes out.
“Telan,” I say. “I have something for you to drink. Alright?”
His eyes flutter more. His head shifts. I decide to take it as a nod. I sit on the stool next to the bed. I feel tears pressing upward once again. It’s all I can to hold them back. Telan has been such a strong man his entire life. It pains me to see him so weak, and so pale.
I hold the cup up to his lips. I fear he will choke, so I dribble only tiny bits in at a time. His face wrinkles in displeasure at the taste, but drop by drop, he drinks the whole mixture.
“This will make you feel better, Telan.” I can’t lie to him and say it will make him better. “The cream for your joints will be cool, soon, and I’ll rub some of that on. Okay?”
He shifts his head again, and now I know he’s attempting to nod. I force myself to smile. For a time, I sit holding his hand. His eyes flutter closed. If not for the faint motion of his chest, I would fear that he has fallen into something deeper than sleep. I give his hand a squeeze, then go to retrieve the cream from where it sits next to the stove.
By the time I’ve returned, Telan’s breathing has stopped. For a moment, my breath stops, too. I think of all that will happen next. The town will mourn. There will be a funeral. Vane will say some words. So might some others, myself included.
For now, it’s just me and him. I sit next to him once more. I take his hand again, maybe for the last time, and I just wait with him for a while, because it feels like as long as I’m sitting here with him, he’s not gone yet.