The Words Inside My CheeksPittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette 2008
This morning I fed my father, as he lay tubed up and helpless in his hospital bed. Feed him soft food, the doctor wrote. So he opened his mouth greedily to the farina and cut up pieces of pancake. Make a tunnel, I thought as I approached his mouth with the spoon. Here comes the airplane—whoosh—the farina hummed and I thought about my granddaughter. “Oh what a good boy,” I could hear my mother say when she would feed my father his lunch. “Don’t put your hand up to me mister, you have to eat—you need your strength.”
His mouth was sunken, his teeth in their other container on the nightstand. I patted down the wisps of hair and kissed his 94-year-old head. He took my hand in both of his and kissed it. I continued feeding him when he let me go and only stopped after he raised his hand to signify enough. I left him in the room with an aide and his dignity to be cleaned.
That night my wife and I babysat for our one-year-old granddaughter. I cut up her peaches and toasted cheese sandwich and spread them out on her high chair table. She popped pieces into her mouth when she could and I, remembering feeding my son, her father, when he was her age, picked up pieces and said, “Airplane,” and flew the pieces into her smiling mouth. Make a tunnel, I said as I made car sounds and zigzagged my hand with food towards her mouth. She couldn’t have known what a tunnel was but did know when she didn’t want any more food. She offered me pieces from her mouth and then swiped the remaining food off her table onto the floor in a series of semi-controllable arm flails.I kissed her puffed out cheek and she opened her mouth wide to kiss my cheek in return and chunks of sandwich fell from here mouthI went and read as her grandmother cleaned her and then returned her to me changed and spanky fresh.
My son and his wife came home from their night out and I wanted to tell him as I hugged him goodnight to please not play airplane with me when I get old; but the words stayed inside my cheeks.