by Jeff Questad

“You should take your Dad to the doctor in the morning.” Kristine said this to her husband, reminding Ray his father had been feeling unwell for over a week.   

He agreed to call. He spoke to his father's girlfriend.  “He's already in bed. We took his glasses off.  We'll call you tomorrow.”

An hour later the girlfriend called him back.  “He's fallen down.  He's saying things I don't understand.”   

Ray drove to his father's house and arrived in time to fall in behind the ambulance and track it to the hospital. He was told by a nurse named Craig the pronouncement was made in the ambulance but the older Ray was probably dead before he hit the floor.  

What about the things he said? Meaningless. You shouldn't bother yourself.       

Yes, they understood, he was feeling unwell in the last weeks of his life.  But when he went, it was in an unexpected and probably painless instant, a cardiac event, impossible to defend against.  He died in the bathroom, like Elvis.  

“You'd be surprised how many people, even other than The King, die in the bathroom,” Craig said.  

On the morning after his father died, Ray woke up and scratched his belly standing on the deck overlooking his state.  He looked past the tree he planted with his kids four Summers ago, over the vine wrapped gazebo he had built for Kristine, and beyond the fence into the dark field of pines that that wrapped the property. In the distance a lake. As a boy he swam there in Summer and in the Winter walked softly on gently swaying ice and pulled fish up from the frozen water with Raymond Sr. He hadn't been there in 15 years.

He thought about the squirrels and birds he'd found floating in the pool and how on those occasions, early in the mornings so the family wouldn't see them, he calmly stirred the pool with a long net and sweetly fished the dead animals out.  

He'd never seen one himself, but he heard from others reports of finding raccoons in hot tubs and there was a tale he'd heard about a deer found tangled up in green water hoses, its black eyes forever open, his neck extended toward the spigot.  When she woke up and made her way to the bathroom, he said to his wife, his Queen, as if he knew it to be so, those animals died looking for water.  

“I don't know what I would do if you went,” she said.

So Ray would later tell the story of how his father, who had survived his wife by a decade, dined with astronauts and written a play, died on his back, limbs extended, eyes open, crawling to the bathroom looking for water.  

On the Saturday after his father died, Kristine, sweetly caring for the many friends of the elder Ray looking prettier than a woman hosting a funeral, came over to remind him to speak to his father's girlfriend. The woman was sitting alone on a love seat. Ray nodded to acknowledge, but didn't move to speak to her. He looked at the room full of people who had come to pay respect, but focused on none of them.

He titled his drink back and forth in his hand watching the ice move. And he wondered if Elvis was thirsty when he stepped down from his throne.