Short Story: My Father’s Face

When my father was dying of cancer, he told me he was at peace with it. He sat most days in the sunroom, surrounded by his books and plants. He said at age 84, he’d seen enough – not that he was satisfied, but it was enough. It wasn’t enough for me.

I went to see the Rabbi because I had an idea. We’d always been told the library under the synagogue held many old texts. Books about anything you could imagine. Secrets. Old secrets. I asked the Rabbi if anyone had searched the texts for cures. Of course they had, he said, but I was welcome to go see for myself. He was humoring me. I knew it, but I didn’t care, so I went down the dusty stairs and looked.

It wasn’t a library so much as a storeroom. It took up the entire basement beneath the synagogue chambers – the main worship room and all the side vestibules – everything. Books were over-stacked on shelves, piled onto large tables and piled underneath too. If there was a system of organization, it had been long abandoned. There was no order, only books, which made it even more exciting. Anything was possible.

I looked around for medical texts, religious texts, anything that caught my eye. I found a few that looked interesting. I carved out a small space where I could sit and thumb through them but on that first night I didn’t find anything.

When I got home my father was still in the sunroom, staring at the stars. It was a cold night, but it was clear and you could see the tip of the Milky Way.

“What were you doing so late?”



“I was looking for a cure for you, in the sacred texts. I was at the synagogue.”

He smiled. He was always happy when I went to the temple for any reason. He didn’t seem to mind it was on a fool’s errand. He seemed agnostic toward my reasons. He put his hand on mine and looked back to the sky. I looked too. It was obvious that’s what he wanted.

The next few evenings I went back to the library and on the fifth night I found something. It wasn’t a book but a door. It was hidden behind stacks of books which I’d cleared in a half-hearted attempt to organize those I’d already inspected. I pushed the door open and a stairway led down, into darkness. Of course I went down those steps! If a secret stairwell in a dusty library under a synagogue doesn’t beckon you then you’re probably not worth saving.

After some time there was a light and I followed it down a narrow hallway to a small room. A candle was burning and there was a stone pedestal. There were books all around but there was one sitting open on the stand. It was a medical journal. It took some time but I found the cure for the kind of cancer my father had. It was his pancreas, if I didn’t mention it already. I ran out, excited but also dubious. What were the chances that I would find my answer – and so soon?

Unfortunately, the M7 bus waits for no news. I’d missed the last of the night and it was over 30 blocks home now. I could cut over to the subway but despite the cold I decided to hoof it. When I got home my father was asleep.

The next morning I found him in his sunroom. I told him I’d found a cure but he didn’t seem to care. His alocasias needed water. After lunch I went to him again but this time he was napping. The afternoon sun lit the side of his face. White stubble was there if you looked close, but from the doorway he looked young. I remember when my mother was still alive, not that long ago. When the sun hit the room like this they’d dance in it. Then my father would threaten to put on a record and my mother would shoo him away. It was like that with those two. Now my father lay still. I’d try him again, but for now I’d let him sleep. What was the hurry?

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