Just Rewards
by Shirley Hamilton

The old man lies sprawled on the floor
gasping and clutching his chest,
bobbing one knarled hand towards the phone
just out of reach. His lips purse open,
quiver, like a fish drowning on land.
A watercolor ship struggles against a storm,
the frame tilting above the splintered lamp table,
as the man sinks further into cardiac arrest.

The son reaches for the phone,
twirls the receiver in his hands
and gazes at the man he often wished dead.
Remembers sitting in jail,
Dad refusing to bail him out,
saying sink or swim. Remembers the beatings.

The old man gurgles,
eyes wide as watches his son cradle the phone,
disconnecting the lifeline. The son kneels,
the smell of death swimming around his father.
The hurricane slam of brutal memories
sweeps away tiny waves of compassion.

Like a lightkeeper watching for ships adrift
in the night, he waits, until death's fog rolls in,
clouding his father's eyes. Insincere CPR
then a call to paramedics, who say it's a shame
he didn't find his dad just a little sooner.

He sets sail aboard the sleek new ship
his dad dreamed of, saved for his whole life.
Smooth sailing now, at his dad's expense.
He releases ashes into the deathly calm sea
as water seeps through a crack in the stern
below the new green lettering Just Rewards.

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