Short story by Una Mannion, Ambit Fiction Competition 2016 First Prize Winner
My father gives me his eye and his teeth. He looks scooped out, like a mask with cut out hollows where the eye and mouth should be. I hold them during his treatment. His eye is painted on a piece of soft plastic. It is blue, like mine. I sit on a plastic orange chair in the waiting room, holding these parts of him laid out in my palm like an offering. He goes through chemotherapy and radiation. He tells me that radiation to the head is like the moment in a car accident when the glass crashes in, except over and over again.
I work with him at his job landscaping, and we take breaks under a ginkgo tree. We sit between the twisted roots, our backs against the broad trunk in its shade. He says when Hiroshima was bombed the only living things to survive the radiation at the centre of the blast were six ginkgo trees. I look up through the leaves and broken light and imagine the miracle of green buds pushing out of scalded bark and ash.
By autumn, he is dying. There is a bruise on his forehead and a sore on his lip. He has stopped swallowing. When it is time for me to leave, I go into him and he has dressed for our goodbye, sitting upright on the edge of the bed. He makes it formal, wearing his good shirt, his teeth and his eye. I leave him and go out. It is late afternoon and the weakened sunlight streams through oranges, golds and crimsons. The breeze carries the smell of burning leaves and around me single leaves float and fold to the ground.
I remember an afternoon years before when we were at the house with the ginkgo. I was working the leaf blower, and he came to me and told me to turn it off and come to the tree. At first I didn’t understand. There were thousands falling all at once, a golden shower of blazing leaves like wide hearts. It’s called the ginkgo rain. As if in deep communication, the ginkgo’s leaves fall together. We stood in their downpour and lifted our faces to their bright touch. In half an hour the tree was bare.
Una Mannion teaches Performing Arts in County Sligo, Ireland. In March 2016, she won the Hennessy New Irish Writing in the Irish Times and was shortlisted for Cuirt International Literature Festival. She has also won the Yeats’ Society’s Seamus Heaney Prize.