She dropped her keys on the side table and started sifting through the mail she’d brought up with her. “I’m home,” she called out, without lifting her head. A slight rustling came from the living room. Recycle, recycle, recycle, bill, coupons, recycle. She sorted them, dropped the flyers and bulk mail in the closet recycle bin, then went in to see her dad.
He was staring into nothing, his lips slightly parted, his hands crossed and resting on the lap blanket she’d given him that morning.
“Did you eat?”
Getting no response, Ciara went to the kitchen, looking for his plate. Nothing on the counters or in the sink. So, she opened the refrigerator and saw it there, still tucked round with saran wrap. She could feel the familiar tightening of her chest, and that heavy weariness that made everything so much harder. For a moment, she let the cool of the refrigerator air pour over her face, then noiselessly shut the door as she pulled the plate out. Four small triangles, neatly cut, liverwurst spread on soft bread, a few pickle slices, a tangerine peeled and portioned.
The plate almost fell, her hand numb from a full day’s work, so with both hands she brought the plate out and carefully laid it on her father’s lap.
“Come on, dad. You have to eat.” Slowly, his eyes came to focus and looked at the food, then at her. He gave a slight shake of his head, and turned away. She sighed, sat on the floor beside him, and leaned her head on his knee. As she picked up one of the triangles, she sucked in her breath. Her fingers had jammed, holding the plate. I’ll have to put on my braces, she thought, got back up, and headed to the guest room she’d been staying in. She found the small devices that fit over her knuckles and held her thumbs in place, and was wrestling them on when she noticed the thump thump thump of music playing through the ceiling.
So aggravating. There was no blocking it out. She checked in on her father again, then left his apartment for the elevator. She’d hammer on their door—again—get them to quiet down, at least for a while.
As she stood waiting, she was reminded of the chaplain’s gentle word to her earlier that day. It’s okay to ask for help, she’d told Ciara. The Psalmist says, “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer.” Ciara had gone in to talk about the pain, and the weariness, and the anxiety. No, she’d shaken her head. I don’t want anyone to see me like this. It’s hard enough being respected. They need to see me strong. The chaplain had stayed silent, looking at her intently, then patted her hand. I’ll pray.
It seemed as though it took all her strength to knock loud enough to get through the pounding music. God. Maybe it was a prayer.
The door suddenly opened, and the sounds of laughter, bass woofers, dishes clanging all rushed out like a gale wind. She stumbled back, momentarily overwhelmed.
“Hey everybody, it’s that lady from downstairs!” He was laughing, calling over his shoulder, barefoot, with jeans and a dark shirt. “Come on in,” he reached out and took her hand. Before she could gather her thoughts she was inside the party, board games on the table, people dancing, others talking loudly over the music.
“I have to get back to my dad,” she said, looking around dazed.
“We’ll come with you, bring the party to him!”
“No!” She didn’t think she had the energy to deal with all this noise and commotion, let alone have them by her dad. But already they were scooping up food, turning off the music, grabbing the games, and heading to the elevator, she trailing behind. Soon she was unlocking the door, this time noticing how dim the lights were, how stuffy the air was.
Her neighbors trundled her inside, flipped the lights on, spread the food out, and one said, “hey, bet you like canasta!” They were in there already, with her dad. She gasped and ran in to rescue him.
But he was smiling, and gave a small chuckle, “You know canasta?”
“I’m a master, daddio,” he said, pulling a deck of cards out of his back pocket.
Her father grinned harder, reached down to his plate, and stuffed a whole triangle of bread and liverwurst into his mouth.
“Lemme finith thith up,” he said, his mouth full and eyes atwinkle. “I’ll beat the panth off ya.”
In that moment, Ciara realized she still had her hand braces on. They’d seen her weak and weary and given her help.
 Psalm 40:17 (NRSV)
[Cover image | Russell Lee / Public domain]