NPR logo 'Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa'

'Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa'

For Round 8 of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that begin with this sentence: "She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door." Our winner was "Rainy Wedding."
Patient lying on a bed.

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Her eyes were blurred, she couldn't read the words, didn't know the name of the book. Her knees were weak. She didn't look back. This would be the last time. After a very long time.

There he was. In the bed, between the sheets, gray blanket. Eyes closed. Diapers fastened. Stubbly beard.

She leaned in closer, his lips were moving. He was humming to himself.

His skin translucent, hair so thin and white, arms like toothpicks, tubes in them. She almost didn't recognize him. She wouldn't have recognized him, but for the name on the door.

And he wouldn't recognize her, or her sisters, or her mother, "the woman who takes care of me," he would say for the past two years, when he could put a full sentence together. Most the time he didn't even try. Or his brother, or his son.

But behind his eyes, he might remember, as she remembered. Him:

Working. Working. Driving for days, throughout the south. Stopping to put up displays in grocery stores, taking orders for Nescafe. Driving, his freedom, his independence, his joy and pleasure.

Filling in expense accounts at his big, brown desk with the oval, bronze wastebasket at the side. Smell of leather and Brylcreem: "A little dab'll do ya." Comb in his shirt pocket. Short sleeves, white shirt, narrow black tie. Clean the teeth with his fingers after a few swipes to the rear. Smooth out the top with his left hand. Twice. Comb back in the pocket.

Playing golf, every Saturday morning early. Never rained on him and the boys when they played. Never. Cleaning his clubs, his shoes, with that big soft towel. In the garage, next to the lawn mower. Tools hanging on the pegboard. Screws, nails, sorted in baby food jars, attached to the workbench.

Pulling the camper to Jupiter Springs. Eating mountains of fried catfish. Hush puppies. Bobbing in the cold waters. Tall, tall pines. Soft brown underneath.

Catching the brilliant green dolphin. Big, white boat; cabin cruiser, roast beef sandwiches cut in triangles, crust cut off.

Drinking coffee after church, in the courtyard, chatting with the deacons. Suit and tie, polished, shiny shoes. Then Sunday dinner at the round, pine table. Roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn nibblets. Two slices of white bread on a plate, on the other side, a wedge of lettuce with French dressing. Orange color, like a sunset over the Everglades.

Grilling steaks on the porch. Flipping them. Making sure each was perfect. Singing, "Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, how I love you."

But these last years were different. Very different. Painful. Long.

His car was gone, long ago. He'd get lost anyway, even if he could've driven it. So he sat. Staring at the TV, dog on his lap. Stroking her. Sleeping, nodding off, mouth open gently. Till the dog was gone. Given to a family who'd love it. Why?

So many "whys."

But they had shared his last ride. Together in the ambulance, from the hospital to hospice. He didn't speak, but with hands laced behind his head, sat up and watched the world go by through the back window. The cars, his freedom, his independence. Smiling. Humming.

In the room, in the bed, under the sheets, he smiled again, and said, "Thanks, you can go now," and closed his eyes.

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk back through the door one last time. "Good-bye, Daddy," she said.

"We love you."