Welcome back to Stranger Than Flicktion, our Flickr-inspired column. We provide writers with five random food-related Flickr images and ask them to construct a fictional short story in under five days. In this edition, we mourn a man with an uncanny knack for canapés.
My dad made a list of sixteen things he wanted me to do for him after his death and hid it in the back pocket of his wallet. He had a heart attack in the park. The guy who found him called an ambulance and came across the list as he checked my dad's wallet for ID.
I loved my dad inside and out, back-to-front and sideways, at the right times and the wrong times, always, and never enough. When the doctor told me he was dead, I felt an almighty vibrating thud reverberate through my body. I was in motion, the world was in motion but we were turning at different speeds. My heartbeat was thundering and the floor was gone. I collapsed, heart first, and I cried like I had never cried before. Sinking and sobbing and trying to breathe.
My brain frenetically doled out memories of my dad—the time he took me swimming and forgot to bring a towel, the day I left my lunchbox at home and he brought a McDonald's to the school gate, the morning he cleaned the snow off my car and drove it round the block so I would be warm on my way to work, the many evenings he made me a Horlicks and filled up my hot water bottle before bed.
I remembered when my daughter Gia was born and how his eyes glistened in disbelief and rapture when she wrapped her hand around his finger.
I recalled the day I couldn't go to my friend Laila's 8th birthday party because I had chicken pox. Dad organised a tea party in the kitchen and we fashioned our own canapés with whatever was in the fridge. I was adamant that I wanted a butterfly theme (because that's what Laila was having) so we made butterflies out of bread triangles, spread sun-dried tomato paste on them, and used caper berries for the antennae.
They were soggy and tasted salty so we threw them out and I made sandwiches instead.
I said, "Corned beef or turkey, Dad?" He said, "Yes."
From that day on, we'd spend Sunday afternoons in the kitchen making snacks. We started off small with cookies and cupcakes, moved onto dinky palmiers, and finally mastered the art of making mini croissants and baby brioche. When I left for university, we'd post each other our creations and he'd write messages inside each tiny box:
"I hope you are eating your greens?"
"Buy a Spiralizer—they make everything look pretty."
"People who eat chia seeds for breakfast are not your people."
"Those with empty fridges have empty hearts."
I occasionally replied:
"Alleviate gas with ginger tea and gingko biloba."
"Ripe cranberries bounce like rubber balls."
There was not a single day that I heard my dad raise his voice. His quiet chuckle was the evergreen backdrop to my childhood and his smile the one constant that threaded together the broken pieces of adult me, reminding me that I was already whole, valued, and loved without revision.
I was overcome, suffocated, and shattered by the burning energy of the love that seared through my memories. There was too much love leftover to settle in the chambers of my heart. So my heart burst.
I was torturing myself, adrift in a tumble of thoughts, disoriented with nowhere to go, trapped in a bare hospital but stuck within my raucous mind.
But then I read the list. And with the list, I was no longer lost. I was laughing:
- Food for my funeral wake: I want tiny, fish-and-chip canapés and deep-fried crab balls. Everything tastes better in miniature. Remember that. I can't labour this point enough but as you know, I am dead now and so I have neither the time nor the means to repeat this important point.
- Please don't play any music during the service. I want people to feel uncomfortable that I am dead. Music will only soften the blow. Let people feel their pain. I'm in a coffin. They should feel pain.
- Dress me up in sweatpants and an XL T-shirt. I want to be comfy when I meet God.
- Get your mum to wear red tights to my funeral—she'll know why ;-).
- Do not cremate me, I want to be buried. I don't like fire. Never have done. Never will do.
- Eat what you want. You are beautiful.
- I have a secret stash of chocolate bars in the shed. Give them to Gia.
- Remember your soul is forever tied to mine.
- Your daughter is your treasure.
- Don't let anybody tell you that you can't do something because you're a woman. Women are gold. You are priceless.
- All those times I told your mother that it wasn't me who farted, it was always me. Tell her. I don't want to go to my grave keeping secrets from her.
- Continuing in that same vein—I was the one who sent you all those Valentine's cards in high school. You were a fatso. I didn't want you to feel sad that you didn't have any admirers.
- Marry a man who likes gluten. If he doesn't eat gluten, he's a fucker.
- Tell your mother that anxiety will kill her. I know. I am dead.
- Spend all my savings. They were only ever for you.
- I'm never gone. Just in transit. I love you.
Dad was buried in a t-shirt, sweatpants, and trainers. My mum wore red tights, a paisley-print dress, and black sandals to the funeral. I ate as many crab balls as I wanted and Gia threw up after eating five chocolate bars. We went on a meditation retreat to help reduce my mum's anxiety and I married a baker who ate sourdough toast every morning for breakfast.
My mother told me she always knew who had farted.
On Sundays, Gia and I make snacks together in the kitchen. Her favourites are mini cheese and tomato sandwiches spiked with heart-shaped cocktail sticks because, she says, Grandpa taught her two things she will never forget: Presentation is key and You can never have too much butter. I treasure my daughter and remember that my soul is forever tied to my father.
Everything does taste better in miniature. Remember that.