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My Nightingale

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“Just one more bite, Dad. Then you’ve made it.”

Claire had helped her father consuming the warm meal she had cooked him for dinner. He was getting rather slow by himself, and she couldn’t bear watching him struggling to eat his meal and ease his hunger.

When her father finished, she stood up, taking both of their plates into the kitchen to clean them immediately. While cleaning, she got lost in her thoughts, which were interrupted by a simple ding of her phone lying next to her on the kitchen counter. She saw the name from the short distance, lighting up with the sound of a new message.

Jamie Fraser

A slight smile brushed over her face but faded just a second later when her father called her.

“Sweetheart. I’d like to go to bed. I’m very tired today.”

Claire reflexively looked down at him between his legs, as he had been having accidents.

Her father had been ill. His diagnosis was Glioblastoma, Brain Tumour. It is the most common high-grade brain tumour in adults. Doctors had not given him a very long time to survive, and Claire wanted to be with him as much as she could.

They got the message just a few months back. Claire remembered every single detail of that cold, rainy Friday afternoon.

She was laying on her bed, reading one of her favourite books, when all of the sudden the phone was ringing downstairs. She was waiting for that call, as her father had been in the hospital the last few days to get some check-ups done. He simply fell asleep almost every second of the day; it didn’t matter if he was sitting, laying down, driving or even on the toilet. She knew it wasn’t healthy any longer, and she wanted some clarity. But most of all she wanted to make sure her father was okay.

Getting off the phone with the doctor that day, she felt numb. She slowly put her phone down, taking the chair that was closest to her and she sat down, replaying the words of the Doctor. And all of the sudden the tears were just running down her face and they didn’t stop.

After cleaning her father’s accident, she dressed him for bed and carefully laid him down, tucking him in with cosy blankets. After kissing him goodnight with a forced smile, she left the room, whispering a short, “Goodnight Dad, I love you,” before turning off the light and leaving the room.

She closed the door and the tears were running down her face once again.

It got worse by the day, and there was no one else to help her anymore. Her mother had left them when she was just a baby. She had been raised by the man lying in that very room, dying in front of her. What would she do once that day arrived? The day he drew his last breath, she knew she would be lost.

Finally, after cleaning up the rest of the house, she had time to answer her message she received just about an hour ago from her boyfriend, Jamie.

Jamie Fraser was a beautiful young man, living about a twenty-minute drive away from her; red hair, the bluest eyes Claire had ever seen, and a heart of gold. Jamie was a smart guy: he had a great job and was very well educated. Claire had met him while visiting the National War Museum at the Castlehill.

After a few minutes of talking to each other, they felt an immediate connection, like fate had decided to bring them together.

She opened his text, smiling as she read it.

“Hi mo nighean donn, I miss you very much. I hope to see you soon. Love, Jamie.”

Claire never had been a woman that showed her feelings. This also meant that she had not told anybody about the illness of her father. Jamie knew that she lived with him, but she always made sure that Jamie never visited. She didn’t want to worry him with her situation, nor did she want to appear weak to a love that was just starting to grow.

She had to admit that it made her feel safe. Laying in the arms of her beautiful red-haired Scot, while her Father sleeps safe and sound at home. It had felt normal.

Normal. Claire didn’t know the meaning of this word anymore, as nothing had seemed normal in her life since those few months.

Looking back at her screen, she thought about her answer and typed it down.

“Hi Jamie, I miss you too and hope to see you soon. Love, Claire.”

Their relationship had been not longer than three weeks old. It was a fresh love and Claire needed her time to trust someone. She thought a lot about if it is the right thing she is doing with Jamie. She had asked herself a thousand times if she even has time and emotional space for something like this right now. On some days she was the happiest woman alive with him, but on days like today, she wished she had no responsibilities by answering texts like those. But as usual, she had blamed the illness of her father to feel that way; after all that was what made her suffer the most at the moment. Or was there more?

She sent a few more messages back and forth with Jamie then decided to go to sleep. She put her phone on “Do not disturb”, put on her favourite playlist and put her headphones on the maximal volume, closing her eyes.

”Daddy, Daddy look what I can do!” the little girl’s eyes were shining like bright diamonds in the sun. Her proud father smiled from one cheek to the other, picking her up, kissing her tiny beautiful face, while she released the cutest giggle he had ever heard.

”I’m so proud of you Sweetheart,” he said, knowing his words meant everything to this little girl showing him the sandcastle she just built, filling it with her little dolls he had bought her last weekend on their shopping spree. He had so much love for his daughter, and he knew he wanted to give her the live she deserved, full of joy, happiness, laughter and most importantly, love.

Claire woke up, her room dark, her face wet from the tears that had released themselves while dreaming of that certain moment. It was their holiday in Spain. She remembered every bit of it, even though she had been just six years old.

She turned off her music and saw that Jamie tried to call her just two hours ago. She decided to call him back. She wanted, no, she needed to hear his voice.

“Sassenach.” That’s what he called her.

“Hi Jamie. I saw you called me.”

She tried to make it sound like she only called because he called her first. Claire did not want him to know that she felt like this. He could not know that she was suffering so horribly.

“Yes. I needed to hear yer voice before going to sleep. Oh how I wish I would lay next to ye, holding you close, breathing in the smell of yer beautiful brown hair.”

Somehow Jamie always knew what to say. She felt better the moment she heard the sound of his voice.

All of the sudden sadness had overcome her, and she had to use the strength of her whole body to not burst into tears. The line had been quiet, and Jamie started to worry.
“Claire? Are ye still here?”

She was afraid that when she said something, he would hear the change in her voice. He could not worry about her. This was her battle to fight, not his.

“I’m alright.”

That is all she could say, not more. And to her luck Jamie had let out a sigh of relief hearing she didn’t hang up. He savoured every word she said.

“Talk to me, Jamie. Talk me to sleep.”

That was all she wanted. She wanted to hear his voice. It didn’t matter what he said, but the soothing sound of his deep voice, muttering in that Scottish accent, could make her sleep at any time, and sleep meant escaping pain, and escaping pain meant to finally feel okay.

The next morning Claire woke up, Jamie hung up around half an hour after she asked him to talk to her. She must have fallen asleep just a few seconds after he used his voice to calm her.

She got ready for the day, entering her Father’s bedroom, opening the curtains next to his bed. She turned around to see him peacefully asleep. She walked to him.

“Dad, it’s time to wake up.”

Henry opened his eyes, smiling sweetly at his daughter. He loved her so much. She was his life, his pride, his everything. She was the reason he was fighting the battle against his illness. But he started to get tired of it, and he could not let her know.

“Good morning, Sweetheart.”

Claire helped him so he could sit up, eventually getting him to stand. She went to the bathroom with him, dressed him and made him breakfast, feeding him his first meal of the day. As Claire cleaned the dishes once again, Henry knew he had to talk with Claire about something very important. No matter how much they both wanted to avoid this talk, he needed to get it off his chest, as he felt his body growing weaker by the day.

“Claire, we need to talk.”

She stopped immediately, putting down the dishes, turning around and sitting beside him.

“What is it, Dad?”

“I know you don’t want me to talk about this, but I have to.”

He swallowed, thinking carefully about his next words. Henry took her hands in his and looked her in the eyes. He saw her eyes filling with tears, as she knew what he wanted to address.

“Claire, eventually I will be gone. We both know the time will come, and it will be sooner than later. Please know this house will be yours, and I have left a nice amount of money behind for you to build your own life, and to find the happiness you deserve. I am so sorry I have to leave you behind my beautiful, beautiful daughter. I wish I could see you getting married, see you raise my grandchildren, see you at your happiest. Because of me, you have suffered endlessly these past few months, and with your mother leaving so early, I was everything you had left, and now I am leaving you too. Oh Sweetheart, I am so sorry. I - ”

Henry could not continue as he was choking on his tears, seeing his daughter sobbing in front of him, taking in his every word.

“Dad, please, I can’t - ”

She couldn’t talk further, so she just hugged Henry, both of them sobbing, not knowing when it would be the last time they would hold each other in their arms.