James Mulhern’s writing has appeared in literary journals over one hundred and thirty times. In 2015, Mr. Mulhern was awarded a writing fellowship to Oxford University. That same year, a story was longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize. In 2017, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His recent novel, Give Them Unquiet Dreams, is a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2019. He was shortlisted for the Aesthetica Creative Writing Award 2021 for his poetry.
He woke to the dog whimpering and scratching his arm.
The phone rang. His wife answered. “It’s for you.”
She gave him the handset. “Okay,” he said to the caller.
She wrapped a pillowcase around his bloody arm.
“My father’s dead. Can you shine my shoes?”
On the floor below, something crashed.
They walked down the stairs in silence
because that’s what he wanted.
In the living room, the cheap print of Davinci’s
Last Supper lay on the floor, the frame splintered.
At the wake, he kneeled before his father’s coffin,
said an Our Father, and kissed his forehead.
As they left, he asked his wife
when they’d last seen him.
“Just before Easter. We took him out to dinner.”
“He was mostly good, but he did some bad things,” he said.
“Nobody’s perfect.” She touched his shoulder.
At home, he knelt by the shattered print.
His shoulders drooped and his back shook.
She knew he was thinking of that last supper.
Maybe he wished he’d said more.
Maybe he had regrets.
She wanted to tell him he’d been a good son,
that his father had loved him deeply.
But words, she knew, could not relieve his pain.
Instead, she watched, giving him silence and time,
because that’s what he needed.
In a while, she would hug him,
but she wouldn’t say a thing.