"Coda" is divided into fourteen scenes that alternate between the current situation of Vera with her father in the hospital and before and after reconnecting. He'd left her and her mother when Vera was three years old. It's told in first-person POV, present tense and is 28 pages long.
Music, particularly jazz and classical, plays a connecting thread between father and daughter and allows for some nice metaphors about emotions. Every bit of dialogue sounds real and believable and not the least bit overwrought.
Early in the story the reader knows exactly what the narrator wants, "Ever since I've wanted to ask why he left, returned, and left again." She wants an answer, "But it never seemed like the right time to dredge up the past." And the kicker is that time is running out, indeed, as it is for all of us, always.
For me, this is one of the most heartbreaking lines. "Growing up, I learned that you don't get what you want by asking for it. But if you're good enough for long enough, you'll be rewarded." That is at the heart of what holds Vera in the past. She's waiting and hoping and wishing to be rewarded. "'He's family,' Louis replied. 'Family can always hurt.'"
The following line shows just how much Vera is hoping for. "These next few minutes could become a story we told, my dad and I, at Christmas parties or family reunions for years to come." I ached for her at this point. Then he flicks away his cigarette just like he flicked away his life with Lauren and Vera. They shook hands like any other business, real estate, deal.
In the hospital, he mostly wants to watch television. "But it makes the time go by." This might be the theme, for me, that life is short and goes by quickly and wishing for it go more quickly is hurtful and a waste. But with severe illness, maybe one does want time to "go more quickly." Also, an historical event such as the Viet Nam war and the effects on soldiers and the damages they brought home with them is also a major theme of the story. "Then he got drafted. When he came home, he was a different person."
Another thing I like about this story is that the veteran did eventually get better and made quite a good life for himself and his new family. He learned how to cope. "When I finally met my father I found that he wasn't destitute or homeless or the tragic figure I'd imagined him to be... He was normal."
The scene where Vera discloses some information, that Rusty served in Viet Nam, not just stateside, that Tabitha did not know was handled quite convincingly. And, ramifications not stated were alluded to and Tabitha's realizations were obvious but not stated outright. Well done.
"It was too late for me to become part of this family. But maybe I could become a welcome visitor, someone whose genes held the secret password to belonging."
"Rachmaninoff's compositions contain rich tonal colors, chords like tolling bells, lushly sorrowful melodies. No matter how much I pore over the sheet music, they are, literally, out of my reach."
"How's that for a way to declare your existence to the void--by embarrassing a middle-aged fat man at a funeral?"
"Coda" is the current story from One Story. Number 194.
Q and A at One Story with Whitney Groves