“Where is your dad, boy?”
I look up from my novel and shift in my rocking chair. Two men in dark suits stand in the yard and watch me rocking in my chair. It’s been a tough week, and I’m not in the mood to be disturbed.
“He ain’t here.” I go back to my reading my novel. The shorter of the two men steps toward the porch in a threatening manner, my hand drifts lazily to the shotgun by my side. He stops short of the porch and grins. “Yeah, you’re his kid. When will he be home?” He smirks at me, and I meet his eyes.
“I don’t know. Could be any minute now, or maybe later. Depends on if he found any pulp wood to haul.”
The tall man grins and nods his head. Everything about the man screams clean and precise, whereas his partner is a walking advertisement of sloppiness. “We don’t want to overstay our welcome. Tell your dad we came by to see him. He still hasn’t given us an answer yet, and we don’t like being kept in the dark.”
“Yes sir, I’ll tell him.” I watch as they drive away. “Dang it, dad, what are you involved in now?” At eighteen, I am the legal age to be tried as an adult, but I can’t smoke or drink. I can die for my country, and vote in pointless elections but can’t purchase a firearm. If I had to guess, my dad owes money to people who you don’t want to owe a nickel to. “Awesome. I have to find a way to bail him out of trouble….again.”
As if on cue, my dad’s silhouette comes staggering down the dirt road. I have watched this scene play out too many days to get angry. Even from a distance, at dusk, you can tell my father is no small man. His shoulders are broad, and in his younger days, this feature made him appear to be like one of those myths from the fables. He is a barrel chested, beast of a man. On more than one occasion, I have heard tales of how his hands weren’t used just for work, sometimes they were used to adjust peoples’ attitudes. “He’s drunk again. I suppose it’s no big surprise there.”
I lean back in my rocker and wait for him to get on the porch. “That you, boy?” Licking my lips, I nod my head. “Yep. You just missed your friends. They wanted me to tell you, they’re waiting on an answer.” Drunkenly, dad falls back in an empty rocker. “Jokes on them, they gonna be waiting a long time. I ever tell you about the time your grandpa and I run off a yard full of trouble with nothing but a shotgun and a lot of attitude?”
“How much do you owe them?” I can feel the anger creeping up in my throat. “Why can’t he be normal?” Eyes glazed over; he stares at me. “What’s wrong with you? I’m trying to tell you a-story.” My face flushes red and I nod my head. “Enough!” Leaping to my feet, as if shot from a cannon, I move toward my father. “Mom is gone dad. She died of cancer, and you are all I have left. All you do is work and drink.” He looks out at the yard, and the silence grows between us. When he finally speaks, his voice is low and the calmest I have ever heard him.
“I ain’t a good man, son. You’re poor momma knew that and still she married me.” He brushes his scraggily beard with a heavy hand and clears his throat. “I got some bad news. I’ve got the cancer. Not the lung kind, but the bone kind.” We sit in silence on the porch, the squeak of our rockers the only sound emitting from the darkness.
“You can’t afford to put lights on the porch, dad?” It starts off with a guffaw but becomes a roar of laughter. “Nah son, we’re the poor folk in our neighborhood.” My tears fall silently in the dark, in this family we don’t cry. If we get bad news, we suck it up and drive on. “Do me a favor son. Don’t wear no suit to my funeral. You can’t have a wedding or a funeral without a preacher, so get a cheap one. Just don’t let him lie about me being a good man. Get him to read your momma’s favorite Scripture about a clean heart and washin’. When it’s over and done, leave this town and don’t come back. Promise me, you won’t stay here. Only come back when you can change your fortune. Oh, and bury me by the river. It was your mom’s favorite place.” Composing myself, I clear my throat. “Ok dad, I promise.”
Two days later, my father is dead.
The funeral goes as well as can be expected. I found a black minister to say a few words about my dad and conduct the ceremony. Every now and then the preacher would start to make a statement about my father’s goodness, but I would shake my head and he would correct himself. After service, some of my father’s old drinking buddies come by and loads the coffin into my truck. “We sure gonna miss him,” seems to be the popular consensus.
Dad didn’t leave me much. Some bills, a beat-up Dodge truck, a camera and 600 bucks in cash. The preacher and I are the last ones to leave the church. We walk out together, and he asks me what my plans are. “Reverend, I don’t know. Before I came to the funeral, I took the map, picked a direction and guess I will drive as far as this money will take me. Then I will find some work, save some more money, then head out again.” I shake his hand when we get to the parking lot. “Thanks for doing his service. I’m sure he would get a kick out of watching you try to find nice things to say about him.”
I had dug the hole for my father prior to the funeral. Clasping the two handles, I snatch on the coffin until it hits the ground with a thud. “Just wouldn’t be right if he were a small man, he had to be a big ‘un for God’s sake.” Eventually, I get the coffin buried and I sit on the ground next to his new resting place. “Well dad, you’re here. I hope the coons don’t dig up your body. It sure is a pretty view here.” I peer out over the river, where a barge lazily makes its way down toward Vicksburg. “I’d stick around, but I know how you dislike company. I’ve got my own drifting to do. See you around pops.”