Tears do not burn except in solitude.
—E. M. Cioran
Any death is sorrowful, but his death was worse, pitiless. No one came to the funeral. No one cared. No one knew he’d died. Even his children wouldn’t admit it, that he was their responsibility. They’d just bought the flowers, the hearse, and the preacher man. The rest was between the Old Man and whatever devils he was assured to meet on his journey.
I was the only bastard there that day. I wondered at times why I was. Hell he’d never given me any reason to care, but for whatever mad reason I still did. He’d come into our lives at a time when we’d needed him. All his lies, all his dreams, all his stories… somehow they’d given us hope again. That’s the funny thing about hope, it’s not what you think it is when you get it; it’s usually something quite deceptive and full of that cagey kind of laughter that lets you know that under its veneer is just another dark piece of rotten furniture waiting to turn to dust in your hands.
So there I was sitting at his empty graveside, alone. I remember the first time I’d met the Old Man. He’d come over to the house we had on Chesney Blvd. It was the only thing left after my Mama’s divorce. My sister and me were all dressed up in our best Sunday school finery. I had my blue suit with the little Roy Roger cuff links on my shirt and the clip on tie Mama put on for me so I could look like a young man. Sister was dressed like a little pixie all in yellow and pink, with those fluffy dangling ribbons that set her ponytails off just fine. I loved my sister. She was always the innocent one I liked to tell myself. Mama was dressed up too. She had that green dress that shined so nice, and her auburn hair hung down past her shoulders in those delicate curls. I think it was the first time I’d seen Mama smile in I don’t know when. She had those dimples that seemed to make a person laugh just because she smiled and they’d pop out so rosy and full of that simple indention in her cheeks.
And there he was sitting next to me like a frog man: “Yea, you would show up, bastard son of mine…” He said to me, his face looking like somebody’d taken a chainsaw to it. “So what was I supposed to do, let ’em bury you as if you’d never existed?” He looked around with those rheumy eyes of his: “Well, I don’t see much point to it, no one else here sitting in the rain like a fool.” I wanted to cold cock the sucker, but how do you punch a dead man? “Listen Old Man I’m the only thing you got left, you want me to leave; I’ll leave.” He almost grinned then, but instead coughed up some phlegm: “Well, don’t have to be so horsey about it. I didn’t ask you to come, you know.” We both laughed then.
I remember him coming in and being all laughter. That was the memorable part, that and the groceries he brought in: steaks, potatoes, and all the fixings. He cooked up dinner that night. Him and Mama had some wine, and sis and me had some grape juice to celebrate. He gave each of us a little present that night, too. I got a fancy pocket knife with the pull out spoon and fork; a sort of all-in-one kit he called it. I played with that for hours, trying out all the various utilities. Using the leather punch on my old shoes. Trying the fork and knife on desert. Sis got a doll. One of those wind up jobs that says funny things your supposed to learn. She was so happy she went off next door to get her friend Betsy Lou. Mama let her stay there overnight, too.
Mama was a real Lady back then. She didn’t allow no hanky-panky stuff on first dates. But I remember they sat out there in the living room for a long time in the dark. I figured it was alright. Me, I just went back to my room and read my comic books. Next thing I knew I was asleep on the floor when Mama woke me up, tucking me in bed and kissing me goodnight. I remember asking her: “Mama, do you like him?”
“Sure, honey-plum, I sure do,” She hugged me again and asked: “What about you? She tickled me a little.”
“I like him a lot, Mama. Not like those other guys we never met, the ones who seemed interested in you but not sis and me. Will he be coming back?”
“He sure will sugar, he’s taking us to the Zoo next weekend.” She smiled, then pulled the blanket up to my chin. “Now you get some sleep, silly. School’s coming early tomorrow, and I’ve got another appointment for a job, too.”
She worked in a sewing mill with a few women for a local merchant. But she’d been trying for a while to get a good office job. She was good with numbers and there were a lot of jobs for accountants, whatever that was. She turned back at my door, blew me a kiss. I told her: “It’s goin’ be all right Mama, you just wait and see.”
“Is that what you really thought?” He gave me one of those looks like I was the sappiest thing alive. “Well, I was only eight back then.” He coughed again: “Yea, don’t remind me. Brings back too many blame memories if you ask me.”
“I didn’t ask you Old Man,” I was starting to lose my cool now, and the Mexican boys in the pit were starting to think the same thing.
Sitting here now in the rain watching the boys chunk dirt on his grave makes me think about life, rather than death. When it comes down to it we’re all going to be in that hole sooner or later. No getting around that. If you’re like me it don’t matter much one way or the other. Not having religion has its benefits; for one thing you don’t have to worry about guilt and punishment. Although there are some who should’ve worried a lot about it in this life, even thought the life to come is just another pipedream. Take my little sister, now she’s a believer. She’s a stout Catholic girl, goes to all the meetings and makes her kids do the same. She’s always pestering me about it, trying to get me to come with her. She means well, but I just smile at her easy like and say: “You know me, little sister, I got Church everyday of me life: good whiskey, good women, and a hell of a lot of rock-n-roll.” She hits me on the arm every time. Shushing me, but she doesn’t preach at me; she knows better than that. Her hubby, Jonah tried that on me one time, all it got him was a black eye and me a hospital bill. So we keep away from talk of religion when I visit.
“Yea, you were never much for that religious crap were you.” Like he really gave a shit.
Maybe its because I had to quit school and go to work when I was fourteen. I don’t rightly know for sure. But I bet all those boys I worked with and learned to cuss and drink with taught me a great deal about the Church of Life as I like to call it. As far as the Good Lord and me are concerned, I allow him to go his way and I go mine and the two twain meet. So I figure if he leaves me alone I sure the hell ain’t going to come looking for him when the day grows long and I’m digging that grave for me bones.
“Boy, you want have to worry about it, when you die they probably have songs out about you with all those years in the pen following you around.” Bastard had to bring that up didn’t he. Sometimes I wish dead people would just stay dead. I shot him a finger, saying: “Listen you ain’t no pre-Madonna yourself Old Man. If I remember correctly you should’ve been behind bars for plenty.” He slapped me on the back, “Yea, I should’a, but I didn’t because I was smarter than you. I didn’t get caught.” His eyes had that ridicule in them he was always ready to display at the drop of a dime. “Why don’t you just go away.” I took a swig of my whiskey and looked around and he was gone. I screwed the lid on that empty bottle and tossed it at a trash can the boys were using. I should’ve just tossed into the grave right on him.
I pulled out a little silver flask and spotted the gravediggers a drink. They thanked me and I took a nice swig as well. All in all it was a good day for a funeral. I suppose the Old Man didn’t miss us one way or another, being as he was an ornery old devil. Hell he could cuss better than me, and that’s stretching some to qualify for that. I remember when him and my Mama got married. She was sicker than the devil herself. Had a 101 fever and was almost ready to pass out. But she’d come all the way down to meet Big Mama and Big Daddy and have her wedding in their home. Of course no one liked my Step-Dad, but that was par for the course. My kin down south of us were fairly ingrown bunch and didn’t take kindly to outsiders anyway. So wasn’t expecting much when we went.
She threw rice and one of those little bouquets that young women are supposed to catch for good luck and all. My Aunt Lucy caught it and everyone frowned cause she was already on her third husband and he wasn’t looking too good himself these days. In fact he died within the year. She had a way of killing her men with love. Some said she was real sex fiend, one of those – what do they call it? – ah, yes, a nymbomaniac… I mean nymph; oh, well, you know what I mean. Enough.
Every once in a while the guys down in the hole look at me funny. I tell ’em its good to talk to yourself, gets all the crap outta you. They laughed at that. Two young Mexican boys working for their families back home. Can’t blame ’em, no one else do grave digging; at least not around Sutter’s Pond.
Well, looks like their going be done here pretty soon, so I better get around to why this bastard is such a bastard; and why no one but me is here sitting by this grave in the rain. Maybe it doesn’t matter anymore. He’s dead, that’s and end of it. There’s no sadness, no pity, no memory to clean up, prettify or set up on some shelf like some ashes in an Urn. Like Mama’s ashes are sitting on my sister’s fireplace next to her prom night photo when she was dressed up so pretty in her yellow dress all ready to kill. She must’ve been happy back then. Who would’ve known she’d of been dead at the hands of this bastard sitting there in that grave. I doubt at that time no one could’ve even known such a bastard existed. Hell, I didn’t even exist.
Why am I sitting here? Why do I give a shit? “What you got a hold over me you old bastard…” I yell at him. The two Mexicans jump back eyeing me like I’m a madman. Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. Who knows? All I know is this sorry bastard helped me out more than one jam in my life when no one else did. Why? Why did he of all the sorry bastards in the world give a shit about me. He never cared about his own sons from his first marriage, and they sure as hell didn’t give a shit about him. So why? Maybe there is no reason. He never showed any signs of one. In fact he treated me like a dead man when I came round. Always blaming me for my own Mama’s death. Well I never asked them to come visit me in prison did I? No, I sure as hell didn’t.
I felt real bad when I looked at Mama through that glass window in prison that day. Talking on the phone to her. She crying and trying not to, trying to show how tough she was for me. Made me cry myself that day. I hated that. Dam. Guy’s not supposed to cry, but what the hell, I did. So be it. Hell I feel that emotion coming on me here, too. Does this Old Man deserve my tears? Hell no!
Well, this isn’t getting us anywhere is it. The boys are about to finish up, their crawling out now, all muddy and slung full of wet earth and leaves and roots. I motion to them, and give them each a fifty spot. They try to wave me off, but I want take no for an answer. “Muchas gracias!” They wave and smile at me like I’d given ’em a girl for the night. Good to see someone happy. Happiness is overrated anyway. Who needs to be happy when you can be miserable. Some of my friends think because I’m a pessimist that I’m some kind of miserabilist, that I get off on the doom and gloom. I don’t. I just don’t feel happy that’s all, but I don’t have to feel miserable either. Pessimism is being able to see things as they are not as we would like them to be, but getting down under the hood and taking a look at the nitty-gritty details. I’d just say that’s being a survivalist.
Well, here’s to you Old Man. For what it’s worth I have no clue why I give a shit, nor why you did either. Maybe we were just two rotten old boys who knew what each other was made of and didn’t rightly judge each other because of it. Doesn’t that count for something? Yea, I know, you can’t talk back. Well I can talk for both of us, and me I say good riddance, I hope you went quick and painless; hell, I wish that on me self. And who cares if its only you and I here today. None of the rest count anyway. When it comes down to it about all you got left is me remembering those times when you save my ass and pulled me out of the gutter and helped me see myself and get along with it. Maybe that’s all one can hope for in this life. I guess you were and are my friend you Old Bastard.
I got one more drink Old Man. It’s yours… I kept hoping he’d say something, but all I could hear was the rain.
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