The old man hurt all over. His body, legs, feet, ankles, arms, were sore from his walk. He couldn’t sleep. The traveler tried sleeping in bed, but couldn’t get comfortable; tossed and turned. He then went downstairs and laid on the couch. A crocheted blanket covered him. Sewed imprints of moons and stars wrapped ’round his wrinkled body.
He watched television with the sound down. An old episode of The Rifleman starring Chuck Conners was on. Black and white images of a Western town. His daughter came downstairs. The steps creaked. Front room was dark except for the light from the TV. She offered him hot tea. Camomile. With milk and sugar. The old man shook his head. Whispered no. You got any Aleve? Advil would be better. Not Tylenol, he said. It’s magic just kind of wore out on me over the years, his face winced in pain. The young woman said she’d look.
She went back up the staircase. He pulled out a flask from under the couch. He’d strategically placed it there early in the evening. The same way he had one placed behind the flush box in the bathroom. He thought she didn’t know. Thought he was pulling one over on her. His girl knew. Sometimes she had fun hiding the bottles and the flasks from him. Then putting them back after awhile. She liked to watch him silently get flustered. She liked to see him in pain.
In this episode, Chuck Conners finds out that there’s a man who isn’t who he claims to be; an imposter. And he’s got Conners’ kid admiring him. This town fake was fooling everybody. Everybody except the rifleman.
I got baby aspirin and Tylenol, the mother said in a whisper as she came back downstairs. It works just as well, she said. I gotta child. Therefore, baby aspirin. And the Tylenol is what I use, she mentioned, handing him bottles. Giving him a choice.
My body just aches, he said. I’m worn out. This might be the last time I see ya, popping both pills in his mouth. Just getting too old for this. All this walking. It kills me, ran his fingers through his gray hair. And the bus. Being cramed on the bus with all those niggers and Mexicans, he spouted. Just makes me hurt more, he drank some water from ice cubes in a Pepsi that’d melted throughout the night. A brown water. Everything was brown. The carpet, couch, walls. Said she liked things that matched. He just kept looking at the TV.
No. I don’t think I’ll be seeing you after this, he looked over at her in the dark. You can turn the lamp on, old man said. I’m not gonna sleep. Second thought, it hurts my eyes, he held the flask and drank quickly as she got up. Said she was going to fix him that tea.
How many miles you think you’ve traveled in your life, she asked from the kitchen. I mean, you took off a long time ago. Years. Momma didn’t know where you went to. She said you just started walking, the daughter brought the tea to him.
Your mother has an imagination.
Had dad. Had. Past tense.
Right. She got the story wrong. Told it wrong. Said it in a way that people would feel sorry for her. Especially women. Maybe a few gentlemen ’round town. No. She told it wrong, he said.
She did huh?
I was kicked out. Put out of my own house. She saw to that. I got proof, he snarled. Barking like an old dog. Ask your uncle. He’ll tell ya. She came to having a problem with men.
She came to having a problem with you.
You never contributed. Out chasing whores all night. Always drunk. And then one night you got real drunk and left. Never came back till it was too late.
Too late for what?
To make amends. To say you were sorry, she cried. This time he drank from the flask in full display. No shame in it. Still hurting. He laid down. Mumbled, that’s not what happened. And fell asleep.
She covered him with the blanket. Pulled it up under his chin. And kissed him on the forehead. She could taste his sweat. Tasted like Wild Turkey. She patted him on the head and whispered, goodnight.
He slept till the sun came piercing through the front window. Quietly he got dressed and took a drink. He placed his things in a bag. Then he walked out the door. It was the last time he saw her.