Boy sat next to the old man’s hospital bed for hours. Just sat there watching the heart monitor, listening to his breathing, looked at fluids running in and out of him; flirting with female assistants as they changed out bed pans.
He had been unconscious for days. Boy had sat by him for hours on end; leaving every once in awhile to get a meal, or, a shot and a beer at the bar down the street. The son walked on leaf covered sidewalks under sunny cool skies to clear his head. He’s gonna die, the boy whispered as he kicked cans into the street, picked up branches and broke them over his knee. He’s gonna die, mumbled while walking back to the hospital.
It was not too long ago that his mother had died. Boy wasn’t in town during that time. He was off on some kind of wild tangent ‘cross America; never checked on her. The old man called to tell him the news when she passed-on. Boy said nothing. Just hung up the phone, went into a bar and never came out.
But, the old man kept calling him. Asking the boy, who’s gonna fold my shirts, get my beer, make me dinner? he asked. I got cherry pop tarts for breakfast, but, whose gonna make me a decent meal? were the long drawn out messages he’d leave him. Where you at? the old man asked. Heard you were out in Washington state. Out there with all them hippies. Eating vegetarian food and dancing in the fields, he said in another message. Then I heard you were working on some ranch in Oklahoma. Well, which is it boy? Also heard you were in New York City. Sleeping in your car. Guess you’ve been all over, the old man laughed. Well, mom’s dead now. You can come home. I probably ain’t got that much longer. Oh well. See ya when I see ya, he hung up.
It ate at him. These messages ate at him. He couldn’t ignore them any longer. Decided he’d come home to see the old man one last time. Boy drove through out the night from Carolina back to Ohio. He had just enough money for gas and a case of beer. Boy would drink one after another as he drove past mile markers and state signs. Kept the Dodge at a reasonable speed. Flew under radar.
The long haired son pulled up to the trailer in the afternoon. Porch still shifted when walked on. Splinters tore into the calloused hand of his. The front door was open. No-one inside. Television was on with no sound. It was Gary Cooper in a baseball uniform. Giving a speech at a ball game. Grainy black and white images of the crowd filled the screen. And, then he was gone. Just like that. Cooper was gone.
He’s dying, the boy thought. The old man was dying, he whispered, looked in the refrigerator, found a can of Old Milwaukee. He was sure of it. Just like Gary Cooper in that movie, the old man was dying.
This son. This boy who’d left home so many times was now at his father’s side. Waiting for him to die. He didn’t want the old man to come back. Didn’t know what he’d say to him. Maybe he had nothing to say. Maybe it was all over. The driving around the country. Arguing with the old man. Feeling all torn up inside over both his mom and dad. The boy was at peace. He said goodbye and walked out of the room. The old man died a few hours later.