Raking Leaves

I wanted to get to the heart of the matter. Wanted to see what was in the bones amongst marrow and fat. All those promises he made. Never once coming through. I’ll pay you next week, he told landlords. As soon as I can I’ll take care of you, he said to friends. Thousands borrowed. Had good intentions. Just no delivery.

The old man moved us from state to state. Job to job. Never settled down. He’d take a job for a couple of years and get tired of it; either quit or get fired. We’d leave in the middle of the night. Packing the station wagon with only essentials. Mom left pots and pans on the stove. Some gas grill dad had bought got left behind as well. We’ll get brand new ones, the old man said as we left trailer park after trailer park under the moon’s light.

We lived in Mississippi, then Kentucky, moved north to Ohio and Michigan, before settling in Pennsylvania. The hills were green in the spring and had a combination of colors in autumn. Leaves would pile up in the front yard. I raked them into piles then placed all the colors into garbage bags. Dad paid me a dollar for every pile. I was sure to make several.

You’re gonna break me too, he said with whiskey on his breath. Everybody wants money from me, he mumbled. Can’t keep up, he’d take another drink. Every time the phone rang my dad would tell mom, Don’t answer it. Just another bill collector, he said, flipping through channels. Surely they know we can’t pay em, mom would shake her head. The phone never stopped ringing.

I’d run into buddies of his down at the VFW. They’d ask, Where’s your old man at? Haven’t seen him much, they’d smile. I started answering the phone. The trail of debt was miles long. A hundred here and there. In some cases a grand. Time was running out.

When he was dying, I asked him,why he didn’t pay off his debts? The old man looked at me. Did you always have a roof over your head? I nodded. Did you ever starve? I told him no. Did I always pay you for raking leaves?

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