He told the boy there were no promises. The old man said, You want something in this life? You have to earn it. Go out and work for it, he told him.

The father gave examples of his own life. I might’ve worked a hundred different jobs, but I was always working, scratching to keep our heads above water, he lit a cigarette.

We moved around a lot, the young man said. We were always on the move. Starting school here. Quitting school there. North, South, the Midwest, we lived everywhere. Why was that dad? Why was it that we kept moving?

They’re always trying to keep the working man down, the old man said. They’d fire you for dropping gum on the floor, he looked outside at the sun. It was peeking through the clouds. There was a cactus in the window. The old man looked to see if the sunlight was changing it, making it grow. It was winter. The plant was dormant.

We must’ve lived in eight different places, the boy said. It wasn’t easy dad.

Living is not easy. It takes a lot out of you. If you don’t mind me saying, you sound ungrateful. You sound like you expected more. What could I do? he popped open a beer from the refrigerator. It was my job to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads. And I did that. Contrary to popular belief, I did that. You want a beer? the son shook his head. You never have a beer with the old man do you?

I don’t drink, dad.

So I have a few beers. I’m entitled.

Yes. You are entitled.

You think you’re smarter than me. Don’t you? the boy shook his head again. You don’t hardly work, the old man said. Your hands don’t get dirty.

It’s a different type of work, dad. I have to use my mind. I have to think.

Think? Yeah. Think. You do think you’re smarter than me. And, maybe you are. Your mom said you were the sweet one. Of all our kids, you were the nicest to her, I suppose. And now you’re going to tell me I wasn’t good to her. That she deserved better. I kept a roof over our heads.

Yeah. You did.

The two of them looked at each other. Then dad turned to the cactus. It had not changed.

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