I was in a small town called Cherryfield in Maine when this story came to my head. There’s a small cemetry not far from the place I stayed with a mother and her son. It was the month of April. I was cold, and I was lost as to what direction I was taking, or where to go. I was two months away from leaving the U.S., and waiting on several literary agents whom I’d sent query letters regarding my novel, ‘The Rabbit’s Man’, and I was in such hurry to hear from them. Of course, they all turned me down (figures), but this simple story got me bleeding inside.
* * * * *
The old man got up from bed at the crack of dawn. He glanced out his window, at the grey overcast sky that hung over the valley and knew that in time it was going to rain. He lit a lamp as he then made his way towards the kitchen to fix himself some hot water on the stove. A couple of minutes later, when it felt ready, he carried the steaming kettle into the bathroom and poured a good measure of it into a bucket of half-filled water so as to bath with, while the rest he poured into a bailer, with which he then used to shave himself.
Finished with having his bath and cleaning up himself, he was in his room dressing up when again he glanced out his window and his eyes stopped at the elm tree which stood on a grassless knoll, a hundred and something meters from where the pig pen was situated. But it wasn’t the tree that caught his attention, but the two headstones situated beside each other under one of its thick branches. It had been a while since last time he went up there to pay his respect. Yesterday, he’d finally gotten a reason to do just that today. He went to his table and picked up the brown envelope upon which he’d dropped his hat last night.
Best get this over and done with, he thought to himself as he wore on his boots and jacket, donned his hat, and then made his way towards the doorway and from there stepped out of his home, stopping first to inhale his first breath of outside air for the day, before making his way up the knoll towards the tree.
A cold roving wind sprung up unannounced and he pressed a hand down on his hat to stop the wind from taking it off his head till he came to a halt before the headstones. The inscribed name on the first headstone by his left bore that of his wife Marilyn, who’d departed some months ago. She’d had a long running battle with cancer and had inevitably lost out in the end. The other was of their son Daniel, twenty-three years old. He’d gone to fight the Iraqis during the second Gulf incident, and had lost his life when he and his buddies drove over a land mine somewhere outside the neighbourhood of Tikrit. It had been for a good cause, the marine General had informed him at his son’s funeral. Cynically he’d asked himself, wasn’t that the same thing they had told them thirty years back in Vietnam?
He came and knelt before their headstones and muttered sombrely, “I miss you.”
In a way, he could have been speaking to both.
“I’ll start with you, Marilyn,” he went on. “I got a call from you sister the other day. She told me that the bank’s about to foreclosure on their home. She said that Herb hasn’t been around the house much ” the guy’s still living in his cups ever since he got kicked off his last job. She asked how I was holding up, you know, taking care of the farm and everything. Told her I was doing alright. Though it’s been hard ever since you left me down here. Really, really hard. I can’t seem able to think straight sometimes. Every morning I come awake, your face is the first thing that pops into my head. I miss you dearly, Marilyn. You just don’t know how much.”
His eyes were watering up. He raised a hand to his face and wiped tears off before they could fall, and then turned his attention to the headstone of his son.
“Hey there, Danny. How you doing, my boy? Hope you’re up there with one of those angels. I’ll bet they’ve got lady angels up there, too. Make sure you catch yourself a fine one, you hear.” He stopped and then took out the brown envelope from his jacket pocket. His hands fumbled out the letter that was inside while he went on talking. “By the way, I got this letter at the post office in town the day before. It’s from Angie. You remember her, don’t you ” that fine gal of yours whom you used to sneak up into your room. Yeah, I’ll bet you think I didn’t know about that, don’t you. Anyway, she wrote, saying that she recently got married. Of course, she apologised for not telling me about it earlier. She says she still misses you and still thinks about you. Here, I’ll leave the letter here for you to read whenever you want.”
He laid the pages of the letter before his son’s headstone and placed a little rock over it to stop the wind from blowing them away. The man stepped back and sniffed once, and then twice again.
“Anyway . . . it was nice talking to you both. I know it’s been a while since last time I came by to see you two. Hope you’ll forgive me for it. Alright . . . I better head on back and take care of the farm. I’ll . . . I come by some other time and talk to you both later. You two take care of each other and say a little prayer for me.”
The old man turned around and quickly shuffled back down to the farm, not wanting his wife and son’s spirit to see his crying eyes. That just would be bad luck.
High above his head, thunder began to roar across the grey sky unchallenged.