The Last Sunrise
"Well for Christ's sakes. Where in the hell did the old fool get to now?" Son Bob began to bitch, just as he usually did when the old man wandered off the front porch. The old man heard his angry son and derived a bit of satisfaction he had been able to piss Bob off. It just wasn't right to make a man sit in one place all day long. It just wasn't right for a man who had been where he'd been and done what he'd done to be forced to sit and not be allowed to move about ... No, it sure as hell wasn't right. It was much nicer to walk away from the farmhouse, on down to the little stream and sit on the damp bank and watch the fish jump in the air and snap an unwary insect before it plopped back into the water. The old man admitted to himself it wasn't all that much, but it sure as God made little red chilies was better than sitting on that hard assed porch swing all day.
His daughter in law's voice sounded off to one side. "Now Papa, you got to stop wandering off like that. Can't you see that we worry when you go where we can't see you. Come on, let's get back on the porch." She was slow and careful as she led him back up onto the front porch. He tried to tell her that there wasn't a god damned thing wrong with his mind. It was his treacherous body that betrayed him ever since he had the stroke.
"I, I, you, you ... aargh." He shrugged his arm away from her grasp and shuffled with as much wounded dignity as he could muster back up the steps.
His useless left arm flopped like a broken thing. His left leg dragged a bit as he navigated the steps that, although they looked the same height felt twice as high. His feet felt like he had five-pound weights on them. Yet his mind didn't feel old at all. His goddamned body was all worn out. "Oh death, where'st thy sting?" See? He remembered that from close to sixty years ago when he and Clara went to see that Shakespeare production.
He sat in the porch swing and tried to will his stubborn vocal cords to miraculously begin to work. Inarticulate and incoherent sounds rumbled from his throat as his dead tongue wallowed around in his mouth and drool ran out of the corners of his mouth. Ah. Ah. Ah. Shnii..." He couldn't even say "aw shit." Frustrated tears formed again in his eyes and he looked across the road that ran in front of the large white farmhouse at the fields he bought and paid cash for just before the stroke. He had been going to do such great things with that last three hundred acres. But now ... He groaned and sat and watched the sun set and felt the chill...
"Jesus Christ, where is that old man? Has he gone wandering off again?"
The old man sat on the porch in the porch swing silently, enjoying his slight rebellion. They forgot he was out here. He smiled inside himself that he was able to irritate his son, the ungrateful whelp. Where had he and Clara gone wrong? They tried to raise him right and proper. Instead of a loving son, they had raised a selfish bastard who couldn't wait to get his hands on the farm. God dammit, I tried, we tried.
"Oh, there you are, Pa. Jesus don't you have enough brain cells left to come inside? Come on." He was rough, as he led his father into the house and to his bedroom. It was his son's old room. They had moved into the house and taken over the big bedroom.
He undressed, thankful he was at lease able to retain the dignity to take his own clothes off. Frank slipped his feet out of the lined bedroom slippers, dropped his bib overalls and lay down in the rest of his clothing. No one would bother him until morning. He lay there in the darkness and stared out the window into the black night. He dozed and woke and dozed and woke one last time. A bright light flickered inside his head and he knew...
Now. This was the night. Now was the time. The old clock in the living room chimed once. It was one in the morning. He got up and took his time as he donned his old worn overalls again. He shuffled his feet into his slippers and took his time as he slipped out of his room. He had to go slow and take careful not to make any noise. His damned treacherous body would betray him if he hurried. He opened the front door and slipped outside, careful to make no noise as he pulled the door closed behind him.
It was so hard to go down the porch steps in the dark without stumbling. Somehow he did it with never a sound. His step felt more sure, as he shuffled his body across the cluttered yard and on down toward the creek. He hurried fast as he could to the place where the creek made the dogleg bend and he could look east through a break in the willows and watch the sun rise.
He and Clara used to do that, get up early and hurry naked down to this special place and make love and sit, still naked. They stayed close together and hugged each other, sometimes shivering a little in the morning chill and watched the sun come up together. Sometimes he rolled her over in the grass for seconds. The half of his face that still worked smiled at the sweet memory. So beautiful was their love.
He sat in the exact spot and waited in the dark and remembered. At last the false dawn came and went as darkness descended again for a moment. Then he watched the slow birth of the new day. It was almost like an old Disney cartoon, the way the sun took its time, as it rose higher in the sky.
His eyes opened wide in wonder, as the old man struggled to his feet when he saw Clara in the sky. She stood in a sort of open door up there in the clouds. She was all dressed in a white robe and looked just like she did the day they were wed. She was beautiful.
She acted impatient, as she waved at him to hurry, just like she used to when he dawdled too long and she wanted to go somewhere. He reached his good arm toward her and tried to run to join her. He stumbled and fell, was still, never to move again. Up in the clouds a young man joined his young bride and they entered the door together. It closed behind them and was gone.
He didn't hear his son say, "Pa? Where are you? Jesus Christ all mighty I have more to do than chase around trying to find you. Oh, there you are. Come on and get up. Pa? Pa, oh Christ, you're dead. Jesus, you really done it this time."
"Did you find him, Bob? Oh. Is he, is he... ?"
"Yeah, see, his eyes are open and they don't blink. What in hell was so special that he kept comin' back here? Why always here in this mess of grass and willows?"
"Do you really want to know, Robert? Do you really want to know? I know because he told me one day before the stroke. Do you really want to know?"
"Well, yes, if you can get off your damned high horse and tell me. Just why did he keep comin' down to this exact spot?"
"This is where you were conceived, Robert. This is where you were conceived. Now do you understand?"
"Aw hell, Annie, I didn't know, aw hell."
"No, don't touch me tight now, Bob. Just don't even stand close to me. I am just so sad about this nice old man. I am sorry I listened to you and made him stay on the porch."
She started to cry, "All he wanted to do was to come down here and feel close to your mama. Just go plow or whatever you were going to do. I'll take care of things. You can carry him back up and lay him down on his bed."
Annie sighed and added, "Then you go and do what you had planned. I want to sit with him and tell him goodbye."
They sat side beside in the front row, necks craning slightly as they strained to look upward at the preacher delivering the eulogy, performing the last rites for Franklin Arnold Martin. They sat side beside, but not together. The two-foot space told all who looked their way that one or the other was truly "putting distance" between them.
Robert Martin, Frank Martin's son, sat in the pew and showed no emotion. For him it was easy, he felt nothing except impatience, as he waited for the seeming endless service to be over. Him and the old man had fought over everything from the weather to when it was time to plow. It seemed there was never anything he could do that pleased the sanctimonious old son of a bitch; so he wasn't going to shed crocodile tears now that he finally died.
His wife explained about Pa's favorite spot and why he went there to die. The thing was, the old man was dead and there were chores to be done. That bog hole had to be drained and the milk shed needed the roof patched. There was so much work to do and he was stuck here in this damned church.
The open, home made casket sat on crude sawhorses that had been draped with black cloth the preacher had dug up somewhere. Annie Martin, the old man's daughter-in-law had insisted that the funeral services be held in the old country church where old Frank had been in faithful attendance every Sunday morning, Sunday Evening and Wednesday evening for nearly forty years.
Annie sat and cried. She tried to not break down completely, but she loved the old man with a fierceness that her husband resented. "You show me even half of what you show that old son of a bitch and I'd be a happy man," he groused one time.
"You show me one half of the respect and love that old man shows me and I'll have plenty of love for you," she shot back in anger. That was the story of the twenty years of their marriage.
Indeed, Frank showed his daughter in law and all the other women folk in the church a kindly, benevolent love that came from the heart. After his wife died during the birth of their one and only child, he threw himself into his farming and his church. The sturdy young German woman he hired as a wet nurse took care of the baby he neither understood nor really loved. That baby had killed his Annie. The new church being built became his center of balance.
In fact, some of the other old timers remembered back to when the church was built about forty years ago and remembered that Frank had been the one who furnished most of the lumber from his own wood lot of oak, birch and pine trees. He had felled, rough milled and carefully stacked the cut lumber so that air flowed freely through and permitted the wood to season. Then he finish milled it and presented it for the new church. He also furnished most of the nails.
Yes, the other old timers said, if it hadn't been for good old Frank, there never would have been a church built out there in the middle of Nowhere, Oklahoma. They also recounted how "Wild Frank Martin," as he was known in those days would try to out drink, out fight and out everything else everybody else until that time he met up Alvin York again, after the Big War of 1917. Before The Big War, they had been drinking pals and got drunk and fought their ways from Tennessee to Oklahoma and back.
Frank was on the run from the law after two other hell raisers, brothers, had their house burn down around their ears the night after they tried to ambush Frank. It seems that he had bedded both their wives in the same night and they were a bit put out about the whole thing.
Nobody knew what was said when he met up with his old pal in Pall Mall, Tennessee. Whatever it was, Frank came home and turned himself over to the law, a chastened man. The brothers refused to prosecute Frank Martin. They thought his "conversion" was a trap. A year later when he handed them five hundred dollars, they still weren't too sure of his motives, but they took the money. Two years after that they attended services at the church also. (The thing was, neither brother would leave his wife alone if Frank was anywhere nearby.)
The preacher droned on and on until he finally and mercifully ran out of words. The attendees all trooped out into the graveyard behind the church and watched the final throwing of dirt into the grave. Bob and Annie walked separately together back to their old Ford truck, got in and drove off.
"Well, that is sure as hell that. I got to get out of this monkey suit and put some decent work clothes on and get busy. I still have that back fence to repair. The Owens cows are going to get through and start on that young wheat. I already told that god damned Owens that I was going to shoot his damn cows if they broke through that fence again.
"By God I just might take my old thirty-thirty with me and shoot one. He keeps pasturin' them there just to piss me off." He clamped his jaw shut tight and drove on in angry silence.
"You never liked that old man not one bit, even though he was your own daddy, did you?" Annie looked over at her husband.
"How could I? The old son of a bitch never loved me. No matter how hard I tried to please him, he always found fault with me. I tried, god damn it. I really tried. But the old son of a bitch blamed me for Mamma's death because she died havin' me. Well, he's dead and it's over and I'm glad the old son of a bitch is dead."
"Don't say that. He was a sweet old man. He always had time for Young Frank. He took him fishing and was always ready to stop whatever he was doing and listen to him. Stop that talk right now."
"Well, let me tell you something, Annie Martin, just let me tell you about that "sweet old man." He never once took me fishing. The only place he ever took me was to church and then he would turn his back on me until it was time to go home. I tried to come to him and have him hold me and all that old bastard ever did was to push me away. Even though he is dead, I still hate him."
Alvin pulled the truck over to the side of the road and turned off the engine and began to sob great wracking sobs. "And all I ever wanted him to do was once touch me and say he just cared for me even a little. He never did even once in my whole life. Never once." He wiped his eyes, took a deep breath and started the engine.
She moved her chunky body over closer to him and said, "Bob, you take after your mother so much. You have her features. Every time he looked at you he saw her and remembered." She patted her husband on the shoulder and said, "Let those cows eat the damned wheat. Take us into town for an early supper. Maybe we just need to get away from that farm for a while.
He nodded and didn't answer. When they got to the turn off to the farm, he kept on going toward town. She reached over and placed her left hand on his right leg. She squeezed the meat of his inner thigh possessively and said, "Hon, I love you, but I can't live with all the hate in you any more. We have to do something. Your father is dead and you are turning into a copy of my own father. You know what a mean old bastard he is.