Autumn: The Ending
He winced as the throbbing in his knees reminded him that he was getting too old for this shit. Kneeling beside the tree, he could feel the cold earth through his jeans and he began to move a little faster, the dirt between his fingers suddenly feeling icier as a breeze combed through his thinning hair. He finished filling in the hole on top of the body and, bracing himself against the tree, he rose slowly to his feet, his right knee popping as he did so. He walked back and forth across the shallow grave until the ground was level and packed down.
Raking leaves and underbrush debris across the packed earth, he stepped back to inspect his handiwork. Satisfied that he had done his best, he walked back through the woods to his truck. Opening the door, he looked back over his shoulder for the last time and sighed. All that was left to do now was to tell his daughter why her youngest son wouldn’t be at the bus stop after school.
Winter – When It Began.
Driving up into the yard of his daughter’s farm last winter had been an unexpected decision. It was the Christmas season and some stupid cartoon snowman on television had been singing about family. Without warning, he was overcome with sadness and suddenly wanted to see his daughter. It had been over 12 years since he’d seen her. He knew she’d gotten married and then had lost her husband in some kind of freak tractor accident, but he’d been binge drinking that week and did not go to the funeral. That was four years ago.
He stopped at the end of the driveway and turned the motor off. A dog came to the edge of the barn door and looked at him and then apparently deciding he was no threat, the dog lay down and watched him warily. A screen door slammed and he turned his head to see his daughter standing on the steps of the little white house. At 28 years old, she was still a beautiful young woman, although with an apron tied around her waist and a skillet in her hands, he could see he’d interrupted her morning chores. He put up his hand to wave and, as he did so, he saw a look cross her face; he couldn’t decide if it was disgust or pleasure as who he was suddenly dawned on her.
Spring – Somewhere In The Middle.
The boys were six and seven, the perfect ages to go fishing with, and he bought them both a fishing pole and a tackle box. His daughter watched silently from the doorway as he showed them how to string a bobber and tie off the hook. Wordlessly, she handed him a picnic basket. Looking under the checkered tablecloth covering it, he saw three sandwiches, a thermos, and three oranges. He smiled, as he remembered that her mother had always said, “Oranges were nature’s way of giving you sunshine that you could drink.” He nodded his thanks, and headed out the door, with the boys carrying their own gear. Supper that night was fried silver bream and French fried potatoes.
After dinner, he sat on the porch in the rocker with the boys sitting on his lap as he pointed out different constellations in the night sky. Orion’s belt and the Big Dipper were always easy to spot and soon the boys had nodded off to sleep in his arms, full of fried fish and thoughts of astronauts on the moon. He held them close to his chest, and stroked their heads, until their mother came to claim them for bed.
Summer – Near The End.
During the long hot days of summer, the fishing hole doubled as the swimming hole and the whole family would often enjoy Saturday afternoons swinging from the tire swing and jumping into the water. The boys were getting so tall and lanky, and with the summer sun, they became more freckle-faced and towheaded, like their mother. He sat on the creek bank one afternoon watching them, admiring how muscular they were becoming as they wrestled bare-chested in the water, and thinking back to his own childhood summers and misspent youth. School started back in August and still they spent Saturdays swimming whenever possible.
One Monday morning, after his mother had left for work, the youngest boy played sick from school. Putting the seven-year-old on the bus, he went back inside to find the six-year-old in his bed, crying. Pulling the boy into his arms, he held him for a few minutes until his sobbing slowed down some. “Boy, what’s wrong? You can tell me.” Taking him by the hand, the littlest grandson took him out the back door to the barn and pointed out the old dog, who wasn’t just sleeping in the doorway but had instead passed in his sleep. Looking down at the little boy, he sighed as he knew what he had to do.