Kenny stared down at his sleeping grandson. His hand trembled as he pulled the cover over the boy’s thin shoulders. “You’ll be all right. It’s not a reflection on you. Not about you at all.” Slowly, he leaned over, and his arm shook as his weight descended. He bent low and kissed the child on the cheek. “Bye, my boy. We’ll meet again someday.”
Shuffling into the kitchen, Kenny snapped on a light and a yellow glow brightened a country décor with wood cabinets, hanging herbs, and matching blue- and green-striped towels. He pulled open the refrigerator door and rummaged about, looking for possibilities.
“Your appetite back, Dad?” A tall man with a swath of black hair — a younger version of his father — stepped to the counter and plopped down on a stool. He rested his head on his hands, his eyes red and strained, pain peeking up from their depths.
“It never left — my stomach just got bewildered for a bit.” Tucking a beer under his arm, Kenny balanced a plate of cold chicken in one hand and squeezed a bag of biscuits in the other. After arranging the food on a napkin, he settled down on a stool across from his son. “Want some?”
The younger man waved the offer away. “So — you sure you want to go through with it?”
Kenny bit into a fried chicken leg and chewed, his gaze roaming the room and stopping on a bright orange clock in the shape of an oversized chicken head. “I remember when your mother gave you that. Cindy hated it — don’t deny it. I told Evelyn that such a monstrosity would only perpetuate the evil mother-in-law myth, but — well — you know your mother.”
A flickering light flared to life as the young man grinned at his dad. “Cindy loves it. A conversation piece that never fails. Gains sympathy ever time.”
Kenny chuckled as he wiped his scraggly chin. A two-day-old beard scratched noisily against the paper leaving white specks on his face. He took a long swig of his beer and shoved the chicken aside. “I’m not going through with anything. That’s kinda the point. I’m letting nature take its course. What will be — will be.” Picking up the biscuit, Kenny waved it absently. “Let it go, Tom. Just let it go.”
Tom’s leg began to bounce as he tapped his fingers together. “Listen, if you won’t take the treatment — at least stick around here awhile. I can help you —”
Slapping his hand on the counter, Kenny snapped. “No! Don’t you see? It wouldn’t work. I’ll fall apart just the same. Slow or fast. What’s the difference? It’s not just about you, my boy.” Raising his shaking hand, he pointed to the doorway leading to his grandson’s room. “Remember Davy? I don’t want his last memory of me being a filthy, decrepit old man hooked up to tubes and wires.” His eyes filled with tears. “Or you either — for that matter.” He shoveled his food onto the napkin and wrapped it into a tight ball. He shoved it toward his son. “I’ll eat later.” Easing off his stool, he headed for the door. “God to take me soon. I’ll not step one foot in His way.”
Tom’s head dropped to his chest, his eyes squeezed tight.
A bright morning sun sent brilliant dust-speckled beams through the kitchen, revealing a different side to her nature. Cindy waved to her little boy through the window as he boarded a yellow school bus.
He waved back, his mittened hand a smidgen of red on the snow-covered road.
Cindy turned and slid a bowl of hot oatmeal across the counter.
With quick steps, Tom hurried into the room slipping his arms into a heavy winter coat. “Why didn’t you wake me earlier? I’ve got to meet the guys and then —”
Cindy waved her husband toward the door. You’ve got plenty of time. George will have donuts and that horrible fake juice waiting — don’t you worry. It’s what he lives for.”
After a swift peck on his wife’s the cheek, Tom headed out the door.
Cindy shook her head. “Men.”
Tom poked head back through the open doorway. “You’ll keep an eye on Dad? He’ll have to be ready to go by one.”
With a nod, Cindy ushered her husband on his way.
Kenny lumbered into the room and plunked down on the stool. He peered from the hot cereal to Cindy.
After slinging a towel over her shoulder, she grabbed a jar of brown sugar and slid it in his direction.
Cindy nodded and started folding yesterday’s laundry. She peered up and watched Kenny slurp his cereal in cautious sips. “You know, Davy will be crushed when he finds you’ve gone.”
Kenny’s fingers clenched around the spoon. He laid it down and stared his daughter-in-law into oblivion. “I got to do what I got to do. Davy don’t need to see me all ragged and —”
Her chin jutting a mile from her face, Cindy gripped the back of a chair. “Yes. He. Does.” She pounded across the room and stood up to the old man, peering into his watery blue eyes. “Listen to me you ragged, wreck of a man. That boy loves you not one bit less for being rough around the edges. And your son is crushed under by your doubt.”
“I don’t doubt him. I just want to spare —”
Cindy sucked in a shuddering breath. “Long past that, Kenny.” She straightened her shoulders. “Listen to me. You’re on the brink of stepping off a cliff. I get that. You’re facing the end of your journey here, and you have the right to decide your treatment — or non-treatment. But you don’t have the right to tell your family to act as if nothing bad is happening—as if this isn’t tearing our hearts out. Because. It is. Ragged or no ragged.” Snatching up the towel, Cindy ran it along her eyes, wiping away tears.
Kenny stared into the air. “I just can’t bear it. It’s bad enough that Evelyn has to stand by and watch. How can I handle an audience?” Kenny laid his head in his clasped hands; his elbows perched on the counter. “God, I just wish it were over.”
Cindy stepped over and wrapped her arms around Kenny’s thin shoulder. She laid her head on his shoulder. “What did Evelyn say when you told her you wouldn’t stay?”
“Called me a coward — but I had that right. Said I could slip into the dark night anyway I want.” Kenny laid one hand on Cindy’s and let his head rest against hers. “That’s how much she loves me. She’ll let me go in peace.”
Cindy straightened up and stepped away. She pointed to the clock on the wall. “You know, at first I hated that thing. But after a while, I didn’t see the ugliness — I just saw the love that Evelyn intended.” She returned to her laundry. “Life is full of ugly. Davy already learned that when my brother, Uncle Ben died. Car accidents are ugly — let me tell you.” Laying a pair of worn jeans aside, she peered over at Kenny. “If you can’t face ugly in this world, you’ll never get to see the beauty beyond it.”
Kenny peered across the room, his gaze resting on the stack of jeans.
“Don’t let Davy miss a day — even if it’s got some ugly in it.”
A spring breeze blew across the graveyard, sending a shower of white, cherry blossoms wafting through the air.
A nine-year-old boy in a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt stood in front of a shiny monument, standing guard over of a fresh mound of earth. He tilted his head to one side.
Tom ambled up and laid his arm on his son’s shoulder. “It’s time to go. You have your chat?”
Davy turned and took his father’s hand. “Yeah. I told him that I like his monument. I think he’ll like it too.”
A quizzical smile quivered on Tom’s lips. “Any reason in particular?”
Davy swung around and started home. “Well, you know. It’s so clean and handsome — like grandpa.”
Copyright 2018 Ann K. Frailey