(This is a short piece of fiction I wrote today – it’s pretty rough and not very good, but what the Hell …)
For two weeks, all anybody would talk about was the weather. It was mid October and unseasonably sunny and warm, into the seventies almost every day. The courtyard of Silver Creek Care Center was shaded by the ancient and immense sugar maple that rose from its center. In the early afternoon sunlight, its leaves were a brilliant gold and falling, a thin layer already covering the red brick walkway that lead to the front door.
Dad was holding a little album Dean had put together with photos from last year’s trip. In them we were sitting at the picnic table, cluttered with bottles of Makers Mark and Crown Royal and Rolling Rock and plastic red cups. We were all wearing jackets and sweatshirts. It was gray and damp and cold. If October this year felt more like September, last year it felt like November. Dad was wearing his hokey blue fishing cap, beaming in every snapshot, proud and happy to be with his sons. I was surprised by how much younger he looked only a year ago. You wouldn’t think there’d be that much difference between seventy seven and seventy eight, but it was striking. His face still had good color and he looked strong and substantial under his black windbreaker. It was quite a contrast to the ashen gray his complexion had turned since, and now there were lines around his eyes and the corners of his mouth that weren’t evident in the photos.
Looking out the window I could see Dennis pull in to the parking lot and park his red Ford F150. I watched as he and Dean got out and approached the entrance. I motioned to Dad, and he watched them, too, my older brothers, in their fifties now but still looking fit and strong. They were talking in the early afternoon sunlight, and Dennis laughed at something Dean said, and Dean was grinning, the same laughs and grins that had always come so easy and natural to us.
We’d been doing the October trip to the cabin by the lake for the past twenty five years, just dad and his three sons, just like Fred MacMurray on that old television show. In those twenty five years, we’d evolved from a middle aged man and his young adult boys to an elderly fellow and his three middle aged sons. We hadn’t felt the changes, at least, not before this year. Dad always seemed as vital as ever, and as the three of us navigated the fifty years old meridian, we all felt the same as we ever had. None of us had ever missed a single year. Aside from dad slowing down a little bit, our regime remained the same. For three days we’d drink and fish and play poker, and then we’d help dad close the cabin for the winter. We’d leave Thursday night after we got off work and kissed our wives goodbye, and get to the cabin around 11:00. We’d start a fire in the wood stove and play cards and drink until five in the morning, when we’d finally hit our bunks for a couple of hours of shut eye. Late Friday morning we’d take dad’s boat out on the lake and fish for the last time of the season, stopping around 2:00 in the afternoon at Leon’s Lakeshore Lodge for drinks and a hamburger, then we’d hit it again and come in right before dark. We’d fry the fish we caught over an open fire and eat. Then we’d walk down to Leon’s again and drink ourselves stupid. The last few years dad stayed in, and the three of us would get shitfaced and come back drunk at one in the morning and wake dad up and we’d play cards again until about three, regaling him with stories from the bar. One year, our brains poisoned by alcohol and Leon’s juke box, the three of us came in singing the song “Elvira” by the Oak Ridge Boys at the top of our lungs. I’ve been told, though I don’t remember, that we were continuing a performance we’d began an hour earlier at the bar. I’ve also been told that that our voices didn’t meld together nearly as well as we thought they did.
Saturday was always spent all day at the cabin, recovering from Friday night, playing cards, drinking, and cooking out. Saturday night we’d stay in and play more cards and drink. Dennis would find the radio station from the Indian reservation that played folk and old, old, country music, from dad’s time, Hank Williams and Jim Reeves and Marty Robbins. We’d have a fire going in the stove and we’d sit there, the four of us, playing cards and shooting the shit, making up for the rest of the year, when we were too preoccupied with our wives and children and our careers to spend much time with each other.
Sunday morning we’d wake up, clean up the cabin, wash dishes, take out the garbage, shut the water off and drain and winterize the pipes. Then we’d be in dad’s car, always dad’s car, a big Buick most of the years. The past couple of years, after mom died, dad was driving a little Ford Explorer. We’d split up the five to six hour drive home, dropping Dennis off first in West Allis, then Dean in Racine, and finally me in Kenosha. Dad lived in Kenosha, too, in the house he raised us in, only about ten minutes from me.
We’d decided a long time ago that if one of us couldn’t make the trip, none of us would go. For one thing, three handed poker isn’t any fun. But mainly, it was all for one and one for all. We were the three musketeers, reminding anybody who’d say “but there are four of you” that the book was about four, D’Artagnan joining forces with the three. Of course, we’d all argue endlessly about which one of us was D’Artagnan.
Dennis and Dean entered the room, and pulled up chairs next to dad. I’d seen them all last weekend, one at a time. This was the first time we were all together again. It was Thursday afternoon, the Thursday that we’d usually depart for our fishing trip up north. We’d known for about two months that there wouldn’t be any more trips. We decided we’d get together anyways, at the Silver Creek Care center.
We sat there and visited, reminiscing about past fishing trips, about wives and children, for about half an hour. Dennis and Dean were getting wound up, like they always do, but dad was withdrawing, getting quiet. We all noticed it, but pretended we didn’t, hoping that one of the stories would bring him out of his funk, but nothing worked.
Finally, he broke down, and started sobbing. Dean reached out and put his arms around him.
“I’m sorry, guys,” dad said. “It’s just that I never imagined things would turn out this way.”
“It’s okay,” Dean said. “It’s okay.” Dean looked at me. Dennis did, too. I tried to smile, to indicate that everything was okay, that at least we were all together. That’s what I wanted to say, that we were all together, and that I loved them all. But with that damn feeding tube shoved down my throat, I couldn’t say anything. All I could do was lie there and listen to the beeps and clicks of the machines that were keeping me alive.
Dad stopped crying and tried to change the subject. “Supposed to turn colder this weekend,” he said.
“Yeah,” Dennis said. “Maybe even snow some.”
“That’s Indian summer for you, “dad said. “It’s nice while it lasts, but it’s a son of a bitch when it’s over.”