The boy visibly relaxed in the man’s arms. It was as if, some long held shudder escaped from his soul and his head sagged onto the grizzled man’s shoulder. His face close enough that he could feel the child’s breathe on his neck. It was the only moist air in the permanently parched landscape.
It had been years since the lad trusted him sufficiently to sleep in his presence. Lord knows he had done enough to deserve the boy’s mistrust. But now, he was determined to change all that. Maybe, if he tried hard enough he could right the wrongs of the past. The boy was still angry but he had a wanting nature, just like his mother who lay in a pine coffin in her sister’s front parlor. She had been a pretty woman whose damaged spirit had attracted every loser she encountered. They sniffed her out like mangy dogs. They danced with her, they kissed her then used her to empty their desires, their ills, their hates on her available, vulnerable body in the storage shed behind the New Moon Bar and Grill.
Eventually, death became her final dance partner.
She had been a good mother, she loved the boy, any one could see that. Secretly, he had envied the child. Why couldn’t she throw a few scraps of affection his way? He would have tolerated the cheating if only; she slept with him sometimes, cared for him occasionally, spoke softly in his ear every now and then. But he knew she found him insufficient in some way he could not fathom. Her neediness felt like some endless hole, a well without a bottom. He was helpless with inexplicable shame and fury, He called her names; names men degrade women with and slapped her around. On the last day they fought he shoved her through the bedroom door. She let out a single scream just as her wrist snapped like a dry tree branch. She didn’t crumble or cry, just raised her self up off the dirty floor, her cotton dress ripped, one breast exposed. He hated her but still wanted her. She saw this in his eyes, in his clenched fists. “Do it! She screamed, finish the job! Fuck me or kill me! You coward.”
He slammed the door and drove off into the ridiculus yawning sunset. Past a string of for sale signs and abandoned farms, their fields riveted with forlorn furrows, wind blown to the bone. Feeble tears streamed down his dusty face.
The boy had seen it, heard it all from his bed behind the paper-thin wall. The covers pulled over his head had been useless, hopeless, against the raging storm in the kitchen.
Now, he was back to see her calm in the coffin, that spiteful look of satisfaction on her still lovely lips. She had won the battle by escaping life. He was alone, alone with the boy who could be his son, a boy who had her blue eyes, her wavy hair, a boy who needed a father.
He bent down and kissed his wife’s cold cheek. Now, she was gone for good. He needn’t wait up for her anymore. He started to leave then turned toward where the boy sat straight and still, in his Sunday suit, watching him, waiting for what came next.