The Drought

“I said goodbye to my Father today. Never got on with the man, to be honest. I probably did, once, when I was younger. Never considered him family. But for raising me up, for the shelter and food, and for my first car, I felt it was necessary to see him and thank him before he signed off.”

“I’m sorry to hear.”

“Left me with some last words.”

“What did he say?”

“You remember where we used to sit under that bridge? We took down big crates of Hollor’s and drank them all, lit up a big fire and tossed the empty bottles into the river? We tried to smash ’em on the far bank? We – we never reached it. Every single one sank. I think we went there every Sunday for seven months. Never missed a single Sunday, not until you had Joey, we stopped doing it after that. You being a dad and all.”

“I remember drinking with you every Sunday, of course.”

“One day, Father told me he could drop me off at the station. I was going up to visit Parker, this was before he got cancer. I agreed, you know, my car was still busted from Marcus slamming his bat into it. On the way, he took me to the bridge instead. Now, this was in ’82, back during the drought. And I knew I was in trouble when I saw the bottom of the river. The mud. The sand. There was a mountain of beer bottles that never got caught in the current. Instead, they were piled against a thick, concrete ridge on the river bed. There were hundreds of them, hundreds. And he knew half, if not more, were finished by myself and then tossed into the river.”

“He parked the car and told me to get out. He took me to the edge, right onto the black spot where our barrel fires scorched the earth, and he spoke to me in a very calm voice. “Remember kid, when I was never home? You were always angry at me. I was paying bills, you know. Paying for your tuition with Mr. Ronald, paying for your piano lessons, paying for you to be social. I paid for you to have occupation in your life so that in your life, you could get an occupation. I gave you the chance to be someone. But all I see now is a river bed. No water, nothing flowing, no current. Just dirt. Don’t come back until this river is full as are you, with talent and prosperity. I’m don’t expect you to.”

“Jesus, that’s quite dramatic. Just for drinking on a Sunday?”

“Every Sunday. He was a hard man. Strict, disciplined type. I still have the scars from sneaking sweets after dinner. ”

“How’d he know we’d been down there?”

“I guess he followed me one night. Probably thought nothing of it at first, kids being kids, underage drinking isn’t the worst thing he could find me doing. But seeing how often we’d done it when the drought kicked in, polluting the river and all, not a happy man afterwards. He probably knew as well we’d pissed into the river whilst drinking them. No respect for nature, as he called it. Anyway, didn’t see him for a week. Then a month. Then 25 years. I knew I’d see him again. I wanted to show him.”

“Show him?”

“That someday I would get an occupation, you know? I would get a job. Get a wife. Have kids. Get bonuses. Get a promotion. Wear a suit, wear a tie, shine my shoes, sit on a fat wallet in my office chair in my skyscraper, go to meetings, pitch ideas, talk business and make jokes by the water cooler. I would get what he prepared me for. I would have the water flowing in that river again.”

“So what did he say when you saw him? His last words?”

“He said, ‘I can still see the riverbed.’ I hate him for it.”

“Why?”

“Because he was right.”

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