“Big man is waitin’ on me.”
“No he aint papa, don’t say that.”
I hear the crickets. They sound like hell but their chirping don’t stop. It don’t ever stop.
Papa’s breathing beside me makes me want to cry. Every breath sounds like it’s the last and he knows it too. I have no one except him and the insects around me.
Over Jinups Seat, I can see the sun rising. This morning, it makes the whole of the sky a pink color that turns the Earth pink. I look at Papa and his skin looks healthy because of the pink, it don’t have that yellow color that makes him look so sick all the time. The pink makes me mad, it’s like God is saying “Look how much better he would be with me. Look!”
I got no one God, can’t you see that?
“I’m leaving, see you after school” I say.
“I hope so.”
The walls of our school are grey and it makes me want to puke. The halls are filled with girls wearing their low-rise jeans and tank-tops that were cut short with their rusty kitchen scissors. I don’t even wanna talk about the boys, they’re leading to the downfall of humanity.
By lunch time, my stomach feels like it’s eating me. I sit outside even though the sun’s gone behind a bunch of grey, rain filled clouds.
“Don’t the sky look kinda green?” A girl says walking up to me with a sad excuse of a boyfriend trailing behind her.
“It looks grey.”
“It’s gonna rain, my momma told me. She used to be a sailor” the girl says.
“What does that have to do with anythin’?”
“You gotta get better at talking to people.” The girl is sitting on the bench across from me now, her boyfriend clinging on to a stack of books. The more I look at them, the more they start to look alike. Their features are almost the same, ‘specially their green eyes. I’m not even surprised by the fact that they’re probably cousins.
“Why are you talkin’ to me?” I ask. No one’s ever talked to me since I got expelled for bringing a knife and threatening Hitch with it after he killed half of our cattle with his Pa’s feed.
Like I said, I got no one.
“I’m asking myself the same thing, kid. But who are you?”
“I ain’t no kid. I’m about the same age as you, girl,” I would walk away if I had anywhere else to go to but I’m stuck here talking to this hillbilly and her wimpy man. The girl doesn’t answer me this time, she just stares at me with her green eyes. The wind on the patio picks up and a few plastic wrappers are tossed around the ground. The air feels moist, like there’s a storm coming. I guess the girl’s momma was right.
“I’m Lisa, this is my brother Nate.”
Oh, brother. I start to feel stupid.
“You should start eating lunch with us. Want to? We’ll be sittin’ inside on days like this, though,” the girl starts to stand up like she’s expecting me to come with her. Nate looks at me now, his arms in a comfortable position around his books. I hesitate, thinking about Papa and how I got no time to make friends, how Papa needs me.
How I need him.
“I’ll stay out here today, thanks.” Now that I think about it, the guidance counselor probably put them up to this. I don’t got no one and she thinks I need her help. That’s the last thing I need.
Papas calls from his bedroom are the first things I hear when I get home. They’re quiet but they sound like a whole world of effort was put into them.
I walk into the room and the curtains are drawn. Papa is laying on his side, like he just barely made it onto the bed. I help him onto his back and I can’t help but notice how yellow his skin is.
“He’s callin’ me home, Ty.”
“No he ain’t papa, not yet.”
“I’m glad you’re here, Ty. I was waitin’ for you,” he says, his eyes struggling to stay open and focused on me.
“Papa, I don’t wanna say goodbye.” I sit down beside him and grab a comb off of his bedside table. I run the comb through his silver hair and he closes his eyes. I part his hair the way he likes it and pull a blanket over his twitching feet.
As I’m walking out of the room, I hear Papa say the faintest goodbye.
Too small to be real.
It’s not real.
I got no one.
I use the wall to catch myself as I fall. I use my hands to catch my tears, the ones that Papa used to wipe away.
Papa ain’t dead in the morning.
I make him eggs and cut up some fresh grapes. His hands shake when he brings his food up to his mouth.
Before I leave for school, I look at his plate. He ate four grapes and no eggs.
“See you later, Papa.”
I won’t say goodbye.
When I step outside, the sky is still grey but it has a green tint to it. The sky looks like it’s churning and the crickets ain’t chirping. I look back at the house to see Papa and through the window. I can see him flipping through the pages of his bible, like he does every morning.
School is the same as always, lonely and boring.
I step out of the building with toilet paper on my shoe. Lisa rushes by and points it out, her brother Nate right on her heels. I watch them as they step into a blue minivan. Before Nate can get in, he drops his books on the ground, causing him to reach up and pull unforgivingly hard on his hair. Lisa rushes out of the car, tending to Nate first and ushering him into the car. She then picks up his books off of the ground and sets them gently on Nate’s lap. The minivan door closes and they drive away.
I don’t got no one.
My walk home becomes brutal when the wind reaches a speed of impossible-to-walk. A few shingles are ripped from the cheap roofs on Huger Street and I have to dodge a trash can lid at one point. The screen doors on a few houses are swinging violently on their hinges. I don’t know why but I get a pit in my stomach, one that I get when Papa has trouble swallowing his food or when he tries to walk up the stairs by himself.
I make it home after twenty-five minutes, much longer than usual. When I get home, the house is quiet except for the whistling of the wind coming through the pillars on the front porch. I won’t be surprised if the very foundation of this house is ripped away.
To my horror, Papa ain’t nowhere to be found. He ain’t in his room, he ain’t collapsed anywhere and he sure didn’t leave a note.
“Papa?” I call through the empty house. I swear I hear my voice echo. I don’t call a bunch of times like they do in the movies, I run instead.
I run through the front door, nearly tearing the screen out of the peeling frame. My feet clomp on the wooden porch, jarring my body when I jump off and land on the packed dirt. I run around to the back of the house, scaring the cattle with my speed. They disperse and when they do, I see him.
Papa is right there in the middle of the field, laying completely still, his eyes unflinching.
“Papa?” I say as I approach him.
In his bright blue eyes, I can see the clouds churning above us.
Somewhere in the town, the church bells start playing a song. When he hears it, Papa turns his head in the direction of the noise, the beautiful noise.
His hair is being whipped around in the wind and I’m surprised his fragile body don’t just float away into the air.
“Papa, listen, it-it’s your favorite song.” The church bells seem to get louder, their tune carrying heaps of memories but one single promise.
His voice is quiet and rasped but through sharp breaths he sings: “I will cling to the old rugged cross.”
He closes his eyes against the wind almost forcefully and exhales.
But he don't inhale.
The wind still rips through the air and the clouds still churn.
“Goodbye, Papa,” I say, still waiting for an answer.
Papa sits in the recliner in the morning with his bible open in his hands. He looks at me when the stairs creak, his droopy eyes say goodmorning.
“I was able to walk back to the house,” he says with a tiny smile. At least he’s trying.
“I’m glad,” I say, but he just stares. “Do you want to watch the sunrise?”
He shakes his head, “There ain’t gonna be one.”
I look outside and find out that he’s right. The sky’s still green and churning, like it has been for the past couple of days. It hasn’t rained though. It’s almost like something big is coming, something that we ain’t gonna be warned about. Then I remember something. It’s the sideways calendar on the fridge that reminds me.
“Papa, it’s your birthday.”
We evacuate the school at 12:37 due to bad weather. I start to walk home but a blue minivan approaches me on Huger Street and a voice inside it tells me it ain’t gonna do me any good walking in this weather.
“Hi,” Lisa says.
“Hello, thanks for the ride.”
The ride is silent but Nate rocks back and forth whenever he sees a stop sign get tossed across the street.
We wish each other luck when they drop me off at my house cause that’s what we really need right now and it’s all that will save us.
Papa would say God.
The tornado siren screams at two o’clock, herding us and other families into our shelters. Papa and I walk slowly towards the wooden door in the ground next to the dead potato field.
He has some trouble getting into the tornado shelter because of the ladder but we make it and listen as the wind pounds against the Earth.
I light a few candles while Papa lays on a cot in the corner, his breathing labored as ever.
There’s a shelf in the corner with a bunch of useless cans on it. I hope to myself that we won’t be down here long enough that I’ll have to eat the food in them. I pull up a chair beside Papa and watch him. I can’t look at him for long, though, cause I start to get that pit in my stomach and my eyes get all wet. His breaths come and go in a rhythm but it’s a slow and worrying rhythm.
I don’t know how much time goes by before I wake up and can’t hear no noises outside. I only hear the crickets. No wind. No siren.
No breathing except for mine.
“Papa,” I whisper, but it’s useless. “Papa, we can go up to the house now.” His chest ain’t rising but he sure looks peaceful.
“Papa, do you want to go lay in bed?” My tears start falling onto his white shirt. I put a hand on his wrinkled skin and then I wrap my arms around him, my body shaking cause I’m all alone. Now I really got no one.
I open the wooden trap door and let the sun shine onto Papa’s body. I don’t even acknowledge the destruction that’s demanding my attention outside, I just go back to Papa and wrap his arms around me. I plan to carry him up the ladder until I feel just how much a dead person weighs.
My throat starts getting tight because I feel helpless. I start breathing fast but it feels like it’s not enough. I set Papa back down on his cot and I climb up the ladder. Our house is still intact but I don’t see a single cow in our field. I run inside as fast as I can and ignore how much more empty and dark the house is, how the air is set in a way that it only has room for one.
I grab the phone off of the counter and look through the phone book until I find the G’s.
I dial the number.
Lisa picks up the phone.
“This is Ty.”
“I had toilet paper on my shoe.”
“Oh, are you okay?”
“No,” I say, realizing how true it is.
There’s a silence in which she’s probably wondering why I called while I’m trying to figure out how to ask her a certain question.
I decide to just put it bluntly.
“My Papa died in the tornado shelter. Can you come help?” My voice breaks but I hear her start to move around on the other side of the phone.
“I’m on my way,” she says before the line cuts off.
The blue minivan pulls up ten minutes later and Lisa steps out, followed by Nate and their mother.
We get Papa out of the shelter while Nate digs a hole in the ground. I ain’t gonna call a funeral home, Papa’s gonna be buried where I know he’ll feel at home.
Under the cedar tree and who knows how much dirt is where Papa lies. It says so on our homemade gravestone.
I stand in the shade of the tree, watching the sunlight gleam on the rocks from Papa’s rock collection. Lisa comes over and looks me in the eyes, as if she’s asking a question. I nod but a few tears are on my cheeks. Lisa wraps her arms around me and before I know it, Nate is walking over to hug me as well. So many words are said in our silence but all I can think is just one thing.
I finally got someone.
I stand on the porch as the blue minivan pulls away and when they’re out of sight, I walk inside.
I don’t got no explanation for what I’m feeling right now but I sure don’t know what to do with myself. I walk into the living room and sit down on the couch. I can hear the crickets outside and a pit forms in my stomach. Everything reminds me of him. Outside, cleanup crews are going through the streets of the town, picking up the shingles and any other object that the tornado threw. It’s too quiet inside but I’m glued to my seat. The curtains on the window are blowing softly, guiding my attention to the window. The sun is setting and the sky is purple and pink. I close my eyes and let the breeze from outside cool off my body. All I hear is the ticking of the small clock above the TV and the crickets outside. It’s so calm in the house that I almost fall asleep but a small noise catches my attention.
It’s the sound of a page turning.
I look over to Papa’s recliner and I see the bible open, the thin pages fluttering in the wind. I get up without question, like there’s a certain peace that gravitates me towards the book. I sit down in Papa’s chair and look down at the page.
I start reading.
Cause I want to find out more about where Papa is.