“Back in my day, when you buried a body, you had the decency to at least give him at least a few parting words.” The disgust in Pa’s voice would’ve been enough to fill the six-foot hole, but just to make sure there was no chance of him coming back, I packed the grave with enough dirt and heavy rocks to make up a small barn. Still, no matter how much debris lay on top of him, there was no stopping Pa’s voice from tearing into my eardrums, and as such, I gave into his final demands.
“Well, gee, Pa, what is there to say… besides what took so long…” I tossed the shovel to the side and stood over the sweat-stained grave. “Seriously though, if you come back again, this time I’m going to be a little annoyed.”
“That it boy!” He retorted. “None of your fancy city jargon worthy of a bloke like me.”
“No, not really…” I shook my head. “I considered a few slurs I picked up but I wouldn’t want you to think I went easy on you.”
“Easy on me. Boy, you’ve been going easy on people your whole life. You keep that up, I’ll see you sooner than I thought.”
“Like a thought about me has passed through your brain in the past three years.” I scowled.
“Ha… I thought about you every day… as disappointed as it made me.”
“Well, sorry I was such a burden and couldn’t be more like my bro.” I wiped my forehead as thoughts turned to my brother. He would’ve been a much better choice for this job. He and Pa actually cared for each other and would have more than insults to spat in their final moments. He was getting the farm and everything else, so why did I have to do the deed? Was this one final punishment of Pa’s?
I didn’t have too long to think about that, and my conversation with the dead was brought to a halt by a rather rude bolt of lightning streaking across the sky. A few moments later, drops of rain began to descend, and as annoying as they felt on my bare skin, I was just glad they’d held off until I’d finished digging.
“Well, I guess this is it, Pa.” My voice became quieter with each word. “Good riddance.”
“Leaving because of a little rain, eh? Like I said, you take the easy path.” Pa’s final remark followed me through the pouring rain as I made my way back to the house. There I found Ma knitting as always. According to Pa, she was even knitting on the day I was born and pushed me out right as she finished my baby blanket. My brother, Joeseph, told me that was an exaggeration but did admit that she had returned to knitting the second she got back from the hospital.
“He’d be proud of you.” Her voice was as soft as Pa’s was loud, and not wanting to disagree on such a dark night, I nodded.
“Yeah… Where’s Joeseph?”
“Barn… I’m beginning to think he prefers the company of animals to people.”
“Can’t blame him if the people you’re talking about involves Pa,” I muttered under my breath.
“Can you please tell him it’s done.”
“Of course, Ma.” I complied and trudged over to the massive structure adjacent to the house. In the pouring rain, it almost looked like it was crying, but I knew that was just my mind playing tricks on me. One thing I wasn’t imagining was the looming, dark figure of my brother standing in the doorway, his eyes filled with oceans of undecipherable emotions.
“Hey.” Was all he said as I approached him.
“Hey.” Was all I said in return, and an eternity of silence passed between us as we watched the rain falling down around our farm.
“I take it you did it?” Joeseph broke the silence, and I nodded.
“Wasn’t a whole lot to do.”
“That a pun?”
“No, but it should’ve been.”
“Yeah, you really messed that up.”
“Yeah, I did.” Silence returned, but this time, it was I who broke it. “I thought you’d be in the house with Ma.”
“Animals help me think. They don’t talk. They just listen. Got me though a lot of things. Thought they’d help me with this.”
“I don’t know. What about you?”
“Not a fan of animals.”
“But you had your books. They don’t talk either.”
“Yeah. They don’t.” I let out a long sigh. “Honestly, I don’t know. I loved books. They gave me somewhere to run when Pa got mad and got me a good life.
“I want to know what would’ve happened if I didn’t turn to them.”
“So you could’ve been here?”
“Or just different.”
“And if things would’ve changed.”
“Yeah, and now, I’ll never know.”
“Sorry.” He gave me a sympathetic look, and I returned a pat on the shoulder.
“Don’t be. You weren’t the reason I did what I did.”
“I wish I was.”
“It seemed to hurt him a lot. Not just the fact you left but because it was him who pushed you away. If it’d been me, it would’ve been lot less hard on him.”
“So, you sacrifice your happiness for his. Nice to see things have changed.”
“Not everyone has it in them to be a rebel.”
“If that’s what you need to believe.”
“And what would you have liked me to do? Go off to some fancy toe-licking school. Read books I don’t like. Talk to people who look down on me.”
“It’s not all like Pa described.”
“And how would you know what he described?”
“Just because I never listened didn’t mean I wasn’t hearing him.”
“You could’ve fooled me.”
“And here I thought nothing got by you.” I stopped, realizing the conversation had become antagonistic. “Sorry, I shouldn’t talk like that.”
“It’s fine. I’m sorry too.”
“Why do we always end up doing that.”
“I mean, what else are we supposed to talk about?” The sound of us talking was replaced by raindrops of the storm outside. Of course, we both knew what we should talk about, but voicing it was another beast entirely. “Remember when we spent the whole night out here on my thirteenth birthday.”
“You mean until you fell asleep, and I carried you back inside.” Joeseph smiled at the memory.
“Yeah, I was so exhausted from everything that day.”
“Or more precisely the hundred fights you got in with him.”
“I think that was the day I decided I wanted to leave here.”
“Don’t blame you. I would’ve done the same in your shoes.”
“But you never did.”
“I wasn’t in your shoes.”
“The thesis of our problems.”
“Nothing.” I shook my head. “Funny how many things we went through together yet turned out so different.”
“I always viewed it as how many different things we went through yet turned out so similar.”
“Yeah, I mean, we did different things but we both we both ended up here.”
“I guess we did. I wonder if seeing us like this would make him happy. That despite all my talk, I am still the same farm boy he raised me as.”
“I don’t think you’re anything like the farm boy he wanted you to be, but yeah, I do think this would make him happy.” My brother sighed. “He did miss you, just so you know.”
“Please don’t say that.”
“It’s true. He might’ve been… well Pa, but he did tell me that when I saw you again, I should tell you I’m sorry.”
“Funny how that was easier than picking up a phone.”
“You know how he is. I had the animals. You had the books. He had nothing, no where to sort out his thoughts, but he still had to deal with them.”
“I know. That’s why I didn’t want you to say that.” I took a deep breath. “You know I hated him, right?”
“Did he know that too.”
“He never admitted it but…”
“You could see it.” I recalled the haunting gaze in the old man’s eyes as I stormed out for the final time. “So could I. It’s strange, but even though I meant every word, I wish I didn’t. I wish things were different.”
“So did he.”
“I know, and now, they never will be. I lost that chance, and I’ll never get it back. I’ll never get him back.”
“Maybe that was why he wanted you to do the burial. So, you and he could have that final moment.”
“Yeah, or maybe he just wanted to screw me over one last time.”
“Why can’t it be both?”
“Because I wasted it, just like the rest of my time with him.”
“So, you still hate him?”
“No, I… I just wish it was different.”
“Well, not hating him is a good start. I mean, better late than never.”
"Well, isn’t it never to him? No matter how I feel about him, he’ll never know.”
“I don’t know about that.” He gave me a soft smile. “You know, I still hear him in my head. I don’t think it’s real, but it sounds like him.”
“Really, what is he saying?”
“Everything I’m telling you. Is it the same for you?”
“In a way.” I tried to see if I could still hear Pa’s voice but found it had faded away into the sound of falling rain outside. “It sounds like him, but who knows if it’s real. I guess, that’s the point. It’s up to us to decide if it’s real.”
“Yeah.” He nodded, and with no words left to speak, we turned to the storm outside. In the distance, a white bolt of lightning stretched across the sky, and even from inside the dry barn, I felt the rain running down my cheeks.