The air chills quickly as the sun slowly makes its way from its throne up high in the heavens toward the darkness far below and then a fleeting sleep. An old man groans and stretches himself as the sun slides away – his legs lifting up and moving out from under his rocker and over the porch’s steps, slippers loose on his feet and dangling in mid-air a moment. He raises his arms high and his shoulders pop as his fingers claw at the flaking paint of the porch’s ceiling and they too crackle. He pulls his arms and legs back in, scratches absently at his crotch, and smiles to himself.
“You look just like a pussy-cat there Trev. Just like a big kitty. Like that old cat them folks down the street used to have but lost a few years back. ‘Member that old kitty Trev?”
“Yup. Ain’t that that old tom that was always sniffin’ ‘round here after yer little Fluffy while she was still around right? Yup, I remember it. Used to pee in the garden didn’t it? Yup… Got its little tom-self killed didn’t it? Yup…”
“Yes, poor dear… Such a pretty kitty; had that big fluffy orange tail. Looked like a little tiger it did. Just like a little old tiger. You warm enough there hon?”
“Yup, don’t need no blanket yet. Not yet… Gonna need it soon though. Yup… Old sun’s goin’ down the mountain again. Goin’ back to sleep for a turn. Gonna get real cold tonight, real cold, I can feel it in my knees… Frost everything up real good. Old Fall’s comin’ ‘round again – can feel it in the air, smell it in the wind, see it in the stars. Gonna be a cold one this winter, ya can feel it comin’. Yup. Gonna be a cold one. Remember back in, when was it, sixty-eight? Had that old winter storm that kept us in the house for a week straight?”
“Remember? How could I forget? Spent most of the week in the bedroom trying to make us a baby we did…good times those were. Good times…”
“Yup. I’m…I’m still real sorry ‘bout that…”
“Sorry? For what? Oh, oh sweetie I know it wasn’t your fault. Some people just ain’t meant to have little ones is all hon. It’s God’s Will, and ya just can’t question God’s Will. Besides, we have each other…and our little visitors, we don’t need nothin’ else.”
“Yeah, we gots them visitors, I know, but a man should be able to give his woman his seed so they can make them a baby. It’s the way it was meant to be. Ain’t fair is all. Couldn’t give ya no child and then…and then that goddamn disease took…took my sight from me. Left me all but a goddamn cripple and it, it just ain’t right. I can’t give you no child, and now ya gotta take care’a me like I was some goddamn infant. Ain’t no way for a man to live. I mean, without no sight, and no way to give his woman a baby what is there for a man?”
“Sugar, oh, oh no hon, don’t say that, I hate to hear you be so down on yourself. God works in mysterious ways. You know you were always more than enough man for me. Here, take my hand, what do you feel? Remember these? Hmmmm, I bet you do. I bet you do…We may not be able to have children, my husband, but we can still try for the fun of it…”
“Ha, dammit woman yer still the vixen ain’t ya? Still wantin’ this man meat, heh. I never could resist these soft lovelies, or you. Not even after all these years. I’m still under yer spell. Tell me, sun gone down yet? I can’t feel it on my face no more so it has to be close to gone. I hate this, god do I hate this…the darkness in my head.”
“Mr. Sun is just puttin’ his head down for a nap dad. Do, do you miss it much old pop? The sun?”
“I miss all of it mother, I miss all of it. What I miss the most is seeing your face in the morning. I can still remember the first time I got to see that. You were lyin’ next to me on the floor of your mama’s place, naked, asleep, this beautiful, silly grin on your face and both of us still out of breath from the night before. God, I loved you as soon as I saw that grin, and I knew you were the one.”
“Oh, oh hon, you still remember that? Why we was still kids then. I remember that night too. My ma came home from her boyfriend’s and found us lyin’ there on her rug, our clothes all in heaps around the house and my lord was she furious. She beat the livin’ daylights outta you with that old broom of hers, you remember that? Chased you outta the place still naked if I recall. She never did like you…that I wanted you…”
“Eh, old witch that she was, heh. She was just jealous you was getting’ some action when she couldn’t even get a man to look at her unless she had her dress over her head and was sittin’ in the middle of the road.”
“Hello? Hey… Sara? Sara you still there? Where you go woman?”
“Yeah, I’m still here, just, just thinkin’…”
“’Bout what woman?”
“My ma. You. Us. Kids…”
“I’m sorry. Sorry about my shootin’ blanks, sorry that some goddamn disease took my sight…Sorry about a lot of things I s’pose. But I’m sorriest that I could never give you a child. You woulda been a great mama…”
“Oh love, all I ever needed or wanted was you. You know that don’t you? I never needed no baby to make me happy. I just… I always wonder if things woulda been different if we’d have had us some kids. Maybe God is punishing us. I dunno. But it ain’t you though sugar, it ain’t nothin’ you coulda done. Here, gimme yer hands, can you feel this, this smile, these lips, these cheeks, this throat, these breasts, this heart? It’s all for you. Because of you. I exist for you…”
“And I for you…”
She leans over to him and places her head on his thin chest. He runs a hand through her hair and puts his other arm around her shoulders. The sun falls further and the sound of crickets rises from around the small house like a siege. She smiles and her hand slips from his chest down to his belly, still smooth as it was when he was seventeen, and then lower and then he too smiles. He kisses her on her head softly and imagines her as she looked at seventeen. A life still ahead of her. A heart full of dreams, eyes full of wonder, and hands full of magic. And now, now it was all passed them both. All passed.
Suddenly there is a piercing shriek that comes from the back of the house, breaking his memories and bringing him back. And then there is another scream. And another. One that of a girl, the other that of a boy. Both very far from home and very scared.
“Now, now, don’t get yer dander up hon, I’ll see to ‘em. You just stay there and keep yer soldier at attention…”
“No, I’ll do this. Yer just gonna have to help me. There’re some things I can still do though and this is one of ‘em. Here, help me up…”
She stands slowly, her hips popping, joints grinding, and her wrinkled face closing in on itself as she grabs his arm and struggles to help him out of his rocker. He stands and stretches himself out, his arms rising high, and he shivers as the cold of the coming Fall bites at his bare ankles. Another scream cuts through the chill of the night but quickly gives way to crying and then to wheezing and coughs. He stands still a moment, the old rage building and building as the coughs finally give to the familiar mewls and whines.
“What them children need is some discipline, and I can do that father. Let me do it hon, set yerself down and I’ll be back in a jif, ‘kay? I can get myself back there and take care of this and will be back so I can finish what I started.”
“What them bastards need is to learn to behave, mother. These parents today are too damn easy on their kids. Treat their kids like they’re made of glass. They need to learn suffering. Children need to learn about suffering and what it means to respect your elders. God brought these children to our door for a reason, and that reason was to learn them what He showed us Himself. They ours now, they our children, just like the thirteen before them, and if these fail to learn then we show them the well, like the others, and we wait for God to grant us His wisdom. Now gimme my cane…good…now gimme the knife.”
“No, hon, let me…”
“Woman, gimme the knife, I’m gonna show them what suffering is…”
“Then I’m goin’ with ya father ‘cause this was a duty the Lord and Jesus gave us both, so let’s go.”
The woman grabs a long and rusty butcher knife from the windowsill and handed it to the man, the furry orange tail tied to the end of the knife sliding across his wrist. He runs the blade across the palm of one hand and feels a warm sensation run down the length of it and smiles as it drips to the porch. He was going to have to teach them a lesson. Like the others before them and the others that would come after them. Teach them manners. Suffering. Like he knew. Like they both did.
“Time to do the Lord’s work.”
She takes his arm and guides him to the door, through it, and towards the back of the house and the cellar where their students were waiting.