Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Original Short Short

It’s a hot day in Memphis. The kind of hot where you can’t remove enough layers to stay cool. But me and dad aren’t stopping, no sir, not stopping for anything. This is the first time I’ve seen him smile since Oliver died last fall. Dad was always fond of Oliver. He was the favorite son you could say. Oliver was of the same mold as dad, born with a blue collar around his neck. Calloused hands, tougher than the very earth he dug. But today is about us.

The tank’s full, concert tickets are in the glove box, and dad doesn’t have much to say. Music is the only real passion we’ve ever shared. He figures we ought not change that at this point. The keys jingle with every pothole I hit crossing the border to Arkansas.
“These damn roads ain’t gotten a lick better since I was your age,” says dad. “They’ve been workin’ on ’em for 30-odd years now.”
“Yeah dad, I don’t know what’s taking them,” I say, going along with his small-talk. The sweat is starting to bead on dad’s forehead.
“Can’t you get this thing any colder? Forty-thousand bucks and the thing can’t even keep an old man cold.”
“It’s 105° out there dad, there’s only so much it can do.”
Dad had always scoffed at the idea of luxury cars. He always had his trusty American work trucks. Dad mumbles incoherently about the heat once more, then reaches for the radio. The Avett Brothers serenades us over the speakers. One of the bands we are on our way to see. Thankfully they can engage dad better than I.

I wonder which brother is better

My eyebrows raise.

Which one our parents love the most

I’m afraid to look over at dad. Our way out of conversation is turning its back on us.

I sure did get in lots of trouble
They said to let the other go

Dad musters up a faux cough, indicating that he too feels our middle ground collapsing.

A tear fell from my father’s eyes
I wondered what my dad would say

I discreetly start to reach for the dial. I can’t do this right now. This is our trip to enjoy as father and son, even if it is in silence.

He said I love you
And I’m proud of you both, in so many different ways

As I finally touch the dial, I notice it’s too late. His hand is already firmly pressing the off button. Our eyes meet. A million scenarios run through my head, and none of them involves an enjoyable car ride.
“Franklin…” dad says in a stern voice. I look into his eyes, not knowing what to think. “Franklin…”
I’ve never seen dad speechless before now. Is this year-upon-year of guilt and negligence catching up to him?
My eyes snap back to the road. Only a second too late.

Always remember, there is nothing worth sharing
Like the love that let us share our name.

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