By Butch Ekstrom
During his final and most crazed days, whenever the decrepit Hyrum Craver beheld his grown and beguiled son, Michael, who thought himself resplendent in his once gleaming and pliant, now stained and tacky, white suit, the old man concluded that a spanking bright archangel had come from some dark and foul corner of heaven in a counterfeit plot to deceive him with pity and assuagement. Like many dry drunks and violence-driven men who have aged nigh unto oblivion, Hyrum felt like the world and its hordes of lousy inhabitants owed him, owed him a lot, for his mischances and god-forsaken adversities without end, particularly his marriage to a dastardly, dumbed down, and achromic spouse named Winnie for forty odd years (who passed years back while snoozing in the bony embrace of a sicklied dark force), not to mention his ill-conceived brood of screwball, outright loony, adult children. Immobilized and left wheezing in his disintegrating mind and body, before he subsided in full, old Hyrum schemed to stick it out in his clapboard cabin through the decisive throes and malaise, in the company of his three bachelor boys, through thick and thin, because these children owed him a great debt for their provided-for lives and, being poor, near destitute and illiterate to the core, and no longer durable enough to fist bash his way out of any conundrum, Hyrum acceded that there was no one, and nowhere else, on the planet to which he could turn, not even his obstinate and churlish pair of baby girls, one of them with whom Hy had fathered his elder grandson who seemed to decline in body mass and drift more off base in the head every day.
"The white angel might still save me," Hyrum thought as he wobbled in and out of feeble stages. But he had known little and had not conserved any Faith during his exhausting hard luck and strings of grinding setbacks, mostly the ones he could squarely and violently blame on his insufferable bosses, spouse Winnie, and his laggard offspring.
Agonizing and breath-burgling emphysema attacks wracked the father's aged constitution. Once Hyrum convinced the boys, Allen and Darren, that he would never, never tolerate imprisonment in a money-grubbing hospital or Medicaid pit -- like the relegation of an infirm senior hound dog to those cut-throats in a rescues' kennel -- shadowy and fouled by age old moans and groans, and incessantly smelling of amber, acidic body discharges lying wet in scattered bedpans. Allen and Darren at last ceased their sensible, if not purely affectionate and sacrificial pleadings, with Daddy, while Michael knelt in a corner to pray and contributed little to conversations. The challenged pair of siblings knew that there was a tawdry chunk of life insurance money, not that many dollars, but in vain fantasies it augured like a million bucks glimmering on a threadbare horizon; a paltry Social Security death benefit from the government; and maybe some other valuable pluses, presents under an undernourished and mottled holiday tree, which they could only imagine: perhaps an astonishing inheritance of goods or currency from unknown family straight out of God's mysterious bounty and goodness, or a stash of money long bagged and secreted that only Winnie or Hyrum could reveal and release, or such as eternal relief from the undodgeable burden of parental caretaking, Kentucky albatross-like -- so, life without Daddy anymore.
"Daddy, you hold on. You gonna make it, if you hold on," Allen and Darren repeated over Hyrum's sick bed several times a day. They sometimes patted his hands that folded together on top of the soiled, yellowed sheet and odorous ancient military blanket. They sought to sound convincing.
During early morning and late each afternoon, in the dimness of his emotional state, the father would watch the white-suited archangel rise from his kneeling post, brush particles off the knees of his pants, with a shaky hand straighten the elastic band over the right bicep of his suit jacket, lean over Hyrum, make the sign of the cross on himself, and and then rub a small circle with his pulsing thumb slathered with oil on his father's forehead.
This felt, each time it happened, like an affront. But would God's messenger, a pure archangel, cause him any harm?, Hyrum wondered.
The earnest but creepy interloper, who invariably needed a close shave, whose otherworldly right hand smeared with the chrism shook with palsy, whose eyeglasses shrouded his dark and inset eyeballs, whispered to Hyrum conspiratorially, "Go be with God, old man."
Hyrum gasped for oxygen. Lord, bring me peace, for I am a dying servant, and I have served you without fail and without complaint, you know that to be the truth, he prayed. Hyrum feared his dying breath, knew it would commence soon, and the old man replayed the inevitable and morose pantomimicry.
"Daddy, you gonna need anything?," Darren would blurt late every evening.
These were the invariable, last words uttered among the assembly of Cravers just before the final lamp in the clapboard cabin, its mute glow illumining patches of the tamped down dirt under their sock feet and the deteriorated, meager furnishings that had not been dusted or polished since Winnie passed, got extinguished.
No answer came forth. Hyrum was off to the land of nod once the night's food got picked up and put away in the old icebox. Michael felt his way to his silent, little room, and would remain unassailed in his coveted retreat, even if he had to climb out his cracked window to relieve himself in the yard, during the night. Allen and Darren hastily closeted themselves in their beds so they could talk far into the night amidst their littered roomette, every inch of its coarse space overwhelmed by thick and accreting layers of repellent detritus from their childhood and adolescence and recent acquisitions, or plug in their separate pearl iPods with earplugs, before snorting and snoring in tandem, bodies side by side, faces bent toward each other, until another day in the Commonwealth dawned.
+++ +++ +++
Second thing in the ramshackle cabin every morning -- since Michael, the soundless creeper, the white-bedecked spirit, emerged first from his dark-of-night withdrawal, a spiritual stealth artist still a bit mussed and bleary from a long sleep, or like a penniless mime roughed up while rectifying sinful street spectacles and do-gooder despairing, in from the shadows of some big city, would pray over his parent, at whom he would stare with intensity -- two displeasing and unbridled howls sounded inside the main room.
Allen and Darren, resembling two overused and chunky sleeping bags stuffed and bumpy with over-ripe and castoff fruits from local fields, rushed hand in hand into the main cabin space, and disrupted everyone. The mop top boys, in their sick humor rudeness, pretended to be burnished fire trucks -- with their sirens blaring at 10 out of 10 volume settings -- to set the scene for the breaking of another Kentucky morn.
Yet on this occasion Michael who had knelt by Hyrum's pallet looked pale and stricken. Michael had placedhis hands on the edge of his father's bed, a hesitant outreach to check on and perhaps comfort one abrasive parent who had always been there but now was starved for breath, rigid, still as the deepest nighttime, and thus missing.
To Be Continued
I'm still here, but yet I'm gone
I don't play guitar or sing my songs
They never defined who I am
The man that loves you 'til the end
You're the last person I will love
You're the last face I will recall
And best of all, I'm not gonna miss you.
Not gonna miss you.
I'm never gonna hold you like I did
Or say I love you to the kids
You're never gonna see it in my eyes
It's not gonna hurt me when you cry
I'm never gonna know what you go through
All the things I say or do
All the hurt and all the pain
One thing selfishly remains
I'm not gonna miss you
I'm not gonna miss you