A Son’s Love
He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes.Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell. Proverbs 13:24
The two-blade ceiling fan slowly turned above the table, tired like the room’s early morning occupants. Two a.m. The deputies and volunteers had worked under a full moon until soft white clouds blanketed her face. They’d been unearthing bodies since midnight. They’d found three headless ones. Morley had said that’s all they’d find. Shallow graves. He’d said he’d gotten tired shoveling, too.
“I don’t think I’ll need a lawyer,” Morley began. “Thanks for askin’. Wouldn’t mind havin’ somethin’ to drink, I’m parched.” Beads of sweat covered his face and hairy forearms.
“We’ll need you to waive your right to counsel on tape,” Sheriff T.B. Lester said. He motioned for one of his deputies to fix Morley some tea.
“Even if I’d a thunk I’d done somethin’ wrong, I wouldn’t hire me an attorney. They all just pigs without lipstick.” Nobody laughed. “‘Sides, ignorance of the law is on my side.” Again no one saw any humor in the situation. Morley started to fidget on the metal bench his bottom completely covered.
“Something wrong before you start?” the Sheriff asked.
“Need to use your facilities,” Morley said, grimacing, “Numbah two. Sorry.”
“I don’t think he’ll fit inside the jail stalls, Sheriff,” Deputy Smith said, “’sides he’d plug up the plumbing and you know our maintenance budget is tight.”
“Take him around back and have him use one of those construction Port-a-Johns. Give him a flashlight. Stay with him, Deputy.”
“Right, Sheriff,” Smith answered, lumbering Morley out of the interrogation room. They returned after a half hour, more or less. Morley re-seated himself and put his hands, palms down, on the table, facing Sheriff Lester. He didn’t look him straight in the eye. Instead he looked down and turned his head behind himself every so often, like he thought someone was sneaking up behind him, looking to smack him or do him some harm. This was a nervous habit Morley had developed as a teen.
“I don’t have a college education. I haven’t been taught the finer points of carin’ for and buryin’ one’s kin. Always done tried my best for pappy, momma, and sisters, too. We were a close family, very close, and up until this past week, we always ate supper together.” Morley paused and asked, “Can I get a recordin’ of what I say, and listen in to it?”
“Sure,” Sheriff Lester answered. He wondered whether Morley was literate. He let his question pass.
“I hadn’t checked on pappy right away after I’d arrived back home. I’d first fixed me some fried chicken, mashed taters with gravy, butter beans, sweet corn, corn bread, and some sweet tea to wash it all down. A body’s got to eat. Pappy and the others always enjoyed my cookin’. If he was here this minute, he’d tell you my fried chicken was the best in Robbins County. He would’ve eaten at least two helpin’s. I take that back. Since he hadn’t eaten all day, he would’ve been starved. He would’ve had more than two. No telling how many more, but more than two.
“I hadn’t left him that long. I’d gone fishin’ down by the creek. Didn’t catch anythin’ and fell asleep. The skeeters and noseeums woke me up. Pappy and the others never liked fishin’. They liked eatin’ and sleepin’ though. They’d do that plenty while I cared for ‘em. But if I made one mistake?” He paused and looked up at his audience, then continued.
“Sheriff, you remember that big leather belt that hung above pappy’s bed?” Sheriff Lester nodded. “I’d felt it more than once. Just a few accidents I’d had when I was younger, which were no ways my fault.” Morley looked up and glanced over his shoulder. No one moved. No one had moved.
“Being eldest, I raised everyone. Pappy was a long-distance trucker. Momma ‘companied him often when he was on the road, expectin’ or not. Never got a red cent for child rearin’. I probably wasn’t the best sitter in the world, but you get what you pay for. They paid me nothin’.
“I’d get blamed for every accident. I may have been the eldest, but sister Gertrude—we called her Trudy—was always the largest. When we took trips in the family station wagon when it used to work, she had to sit next to the window or she got car sick. A spoiled brat she was. Pappy favored her a lot. I should’ve had some rights as firstborn. At least that’s what they said the Good Book said. But no, I had to sit between her and brother Earl, who was always gassin’ up with his window closed. Not at all fair. I should’ve gotten the window seat once in awhile. Was it my fault Trudy’s door became accidently unlocked? Was it my fault when it broke open by itself, and Trudy fell out into the road? I don’t think I should have been held responsible for her injuries. We weren’t traveling that fast. Why’d I have to get strapped?”
Sheriff Lester did not answer Morley. He looked at him and nodded in empathy, silently encouraging him to continue with his story.
“Was lockin’ your sisters in the barn on a Saturday afternoon for a few hours, a crime? Earl, Chubb, and I wanted to play baseball. We were young bucks after all. The girls wanted to play house. There were plenty of empty ‘frigerators and freezers, which pappy kept for I have no idear why. They could climb around in ’em in the dark. How was I s‘posed to know they would lock themselves in one? Was I responsible for their every mistake? We boys only played until it got twilight. ‘Sides, Trudy started breathin’ before the doctor said she’d had any permanent brain damage. I let her have the window seat on the next two family trips without complaint. Still, pappy whipped me good.
“I inherited my forgetfulness from pappy. One winter, he left momma outside a St. Helena, Montana truck stop. He remembered he’d forgotten her after several hours. He said the radio’s country music had distracted him. She’d lost three toes to frostbite. Don’t know she ever forgave him. But she didn’t give him a beating.
“Pappy got a burr in his saddle when I had them play “hold yer breath” in the woods. He’d come home and found brothers and sisters hangin’ from a couple of oak trees. I would’ve cut them down before he showed up. Earl was winnin’ if we’d kept on. Agin, they had no permanent physical damage. Just some bruised necks. After that one, I couldn’t sit down for a good week.” Morley glanced side to side, flinching his head.
Sheriff Lester looked around the room at his deputies and then interrupted Morley, “Mr. Sandwich, would you mind telling us what happened recently, the events leading up to your daddy’s death?”
“Where was I before I went off course with the accidents?”
“You came home and…” The Sheriff waited for Morley to finish his sentence.
“I fixed supper, then I knocked on pappy’s door and there was no answer. I couldn’t even hear him snorin’ as he would when he’d be in a deep, deep sleep. So I opened the door a crack, because if he was sleepin’, I didn’t want to wake him. He’d get real mean and try to use that strap of his on me. I remember sayin’ in this voice, ‘Pappy… Pappy, you awake? You want supper?’ You hear how I’ve lowered my voice? That’s how I said what I said. Whenever I’d talk to him, I did so real respectful like.”
“I could see he wasn’t movin’. He was restin’ on his bed with his big brown horse-eyes open, staring straight up at the ceiling fan circling around, like he was counting its revolutions. He was still in his candy-striped pajamas. He always loved those PJs. He didn’t sweat as much in them. One hundred percent cotton. I’d bought them years ago from Riverbank’s Big Men’s Clothing Outlet over in Adkinson. Pappy said if he’d had his wish, he’d just as soon die in those PJs as he would his flannel shirt and undies.
“As I neared his face, I put my ear up to his nose real close. He wasn’t snorin’ for certain. Didn’t take a college graduate to tell he was acting just like momma and sisters this past week. It’s been a week. Accidents. I tell you. Accidents aplenty.
“We didn’t have health insurance. We didn’t have life insurance to pay for burials. So I sat on the edge of pappy’s bed and started to think what I should do. I hadn’t eaten for hours. I was starved. I went back into the kitchen and got my supper, and came back in to pappy’s bedroom, and sat on the edge of his bed, and fixed on eatin’ and thinkin’. I had a mind he was playin’ possum as a trick or somethin’. Maybe he’d wake up and scare me while my mouth was full of taters. Then I’d spit ‘em out and make a mess, and he’d whip me for that. But no, he just kept staring at the fan go round and round. He didn’t even twitch when a fly or two landed on his nose and ear. That got me to decidin’, ‘cause flies had always molested him more than me, I’d say.
“I made up my mind then and there–on my own I might add–that I would call you, Sheriff. I knew you’d know what to do. I voted for you every time you’d run for office. I hadn’t ever called you for momma and sisters because we lived so far out in the woods. I knew y’all have enough work to do every day to be bothering with po’ country folks like us. You’ve real murders and crimes to tend to.”
“Mr. Sandwich, how long was it between the time you entered your daddy’s room and then called us?”
“I was fixin’ to tell you, Sheriff. I don’t know exactly. I don’t wear a watch,” he said, holding up his arms so the Sheriff could verify there wasn’t a band which could fit his wrists.
“Go on,” Sheriff Lester said. They’d brought several pitchers of ice cold sweet tea in for Morley. There was no air conditioning in the room. In the August heat and humidity, a sweat puddle was forming underneath Morley as he talked.
“Bless your heart, Sheriff,” Morley said, “I was parched.” He put both hands around one pitcher and drank out of it like a giant. Then he set it down and started his narration again.
“I figured it’d take your boys some time to get to pappy’s place since they’d have to travel the new access road. Gave me some time to finish a second helping. Didn’t have any idear why I was so hungry. I decided on my own your boys might be hungry too, so I fixed us all a pecan pie and put coffee on to brew.
“I sat on the front porch waitin’ for your deputies, chewin’, and waitin’ on the pie to get done. Those two,” he said, pointing to Deputy Smith and Deputy Harvell, who were standing next to Sheriff Lester, “can tell you the rest of the story.” To Be Continued… First published in Escape Your World Anthology, 2015