by Marla Cantrell
On the day I stated goodbye to Kenner, we noticed an previous woman we’d gone to high school with a hundred years ago. She nonetheless wore pants so tight you might virtually see paradise. “Some of the best things don’t never change,” Kenner stated, after which he waved her over to our desk at the Earl’s down on Principal Road. She had hair the colour of apricots. She had rings on her thumbs. She seemed like one thing you’d see at the circus is what I assumed, however Kenner informed her she seemed cunning, and she or he smiled and fluttered her eyelashes. And after we stated our farewells and left the diner, we saw a screech owl in a tree in broad daylight, its wings unfold out regardless that it didn’t try and fly.
“Not a good sign,” Kenner sad. There were tales about seeing owls in the daytime. Previous superstitions stated an owl noticed in the vibrant mild of day was really the soul of a clever individual come to visit, or that huge and sometimes comfortable modifications have been on the method.
“Probably nothing,” I stated, and Kenner shook his head like he didn’t consider me. My previous Chevy truck had a spidery break in the windshield, a buckled tailgate, and once we acquired to it, I climbed behind the steering wheel. Once we acquired in, Kenner stated, “Let’s not go home just yet, Bird.”
I checked out my buddy. His arms seemed like a automotive that birds had messed on after eating a fence row of blackberries—purple from his wrist to above his elbow the place the sleeves of his cotton shirt hit. It was the blood thinner Kenner took that made his skin look that approach. That drugs was nothing more than a bandaid, although. I was there at his final appointment, when the physician confirmed us a picture of Kenner’s coronary heart, an entire two-thirds of it gone to pot, not working any more durable than a society woman who received carried round in all places she went.
The sight of Kenner brought about my very own coronary heart to clutch. I stated, “Got nowhere to be Kenner. I’ll go anywhere you want.”
The truth was my wife, Ocie, expected me again. She needed to go to the image present to see a film a few canine that had supernatural powers. I stated, “Let me make one call,” and pulled out my cellphone, massive as my wallet, and gave Ocie the information. She referred to as me a name I deserved to be referred to as after which hung up.
Me and Kenner drove previous the grade faculty the place we met in first grade. I was simply three months younger than Kenner, but already he was more than a foot taller. He was a shy cuss, and his overalls hit him above the ankle. That type of factor happened all the time again then, what with youngsters’ hand-me-downs getting passed round quicker than gossip. Nonetheless, he appeared to assume poorly of himself for it, walking hunched over like an apology. It wasn’t till we teamed up in the schoolyard, chasing the women with grasshoppers we’d caught close to the fencerow, that I first saw Kenner smile.
Kenner’s thoughts should have been sitting in close to about the similar spot in time. “You remember Mrs. Woodruff, in first grade?” he asked. I advised him I did.
“I sat on her lap on day when I was burnt up with fever,” Kenner stated. “She took me home in her car at lunchtime, and my mama liked to have stroked out because the house was a mess like it always was. Too many kids to take care of and Daddy always gone. Mrs. Woodruff smelled like rose petals on a spring morning. I thought she was the prettiest woman I ever saw.”
“It was that red hair,” I stated. “And the starched white blouses. Our mamas never dressed like that.”
“You remember that time we tied old Miss Measles to her chair when she fell asleep? We were in fifth grade,” Kenner stated, and he laughed, his belly rolling when he did. “I took a licking for that, Bird, but I’d do it again just to see her face when she woke up.”
“We both took a licking for that, Kenner, as I recall. And then I got licked again when I got home.”
Kenner’s hand was gripping the deal with that hung above the passenger door. He seemed out the window, his gaze turned towards the signal at the Pentecostal church that stated ‘What Happens in Vegas is Forgiven Here.’ I assumed he was going to mention it; he had a bushelful of ideas about the downfall of modern-day religion. As an alternative, he stated, “Take me to the Hill.” The Hill was what we referred to as the previous Arkansas State Tuberculosis Sanatorium, closed since the 1970s.
I took the switchback roads across the hills and valleys, and the grass was so inexperienced it appeared painted on. This magnificence is the secret of Arkansas, a state that will get suffering from greater locations with skyscrapers and horn-blasting visitors. Our land is as fairly as a portray hanging in that huge art museum in France.
Kenner stated, “My Granddaddy Box had the TB. Got down to a hundred pounds eventually. Coughed so much he could hardly talk. He said when somebody died, the nurses would come by and shut all the patients’ doors, but that didn’t keep you from hearing the gurney, wheels wobbling, rolling down the marble hallways. When the empty gurney swung back by again, the wheels never shimmied.” Kenner seemed out the window. “The weight of the body and whatnot,” he stated. “The weight of what had just happened. I wonder if Granddaddy was thinking of that Gurney when he died.”
I checked out Kenner then. His mouth was turned down. He rubbed his eyes and breathed exhausting.
“That place was a masterpiece, though,” I stated. “It was like a little town all on its own. The library. The dairy full of black and white milk cows. The rolling hills. The air spiked with honeysuckle in the summer. That main building, five stories plus a basement. It looked like a piece of art.”
“I snuck Granddaddy cigarettes when I visited. It was all I could think to do.”
Once we received to the edge of the sanatorium, Kenner modified his thoughts. “Bird,” he stated, “I don’t want to go.”
I turned the truck around. Kenner still gripped that handle. “I got an idea,” I stated, and pressed exhausting on the fuel pedal. The previous truck shook, after which it kicked in, and I received it as much as forty miles an hour. Kenner stated, “Now you’re cooking with propane!” and shifted in order that his free hand rested on the dash.
We made it to the Last Stop bar by two in the afternoon. There were no other clients there. I obtained us two beers, and we sat in the nook by the jukebox. I dropped in a quarter and played “Make the World Go Away,” by Eddy Arnold. Kenner closed his eyes and sang along, his voice like a thing dropped from heaven by mistake.
When the music ended, Kenner sipped his beer. “I forgot how good it was,” he stated. And I stated, “The beer?” (It tasted like flaked cleaning soap because of my heart drugs.) And he stated, “No, this whole dang planet.”
Kenner’s hair was white, and he wore it combed back. You can see the comb marks and his pink scalp underneath. He stated, “One time I got sunburned so bad my skin was peeling off. That was back when I was framing houses for Goose, and I’d taken my shirt off in the heat. When I got home, Everline cussed me blind and stripped my clothes off and made me get in the tub. The water was lukewarm, but it felt like ice water. She sat on the side of the tub with an A&W root beer mug, and she dunked water on my head for a long time. She had a Glen Campbell album going, and every once in a while she’d sing along.” Kenner appeared away. “Happiness stares you in the face when you’re young, and you don’t even recognize it.”
“She must’ve stole that mug from the A&W,” I stated. “You couldn’t by one back then.”
“You know it!” Kenner stated, and he hooked his thumbs in his suspenders like he’d just gained one thing. Then he stated, “There ain’t a day goes by that I don’t miss her.”
After we completed the beers, the bartender requested us if we needed another. Kenner appeared around at the empty tables, the bar stools still discovered over like fallen timber at the bar’s edge, and he stated, “We like to drink where there’s a little more spirit. This place is drier than happy hour at the Betty Ford Clinic.”
Once we acquired back in the truck, he stated, “Let’s go stick our toes in some water.”
And so I drove out to Deerbone Creek, to the low-water spot down a rutted street so tough the truck jostled us like cats in a tow sack. A breeze was swaying the timber, and the solar was heat as a wood range in winter. It was late afternoon, perhaps a half hour or so till the solar would go down. We knew we didn’t have much time, so we acquired out of the truck as quick as we might, inched down the small bank collectively, holding onto one another’s shoulder.
We sat on a spot beneath a willow tree that leaned out over the water, easing ourselves down little by little till our butts have been protected on the ground. We took off our footwear after which our socks and rolled up our pants. Our legs have been shiny white, our ft ugly.
“Mama used to chew the bark of the willow for her rheumatism,” I stated. “It was like aspirin.”
“Willows don’t live long enough,” Kenner stated. He seemed up. The undersides of the lengthy green leaves have been silvery white. “But how long is long enough when you think about it?”
I began to reply, however then I noticed it was not likely a query for me. I felt the leaves, they usually have been silk ribbons in my hand. We scooted nearer to the creek and caught our ft in, the cold a jolt by way of our previous bones.
Kenner used my shoulder to push himself up, and he stood in the water, lifting his face to the fading solar. I stood myself, there on the bank, able to catch him if he started to fall. When he didn’t, I joined him. In a minute, he stated, “You remember Tank?”
Tank was killed in a automotive accident once we have been all in sixth grade. I stated in fact I did, and Kenner went on. “He was an Indian, but I don’t know if you can say that now.” He frowned. “I feel you say Native American.
“Anyway,” Kenner stated, “I spent the night at Tank’s house one time. His mama made dumplings out of grapes, and they were about as good as anything I’d ever eaten. The next morning, before the sun come up, I seen him from the bedroom window. He was sitting cross-legged on the ground, a few yards away, with his hands raised up above his head. He stayed that way till the sun was up good and proper.”
“What was he doing?”
“He was willing the sun to come up. Said he did it every morning. Said he willed the moon to come up every night, even when the clouds covered it up. Somehow he knew when it was settled in for the night. He’d learnt how to do it from one elder or another. It was one of the best things I ever saw, Bird, and I’ve been to Talladega to see Bill Elliott race.”
“I can’t believe Tank died so young. First funeral I ever went to. What did you think when you heard the news?”
“I thought the sun might never rise again.”
“I thought it meant the rest of us could go at any minute, but then I was always thinking about myself,” I stated, and Kenner stated, “You were always too hard on yourself.”
In the creek, you can see tadpoles swimming in packs. Kenner rubbed his arms like he was chilly, although it was a scorching Arkansas afternoon. Even the solar dipping lower and lower towards the earth didn’t cool things off. I held my right hand out, and he took it, and we walked out of the green water. When he sat again down beneath the willow, I dried his ft with my own socks and put his dark socks back on his ft. I rolled them down—he was the only individual I ever knew who rolled his socks that approach — and I tugged his footwear back on and tied them.
Inside the truck, with the windows down, you would still hear the creek dashing along. You can hear the frogs that seemed like an engine making an attempt to start out. Kenner leaned towards the seat and sighed. He had a liver spot by his left eye and a scar that ran throughout his cheek. I knew the map of his face as well as I did my very own. My spouse Ocie didn’t assume males knew easy methods to be associates, and principally she was proper. But one way or the other me and Kenner had figured it out.
I turned on the radio. The new hopped-up nation music was enjoying, the singer sounding like a beat dog. I obtained again out of the truck and picked up a few crushed beer cans I’d seen earlier, close to the willow tree, and tossed them in the truck mattress. The sun was only a skinny orange line on the horizon by then. I stated, “What do you want to do now?” however Kenner had his eyes closed. I stated his identify. I stated it louder. Then once more, virtually yelling it. I jostled his shoulder. Nonetheless nothing. That’s once I knew he was gone.
Right here’s what happened once I stated his identify for the third time. Darkness fell, not like it usually did, little by little, however hastily. I might see the numbers on the radio dial glow yellow in the charcoal mild of the truck cab. I might make out the form of the willow tree, but simply barely. I appeared up. The celebs danced above us. The moon shot mild across the rippling creek water. Somewhere on the different aspect of the water, a screech owl referred to as out, so mournful it appeared like wailing.
I wiped my tears and obtained maintain of myself after a minute or two. I stored my hand on Kenner’s shoulder all the approach to the hospital, where I knew there was nothing anyone might do.
Once I think about that day by way of the smudgy lens of time, I see it clearer. I figure Kenner was seeing Tank sitting in the clouds as he took his final breath, Tank’s palms held at shoulder-height, palms down, making the sun sink low in the heavens, as straightforward as a boy tugging the string of a yo-yo. And then Tank lifted these arms, calling out the moon, this time only for Kenner, getting it proper the place it belonged, so even and steady no one on earth would see it as magic. But I knew it was. I guarantee you I did.
Marla Cantrell is an award-winning writer, editor and writing teacher who lives in Arkansas. She’s had greater than 100 brief tales revealed in magazines and anthologies. Her work in Southern fiction was recognized by her residence state in 2014 when she gained an Arkansas Arts Council Fellowship Award in Brief Fiction.