I wasn't expecting him to be waiting outside, but there he was sitting in the blue and white lawn chair he had placed in the middle of the barren lawn outside the front door of his small gray apartment. He was basking in the shade of tall chinaberry tree. I knew he hated that fucking tree, and justifiably so because it showered that scraggly lawn of his with thousands of small, hard, yellow chinaberries which made it hard for him to walk, him having only one leg and all.
Many times, I heard him curse that tree so long and hard that I fully expected that one day a lightning bolt would tear through the clouds and strike the tree rendering it even more useless.
He was dressed as usual in a loose fitting pair of blue jeans held up by a pair of red suspenders, and a blue long sleeve work shirt buttoned up over a white wife beater under shirt. I noticed that both his live foot and the fake foot on the end of his prosthetic wore black loafers with velcro in place of strings.
Bad Bob, that's what all his friends, those who were left anyway, always called my dad. He had some rude tendencies; I ain't gonna lie. He had done a short stretch in the penitentiary for beating a guy senseless because the guy had called him a liar, but if, at one time, he had been two sticks of dynamite tied together, life had certainly worn him down to a tiny red firecracker with a damp fuse.
I pulled up to the curb and he got in. "Damn it, boy. I thought I told you to be here at ten."
I pointed to the clock in the dash. "It is ten, Pop. Ten on the dot."
This made him a little flustered, "Damn, don't you know nothing? I need to be at the doctor at ten."
"Well excuse me for living. You said ten and here the fuck I am!"
Anger sparked up in his piercing blue eyes like a million times before. Those damn eyes were always the most frightening thing about him. I had nightmares growing up; the monsters that scared me in my sleep always had the same blue eyes.
My answer made him chuckle and then raise a bony finger and point it toward me. " Son, I knowed you doing me a favor, but you better not forget that I ain't never been above taking something like this here cane and knocking the sass right out your smart ass."
That made me laugh, "All right, Old Man, shut the damn door and let's go; we already late."
He rolled down the window and put his right arm out like he always rode. He was wearing his round wire rimmed glasses and was staring at the outside world like it was on revolving movie screen. The sight made me remember how much he loved the movies, particularly stars like Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen. He would cuss you out good and proper if you tried to tell him that he tried to copy those guy's mannerisms. As a kid, I always thought that he wanted to be perceived as man's man. It took me a while to forgive him enough to realize that it wasn't a matter of perception. My dad is and always was nothing but hard sinew, tightly stretched tendons and bone.
The forgiveness part came because of how he treated my mom. She was a fragile woman who loved her kids beyond measure. He aged her. Wore her down to skin and bone and almost nothing. Between him and the act of protecting her kids from the ravages of the world that he created around us, she had lost almost everything there had once been of her true self, only the will to put her children up on drier ground remained.
When we pulled up on the corner of Cedar and Main, Pop leaned out the window. He had saw a old lady friend coming out of one of the storefronts on Main.
"Goddamnit, Jeannie. Your ass still looks good but it's getting soft. I could see it jiggle from way over here. Them there are yoga pants you're wearing. Girl, you need to do some damn yoga!"
Mortified, I drove off before she could answer, but I looked back and saw her laughing and flipping us off at the same time.
"Damn, Pop! Don't be screaming shit like that out my window. How you even come up with stuff like that?"
He laughed, "Just telling it like it is, Junior. Besides, Jeannie probably appreciates the advice."
"Yeah, that's why she was flipping us off."
Pop chuckled again, "Oh that. She's been doing that ever since I broke her heart. It started out angry, now it's just the way that she tells me that she still loves me."
"Pop, is there anything about your God forsaken life that you actually regret?"
I saw that the question hit him right between the eyes, and he flinched for just a second. For as long as I had known him, my dad had never, ever looked backwards. He even told me once that he had taken the rearview mirror out of the first car he owned. When I asked him why, he surprised me with his answer.
"A old man I knew, Guy Mitchell, used to be a Professor back in Arkansas, once told me a story about a mule sitting equal distance between two bales of hay. He said that damn fool mule couldn't make his mind up which bale to eat and starved to death. There's only one way to go, Son. Forward. And because life is hard on your ass trying to run you down you gotta move fast, so you got no time to sit cry in your fucking beer."
"Regrets, Pop? You got any?"
He looked out the window as the town he had lived in for over sixty years flew by like the moving back drops in the old Western movies he loved so much. After a minute, he turned back and looked me in the eyes. He wore thick lenses, and they magnified his eyes so that I could see that his bottom lids were damning the flow of the only water I had ever seen in those eyes.
This man had cracked jokes at my mom's funeral. He complained so much about her cooking, that I had to threaten to kick his ass if he didn't shut up. It was only now though, in sudden flash of insight, no doubt helped along by the shock of seeing those damn tears welling up, that I realized the jokes and the complaining was all facade. I knew that he was hurting, maybe even feeling guilty as we sat there by the side of my mother's grave.
"You can't live life the way I"ve done and just up and start feeling guilty or ashamed. It wouldn't be honest. My old man use to beat my ass every day. Right up till the time I took his belt away and turn the tables on him. The way I see things, I only have two regrets anyway."
Pop stopped mid thought. I waited and waited and the answer didn't seem to be forthcoming. "And?"
He then gave me the saddest look I had ever seen, "I regret in taking the pretty offa your mama. She was the prettiest girl in this county at one time. . . . . .then she had the bad judgement to take up with me." He chuckled sadly, "I used to parade her up and down this very street like I was toting peacocks."
With that, he grew silent and turned and looked back out the window. I could tell though that what he was seeing in his head sure wasn't really out there now.
After a minute, he turned back around, "You know why your mom left me?"
"You mean other than you acting like a dick all the time?"
He ignored the jab, " When your grandpa got sick, we took him in and let him live in that little house we owned that face the alley. One night, a neighbor cross the alley called and said John had got up to go to there bathroom and had fallen on the floor and was lying in his filth and couldn't get up. Your mom tried to wake me to go help her get her dad off the floor, and I wouldn't get up."
"Why the fuck wouldn't you get up?"
"It wasn't that I wouldn't have."
"That's what why means. Pop. What was your reasoning."
"We didn't hate each other, nothing like that. He was almost and talk all raspy like I do. We always had a hard time communicating. We were two different people. He was a deeply committed, Bible loving Christian, and there I was gambling an drinking all the time. I never felt real comfortable in his presence, I never felt more like a sinner than I did around old John."
"Your dad was Bible man too."
"Yeah, he have a drink sometime if Ma wasn't around. He was the one who taught me how to play poker. It was different."
"Well, what happened?"
"I was drunk and tired. Me and your mom had gotten into a big row when I got home. I feel up to feeling any more sinful than I already felt."
"That's fuck up, Pop. You could've helped you case if you had gone and helped her."
"Yeah. I know. Coulda done a lot of things different in my life, but didn't."
We drove in silence for most of the rest of the way with him looking out of the window. It was only when we got within two blocks of the doctor's office that I asked another question.
"Pop, you said you had a second regret?"
The words came out simply, hard, fast and resigned, "My greatest regret is turning that belt on my daddy. I should never have done that."
"That was worse than what you did to mom?"
"There's a story that goes with it. Let's just say your Grandpa Simon could act like the God of the Old Testament his own damn self, and I was a lot younger then."
Inside the car, there was complete silence. The only noise coming from the road outside and the wind flying by his window. As we drew close to the doctor's office, a drab looking gray cement building on the corner by the park, Pop rolled up the window. We drew up to the curb, and he wasted no time opening the door and getting out.
"You never told me why you seeing the doctor."
"Well today, Doc Jones going to tell me I'm dying, Son." He balanced on his good leg, clutching the top of the door with his right hand.
"Let me put it to you this way, Son. The doctor's going to tell me I'm dying again."
"You want me to go in with you?"
"Naw, no need for both of us getting bad news."
My dad shut the door and started up the sidewalk, but he only took a couple of steps before he turned back to car and tapped on the window.
I rolled it down, and he leaned in and spoke sharply, "You gonna wait?"
I looked up into his blue eyes. "I just might surprise you and be here when you get out."
He laughed and then raised his middle finger and flipped me off and then started up the sidewalk for the door.