Richard woke up with a start.  He had been dreaming about his daddy, and how the family was at the beach and his daddy had gone around to all of the rides before he could find one that Richard would ride.   Richard had been crying in the dream, but once he got on the bumper cars he had a great time and all was right with the world.  But when he woke he realized it was just a dream, and his daddy was dead, and he was in the bedroom with his grandpa.  The old man was standing in front of the old bed where he slept and he was slinging around his little sharp pocket knife.  The boy rolled out of the little single bed across the room from the old man and stood up looking at him.  His grandpa was eighty five and still strong, his arms still stringy and muscles still standing out in his legs.  He was wearing white long johns and he had a scowl on his face.

“What’s wrong, Grandpa,” the boy asked, looking at the way the old man was moving the sharp knife around.

“Boy, I tol’ you to quit bothering me, and you won’t listen.  I reckon if you feel this little knife on you you’ll stop.”  It was summertime and it was already daylight outside.  Richard could tell that it was not so awful late ‘cause the pink hibiscus bushes were still open.  He could hear his momma in the kitchen so he hollered out to her.  She stopped as she got to the open door to the bedroom and saw her father brandishing the knife.

“What in the world are you doing Pop?” she asked.

“That boy is bothering me, and I ain’t gonna have it,” he said, his grey hair tousled and falling down into his eyes.  Sarah was not totally shocked at what she was seeing.  She knew her father had dementia and he had done some crazy things before but nothing that approached this action.  It was only last evening when the old man and Richard had been sitting on the sofa watching television and he had experienced one of his hallucination spells.  The old man had jumped up and said “look at that fire over there,” pointing at the empty wall to the left of the cased opening that led into the kitchen.

“What you talkin’ ‘bout  Grandpa?” the little boy had asked.

As Sarah watched from the kitchen her Pop had turned to the boy and looked at him mean, so very mean, and shouted “What in the devil is wrong with you, you must be crazy if you can’t see that fire and those two red mules tryin’ to get out of the barn.”  Sarah remembered that many years ago her Pop had two highly prized red mules; she was very acquainted with them as she and her siblings had worked alongside the strong animals while they were “clearing new ground.”  The clearing entailed pulling up stumps so that the land would be tillable.  The kids would attack around the roots of the stumps with shovels and picks and the old man would attach a log chain to the stump once they got it to give a little bit and then he would holler at the mules to start pulling.

“Come on Babe, Dine, pull you sons of bitches,” the old man would holler, and eventually the stump would start to give up to the pressure. 

Sarah looked at the old man and the way he was moving his sharp little knife around and thought that maybe she should tell Richard to bolt from the room, but thought better of it.  “Too many things could happen, and most of them are pretty bad,” she thought to herself.  Instead she said “just stay real still and don’t say anything son,” and then turned her attention back to Pop.  “Why don’t you just put that knife down; you know Richard ain’t gonna bother you.”

The old man looked at his daughter, but did not recognize her.  What he saw was his wife, Etta, who had been dead for thirty five years.  “Now Etta, you go on back in the kitchen and stay out of this; I’ll take care of this meddlesome boy.” Richard’s eyes were real big but he listened to his momma and said nothing and did not move.  Sarah wished with all her might that her husband wasn’t dead, that he could be here right now, but quickly realized that that line of thinking would get her nowhere.  She stepped away from the door and walked a couple of feet away to the party line phone and quickly called her brother Ray.

 “Ray can talk some sense into him,” she thought, and made the call.  Ray lived only a few miles away and quickly told her he would be right there.  She had kept her eyes on the bedroom drama while she was talking softly into the receiver, relying on her father’s poor hearing to assure her that he would be none the wiser.

The old man was still standing in the same place, but had decided to relieve himself, pulling the chamber pot out from under the bed.  The boy and his mother watched as Pop still held his sharp Case knife in his right hand and used his left hand to pull his member out of the slit of the longjohns and guide his stream into the ancient slop jar.  When he finished he looked at Richard and said “Boy, if you don’t start workin’ harder and get some of that meanace outta you ya gonna be on the chain gang before you are twenty years old.” The boy still followed his mother’s orders and did not move and said nothing, but he did wonder what in the world his Grandpa was saying.  Sarah knew exactly what the old man was talking about; she had heard these words before, verbatim.  Pop said them daily to his sons as he worked their asses off, pushing them as hard as he could.  They were afraid of him. 

Sarah had been afraid of him too, just like all of her brothers and sisters.  She remembered what a mean son of a bitch he had been, mellowing a bit in his dotage.  She especially recalled how he would downplay it if anybody got sick and thought they might need a doctor; but she also recollected that if he got sick the first thing he did was go see Dr. Fesperman.  “Probably took years off my poor momma’s life,” she thought to herself, realizing again, like she had hundreds of times, that she respected her daddy but did not love him.  As she watched Pop he finished his business and put it away, not once taking his eyes off the little boy. 

She heard a car come into the driveway, and in a few seconds her brother came walking through the front door.  Ray walked cautiously over to where Sarah was and stood beside her.  “Hey Pop,” he said, taking in his daddy with the knife and the obedient little boy.

“Hey Rufus, what the hell you doin’ here.  Come to help me take care of this boy?  Don’t you worry a’tall, I’m gonna teach him a good lesson; gonna learn him to keep his hands to himself and not bother me,” the old man said.

Ray knew his daddy was thinking that he was his daddy’s brother Rufus, who had been dead since the thirties, so considering how his Pop was acting he thought he would give something a shot.  “That’s right Ed, it’s me, ol’ Rufus.  Been a long time, guess it was right before I got married, “ Ray said, remembering that his Uncle Rufus had gotten kicked in the head by a bull three days after his wedding and had died that same day.

The old man laughed.  “Why hell, you ain’t Rufus, Rufus been dead for years.  I ain’t quite sure who you are,” the old man said, and as he looked at Ray he saw a tall red mule ear growing out of the top of Ray’s head.   Ed turned toward Ray and moved the sharp little knife back and forth.  “You want me to cut that thing out of the top of your head, whoever you are?” he said.  Ray looked at his daddy and said “Pop, it is me, Ray, your baby boy, now why don’t you put that knife down.”

Ed looked back at the wide eyed little boy.  The old man turned back to his son and handed him the knife, then walked over to where Richard was standing and rubbed him on his head.  “Guess you’re about the best ol’ bird dog I ever had, Queenie,” the old man said.  The little boy stood still while his Uncle Ray walked over to where they were and put his arm around his Daddy’s shoulder.

 “Go on over there to where your Momma is,” Ray said.   Richard scurried to Sarah.

“You alright son?” she asked, and the little boy nodded his head. 

“Momma, Grandpa thought I was a dog,” Richard said, looking with wonder at his Momma.      “Why would he do that?”. 

“I don’t know son, I just don’t know.  Let’s go eat breakfast,” Sarah said, calling into the bedroom for her brother and her father to come into the kitchen.  Ray came out of the bedroom holding his Daddy’s arm and speaking consolingly to him.  “Pop, you know where you are now, dontcha? Ray said, looking at his Daddy.

 The old man’s eyes had softened, and he looked at his son and said “Why hell yea, I’m at Sarah’s house, where are you?”  Ray laughed at his daddy and guided him into the kitchen to his seat at the right end of the yellow formica table with the chrome legs. 

“Ray, stay and eat with us,” Sarah said, and Ray agreed , sitting down between his Pop and Richard.  Sarah busied herself with frying eggs and bacon, stopping to serve coffee to her brother and father, and to bring Richard over a large glass of coffee, the sugar bowl, and three day old biscuits.

  “Oh boy, coffee soup,” the little boy exclaimed, ladling two spoonfuls of sugar into the cream laden coffee and crumbling up the biscuits in the mixture.  Coffee soup was a fixture in the household, and all the kids got it occasionally as a treat.  Sarah figgered that after what her little boy had been through he deserved some.

“Ya know, Rufus, I’m awful sorry ‘bout you getting killed,” the old man said to Ray, looking at Ray’s face as long red mule ears began to sprout all around his face, looking like reddish daisy petals emanating from his head.  “If you gimme my knife back I’ll be glad to trim that stuff up for you.  It looks a turble sight,” he offered.

 Ray shook his head and smiled at his Pop; “think I had better hold on to that knife for a while,” he said to himself.

  “Okay, Rufus, but be mighty careful, that is a sharp lil son of a bitch.”

They ate in silence, Sarah joining them to eat her eggs and bacon.  She looked at her little boy, and how he was devouring the coffee soup, interspersing his eating with stealing curious looks at his Grandpa.  “Poor little thing, ain’t got no daddy, and then right after that his dog Lassie got run over,” she thought to herself.  Then she reflected on herself for a minute, thinking about how in the last year her husband had died, she had started menopause, and then this problem with her Pop.  “Guess there’s enough feeling sorry to go around for me too,” she mused.

Ray interrupted the silence as he was finishing eating.  “Pop, why don’t you come over and stay with me for a while,” he said, looking intently at the old man.  “Maybe we can go huntin’ or something.”  The old man’s eyes widened and he smiled broadly; “why that would be good Rufus, I ain’t done no huntin’ since I killed that red tail hawk down on the hill by that holly tree—had a wingspan of 40,” he said excitedly.

“Then that is what we will do, Pop, you can just go home with me,” said Ray, smiling at his Daddy.  Sarah’s heart leaped into her throat with joy; this was totally unexpected.

 “Maybe now we will be able to talk about Pop going ‘somewhere’, since Ray has seen how bad things have gotten,” Sarah thought to herself.  Sarah truly felt happy, but she dared not show it.  She knew it was a happy feeling for the moment, not for all of the circumstances, so she suppressed her smile.  While Ray and Pop went back into the bedroom to get his things she looked at little Richard again; he grinned sheepishly at her and leaned his head against her side as she rubbed his head.  Then she went over to the stove and fixed the little boy a butter and sugar biscuit.

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