Stupid Father, Stupid Son
“This heat son is a keelin me,” the Father said.
The Son did not respond. He kept his head down swinging the pick.
“You ain’t afraid of Horse are you,” the Father asked.
“I ain’t afraid.”
Horse was a lean man with a short rifle and black rimmed hat he pulled down low on his head. He rode the horse slowly up and down the road. The prisoners called him Horse. Johns was a prisoner at Elm Hurst as well, but they let him walk the road unshackled with a shotgun.
“Johns,” Horse yelled from down the road. “Daddy Boy ain’t swinging. Get him swinging.” Johns walked over to the Father and Son.
“Hurry,” the Son said, “start swinging.” He spoke in a soft voice through his teeth. He looked at the dirt as he spoke. Johns walked to the edge of the ditch. The sun came down hard on their bare necks.
“How’d ye all get here,” Johns asked the Father.
“What’s that,” the Father asked. Not digging.
“I said how is it that a Father and is boy end up chained together diggin ditches?”
“Well,” the Father went on but was interrupted. Johns brought the whip down on his back.
“Just try swinging a little while you talk old man,” Johns said.
The Father stood the lashing and started digging. “We was caught stealin from a farmhouse.”
Johns liked this and smiled. “You got to spend eighteen months on a chain for stealin?”
“That’s right. What about it? How’d you geet here slave driver?”
Johns lashed the Father’s back.
“I ain’t no slave driver Daddy Boy.” Johns looked at the Son. “Somethin wrong with him? Up here?” He pointed to his head.
“I ain’t crazy,” the Son said.
“Oh my and he speaks,” Johns said. “And god in full sentences too. He can talk and swing.”
“Why don’t ye sing me a song slave driver,” the Father said. The whip came down again. Johns milked the wad of tobacco in his cheek running his tongue over his teeth. He spit in the ditch and walked back up the road.
“I got me a knife,” the Father said.
“You keep quiet,” the Son said.
“I’m gon to keel him.”
“You do as I say don’t you Son?”
Once a month on Saturday Horse led the men to the end of the road to a saloon called Red’s. Red was Johns’ brother. The price of beer was deducted from the meager wages the prisoners earned. The Father and Son sat in the far corner in front of large mugs of dark beer. Johns stood at the bar talking to his brother. Everyone had been drinking for hours.
“Im gon to geet him. Whippin me. Making me give my money to his brother to drink,” the Father said.
“You’re sweatin old man. It’s the heat a gettin to you,” the Son said.
“I ain’t no slave. I’ll geet him.”
“Let it go old man,” the Son said.
“You do as I say don’t you?”
“Good,” the Father said. “Then you’ll help me.”
The Son leaned over to his Father. “Why don’t we kill Horse? He’s sittin right there in the rocker out front with his back turned. We’ll get his horse and head for the woods."
“Cause Horse ain’t done nothin to me like Johns has.”
“We can just ride out of here. To the woods,” the Son said.
The Father sat watching John's. He held the unsheathed knife below the table. The Son finished his beer. He saw the distance in his Father’s eyes. A heat. No thought other than that of Johns had entered the Father’s mind in days. To be ridiculed in front of his own child. It tore at him. The fear and hate teamed within him.
“I’m gonna to geet him. You hold his arms.”
The Son nodded.
The Son walked without haste to the bar. He ordered a beer.
“Sonny Boy,” Johns said. He patted the Son’s shoulder. Johns eyes were hardly open. His face was red with alcohol. “I know it’s rough on yer old man. It’s a rough road. A rough place. I know it ain’t right me hittin him but it keeps me outta the ditch. You ain’t got long here. I’m an old man son.” He stuck out his hand and the two shook. “Tell your old man what I said. I can’t tell him.”
Red handed the Son a beer. The Father walked up behind Johns and eased the blade into his lower back. Johns yelled out.
“Geet him, geet him,” the Father yelled.
The Son, as if by instinct, grabbed Johns’ arm and pulled it up behind his back. He turned the man to face his Father. The Father pushed the blade into the man’s stomach. He pushed it in several times. Blood pooled on the barroom floor. The prisoners stood around watching. One of them yelled to Horse. When Horse walked in Johns lay dead on the floor.
The weeks passed. The Father’s life in prison had minimal change. Three years were added to their sentences. The sun was high and sweat dripped from their noses to the soil. A new man walked the road unshackled. He carried the shotgun on his shoulder like a soldier.
“Gun Man,” Horse yelled down the road. “Daddy Boy ain’t swingin. Get him swingin.”
The man walked over to the edge of the road. He looked down at the Father and Son. The Father looked up. “What do you want slave driver?” The whip came down hard on the Father’s back. He took it and began to dig. The new man watched the blood soak through the Father’s shirt. He turned and walked back up the road.
“Ain’t no slave driver geet at me like that.”
The Son kept his head down. “Keep quiet.”
“You do as I say don’t you?”