We were standing at the top of the world. Covered in good sweat. The kind that comes from fulfilling work or enjoyable exertion. He’d dragged me out of bed before the moon had set, and we had started walking.
And at first we just walked, it didn’t occur to me to ask where we were going, it just didn’t seem right to break the quite. We walked until the smooth path became gravel, then boulders we had to scramble over. He seemed sure footed with every step, stopping here or there to offer me a hand or a warning. Never did he offer instruction or advice, he just went, and expected me to keep up.
We walked on like that for a while, and somewhere along the way, my curiosity finally woke up. I began to look around me and see the desert, all sand and rough surfaces and mean plants. I heard the occasional scurry but I never saw any fauna. It was like even they knew not to penetrate his cone of not talking. And I began to wonder about the old mystic I was walking behind.
Why did he bear so many scars? Why did his temples only sport grey? Why did he always look so sad when he looked at Mom and Bobby-Jean? Did he really know how to use that old Smith and Wesson?
When the sun broke the horizon, we were standing at the top of the crater and it was breath taking. I stood there staring at the sky go from inky black to light blue. Like the sun was some kind of octopus sucking back its ink while it extended its yellow tentacles. I studied that sunrise ’til I was forced to look away. To look up at the old man, who had been watching me the whole time.
Then he said something to me, something I will never forget. He said.
“Being a man is kinda like that hike. Nobody tells you what to do, but when you slip up there’s always a pointy cactus or a rock to end you. Your mom won’t hold on much longer, and Bobby-Jean is gonna need looking after.”
With that he walked back on down the mountain, like he hadn’t just told me my mom was dying and that my sister would need me to be her daddy. Like he hadn’t just shattered my whole world.
I just sat there, looking off into nothing, wishing the sun would go back where it had come from, so I could unhear my own personal apocalypse.