Sunsets (Flash Fiction)

After accomplishing most of the always impossible goal, the proper slathering of sunscreen onto wild children dead-set on reaching the lakeside shore, Bob joined his father at a picnic table in the shade. The warm winds of August pushed through the birch trees and sent ripples across the dark blue water.

“Something to drink, Dad?” Bob asked.

“Nah.” His eyes were on the grandkids that swirled around his wife like a dust devil.

“Are you comfortable sitting there? This bench is kind of hard. I can setup your chair if you’d like. It’ll only take a minute.”

Bob’s father kept his stare toward the water and allowed the question to drift by. “They’re gettin’ bigger and bigger,” he said.

Bob turned to look. “Yeah, they sure are.” The two men sat in silence and watched their families play in the shallow water along the shore. “Mom’s looking better,” Bob said.

“She ain’t,” said his father plainly.

Bob looked back at his father to measure the look on his face. It matched the tone. “What do you mean?”

“She ain’t better, and she ain’t gettin’ better,” said his father. “Don’t tell no one, not your lovely wife nor your kids and especially not your mother, but what you’re seeing here is the final push of her life.”

Bob looked at his father with stunned silence, his mouth drifting open. “What?”

His father shifted his weight on the picnic bench and worked at a growing kink in his back. “Doc said it’s all up. No more use in doin’ treatment at this point as it’s just robbing her of what life she has left. She still has her pain meds, but the war is over, son. Cancer won.”

Bob looked back to the water in disbelief. His mother was smiling and prancing in the water with his oldest son. Her silver hair gleamed in the sunlight and the lines on her face surged with every smile. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen her so alive.

“But she looks so happy,” Bob said.

His father smiled. “That’s cause she is, Bobby-boy. She is happy. Happy it’s over. Happy she gave it her all. Happy that there’s to be no more surgeries, no more chemo, no more bouts of radiation.” The old man cleared his throat and wiped at the leathery skin under his eyes. “She told doc that she’d want to go home then, now that it was done. She thanked him very much for the help and hospitality, but she had no intention on dying in some damned hospital bed.” He chuckled, but the tightness in his throat twisted it into a strained sound. “No, she’s much obliged to sit on her sofa one last time with Jane Austin in her hands and the sun on her skin and a warm kitty in her lap. And a tall glass of wine with some cheese and crackers will do nicely on top of that.”

Again, Bob looked back to his mother as his mind tried to pair the words being spoken to the scene on the beach. The task couldn’t be done.

“When?” asked Bob. “I mean, how long?”

His father shrugged. “You know what your Mother says. The good Lord Jesus doesn’t send out RSVPs for this kind of thing. If you’re lucky, and she insists that she is, you can feel it in your bones on when the time is coming. That’s all the warning any good person should need in this world. Enough to give you time to share some hugs with your loved ones, or maybe one last splash in the pond. Time enough for one more sunset in your life.”

Bob stared at his father and saw the water streaming from his weary eyes. It occurred to him then that he’d never seen his father truly cry. There had been tears before, sure, but none like this. No loss had ever compared to this. “Dad, I don’t even… What can I say?”

His father wiped at his eyes like a desperate man works to save a failing levee. He reached out and grabbed his son’s hand and clasped it with as much strength as he had. “Like I told ya, son, you don’t say nothin’. You let that woman have as many sunsets as she can and don’t do nothin’ that’ll take them away. She’s earned her time out there in the sun. We can let it rain when it’s all over.”

Bob held his father’s hand and turned to watch his mother as she laughed and played with her beloved grandchildren. Behind him, his father wept.

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