Part 21: Goodbye Earl
The home of Earl Cash wasn’t that far from Orchard House. We had to make a few turns here and there down dirt roads. Each one was narrower than the last, and larger ruts began to appear, making our going a little slower. “Man, he really lives back here, doesn’t he?” I remarked.
“Yeah, looks like he don’t want to be found.”
She made another turn onto a dirt road, but this one was more like a field with a path running through it, and right up ahead of us was a small house. It wasn’t quite what I expected. I was thinking, this far back, it would be some ramshackle dilapidated place, barely kept and near to abandon. But I was wrong. The house looked almost new, a white clapboard house surrounded by a white picket fence. It was plopped down right in the middle of a field, and lining the fence line were a rows of daffodils. The path through the field stopped there, a small opening between the daffodils showing the way to the front door.
Summer stopped the car and turned off the engine. We sat there a few minutes looking at the house. It wasn’t a dark foreboding place as I imagined it would be, and it certainly didn’t look like a man lived here. The look of the yard and house cried out this place has a woman’s touch. From where we sat, you could see flower-boxes in the windows. Different shapes and sizes of wind chimes hung from the front porch. A large flag was mounted on the porch railing, depicting flowers and birds, and read in one word: SUMMERHOME.
“Do you want me to go with you or wait here?” I asked.
She looked at me with a nervous glance. “Maybe you should let me go first. Just to make sure we have the right place.”
“Okay. Good luck.” I patted her hand, which was tightly gripping the wheel. “I’ll be right here if you need me.”
She flashed a weak smile and took a deep breath. Then she was out of the car, moving between the daffodils and through the gate. I watched her walk up the porch steps, and it was here she hesitated, looking up at the porch flag and a wind chime with cats painted on it. She raised her hand to the front door and knocked on the metal frame of the screen. She turned to look back at me, and I could see she was already near the point of crying, just from all the emotions coursing through her. I couldn’t imagine how she felt. My parents stayed together their whole lives and never even fought in my presence. This was like an alien planet to me.
“You can do it, girl, “ I whispered under my breath, hoping somehow my prayer would give her what she needed to see this through. I watched her turn to the door as it opened to reveal a tall figure standing on the other side of the screen. She stepped back a little to allow the man to come outside on the porch. I could tell by the movement of Summer’s head she was telling him who she was looking for.
Trying to see the man more clearly, I got out of the car, and the movement must have caught his eye because he glanced my way, but didn’t appear too worried. He was tall and broad of shoulder, dressed in gray work pants and shirt, as if he were a factory worker or auto mechanic. He was maybe in his 60’s. It was hard to tell from a distance. He stood a little ways away from Summer, as her hands had become a bit animated as she talked. When it was obvious she was ready to let him get a word in, he walked to the edge of the porch and put his hand on the railing. He bowed his head, and I could see he was telling her something. She nodded and said something back, her face a grim expression. I leaned against the car, watching the scene play out, now wishing I had gone with her, so I could hear what was being said. I knew it was none of my business, but part of me wanted to share this with her.
Summer stepped up close to the man, a soul searching look on her face. It was the same look she would give me when she looked in my face making sure I got her point. She spoke, and I could see the tears on her face from here. I stepped away from the car as the man turned to her and said something so low I think she had to lean in closer just to hear him. She said something angrily to him. I could see both the sadness and frustration on her face. He stood there and took it, and from where I stood, it looked like his hands were opening and closing, as if he were trying not to make a fist.
I couldn’t wait at the car anymore. I passed between the daffodils and came through the gate, moving up the path to the porch at a hurried rate. Something told me I had to get Summer out of there before it got too messed up. As I drew nearer, I heard her snarl at the man, “I hate you. I hated you then for leaving, but I think I hate you more now.” With that, she spun on her heels and started down the steps towards me.
Earl Cash looked as if he were going to follow her down, but he didn’t make a move beyond the edge of the porch. “One day you will understand,” he said to her. “You will know what it’s like to make choices, and you won’t be able to tell the right one from the wrong one.”
She stopped at the bottom and turned back to him. “There shouldn’t have been a choice to make. You should have loved her enough then. You should have loved me. Your problem was, and still is, you’re just a selfish man. You didn’t want a family anymore, so you went out for a ride one day and just never came back. Well, screw you. I hope you found your precious little life of leisure.“ She started to go back up the steps. “My mother died alone. It’s not the life she wanted, no matter how she pretended in front of me. She just wanted to be loved. By you. Nobody but you. She never saw anyone after you left, never dated another man. She waited for you until she took her last breath. That will be the last woman who waits for you, because I’m done. I won’t waste another thought on you, I won’t even waste my breath to speak your name again. I hope you go straight to hell.”
I walked towards Summer, my eyes on the man to make sure he wasn’t going to snap like she was. I put my hand on her arm, and she turned her raging gaze on me. For a moment, I thought she was going to tell me to get my hands off of her, but my presence seemed to take some of that fire out of her eyes.
“Come on Summer, we should go,” I soothingly told her.
She looked up at Earl on the porch. If looks could kill, he would have been dead ten times over. But she was right. She was done. Turning her back on him, she allowed me to guide her down the path to the gate. She wasn’t going as a whipped puppy though; her head was held high and she walked proudly away from him. She didn’t need me for strength; she was strong enough to do this over and over, if need be.
If Summer was done, I don’t quite think Earl was. As we got to the gate, he shouted down to her. “Little girl, you don’t know nothing. You are still a child living in a fantasy world of happy ever after. Well, guess what, there ain’t no happy ever after. People fall in love, and then they fall out of love. People want one thing, and then they want another. The only reason people have kids is to stay together, and if that don’t work, then they find something else that will. ”
One look at Summer and I could tell she was about to break into a million pieces. But if she was done, I was overcooked. I let go of her arm and headed back up the path towards her father. “You bastard,” I growled. “All her life, Summer just wanted a father, that’s all. And the only reason she wanted to find you was to hear that she was worth something, that you left because of her mother and not her. But now you tell her the only reason she was born was to save a marriage that you didn’t want anyway.“
He was starting down the steps towards me. He may not have wanted to clinch his fists at his birth daughter, but he wasn’t afraid to clinch them at me. “Let me tell you…”
“No, let me tell you. This is how the world is…people fall in love and they stay in love. People want one thing, and when they get it they want it for life. The reason people have kids is because they love one another and they want that love to spread like wildfire throughout the ages. This is how the world is. It’s a shame you don’t live in it.”
He had stopped at the bottom of the steps. I was right in front of him. He could have reached out and grabbed me, hit me, or whatever. But I knew he wasn’t going to. He was a broken man, angry at himself, and blaming it on the world. But he was broken long before we arrived; we just reminded him of it.
“Look at her,” I said. “You can’t tell me you have ever seen anything more beautiful. Look what you, yes you, brought into the world. I would like to think she is so beautiful because at one time you and her mother were a part of something wonderful, even magical. I want you to look at her and tell me you don’t see it.”
He glanced briefly at her and then looked down at his shoes, unable to hold her gaze without seeing her mother. “Just leave,” he muttered.
I took one last look at him. “The world has waited years for you to come back to it,” I said. “But I think after today, the world doesn’t even want you. I hope your own happiness was worth it.”
I returned to Summer and put my arm protectively around her. “We should go,” I said. “Unless you have something else to say to him.”
She looked at her father, and for a moment their eyes met. Then she shook her head. “No, I’ve nothing to say.”
I led her through the gate and between the flowers, back to the car. Opening the driver’s side, I helped her in, and then closed it gently once she was settled. Looking up at the house, I saw Earl was still standing there. I shook my head and went around to the passenger side to get in. Summer started the car and we backed up in the field and turned around. I watched Summer as we drove away. She kept her eyes on the dirt road, never once looking back.
“Orchard House & The Heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.