Daddy and the Silo


Daddy says he sees the future in the silo next to the barn, but I don't believe him.  Right now he's walking the gravel road from our house to the barn carrying a bottle of whiskey.  I'm looking for garden snakes in the brush, but I can't find any.  Ain't no more cows in these fields neither.  They all died off from the cancer eye, Daddy said.  Momma's gone too, but she ain't got no cancer.  She left Daddy about the same time the cows started dying, and Uncle Johnny died too.
      But I seen Momma one day when I went into town with Pa-Pa.  She was holding the arm of the boy who used to deliver the mail out here in his pick-up truck.  I yelled "Hey Momma!" out the window of Pa-Pa's Ford when I seen her but she didn't hear.  Daddy took me out of school when Momma left.  Said he needed someone around so he wouldn't be so lonely.  He tells me Momma was never no good anyways, says she was a liar and a cheater, and I believe him because he wasn't the one who leaved me.
      When Daddy ain't out in the silo, he don't do much but sit in the kitchen and drink.  Sometimes Pa-Pa comes by wearing his old brown Army shirts and his suspenders and finds Daddy asleep on the table.  He beats pots and pans, yelling at Daddy to wake up, get off his ass, he got me, is what Pa-Pa tells him.  Daddy ain't been the same since Momma left.
      Sometimes Daddy goes to the barn at night and curses at the moon.  I hear him when I'm trying to sleep.  Lately he's been coming in my room while I been trying to sleep, opening the door real gentle like.  That's when I close my eyes, pretend I'm asleep.  He sits down in the scratched up rocking chair Pa-Pa gave me, and starts talking to me while I sleep, saying things.
      Jer-miah, he says, 'cause that's my name.  Jer-miah your Momma ain't a woman she's a snake.  Ain't good for taking care of nobody or nothing.  Don't ever let no woman take you.
      I listen real hard when he talks to me at night.
      Sometimes I hear him cry in his bedroom when I'm making food in the kitchen.  Momma taught me how to cook meat in the skillet when I was nine, and Daddy he taught me how to shoot.  I cook up all kinds of things I shoot.  Squirrel, possum, raccoons.  Our land has lots of critters on it, running around in the woods behind our house.  Sometimes they ain't dead after I shoot them and I have to bash them over the heads with a rock.  Skin them myself, too.  The blood don't bother me much anymore, I just think of it like red water trying to get free.  I ain't met no child of eleven at the school in town who can do that.
      Life with Daddy ain't bad though.  I don't mind not going to school.  Ain't gotta do no worksheets about math, or read no books.  Daddy says I don't need no math out here.  Daddy didn't go to school much longer than me.  Momma was different.  Momma went to college in the city, up north in Richmond, seen her degree and everything, I have.  She left it sitting all crooked in Daddy's closet.  She never liked the country I don't think.  She never liked the bugs, and was afraid of gunshots.  Every time she heard gunshots she'd freeze up like a rabbit caught in a snake hole.  She always said the nights out here scared her.
      The barn doors are open.  I can see them across the field.  Daddy helped Pa-Pa build that barn when he was a little older than me.  Some of the wood is still painted red, and most of the tin roof is still there.  I can't find no snakes so I walk over to the barn to jump on the hay bales, and find Daddy standing in the middle of the silo mumbling something, head cocked up.  I ain't surprised.  I start jumping on them bales, from one to the other.
      Daddy, I says.
      He don't say nothing back, just rubs his hands against the concrete wall of the silo
      What you doing rubbing that silo, ain't no grain in it, I says.
      I stop bouncing on the soft bales and lay down.  Hay pokes me in the ankles and through the hole in the bottom of my shoe.  The roof of the barn is filled with big spider webs that look like when you throw a rock in a pond.  Them pieces of wood holding up the roof are splintered, and I see a blackbird land on one of them.  I pretend I'm shooting it with my hands.
      Jer-miah I can see it, Daddy says.
      See what Daddy.
      Future, I seen it in this silo, he says.
      Future? I says, but I heard it all before.
      I can see you all grown up and Pa-Pa he's gone.  Taken away like them cows.  And there's me, Daddy says.
      Ain't no grain in that silo no more.  Hasn't been since I was real little.  I remember running around the barn when I was not but six years old and Daddy and Pa-Pa would shovel grain out of the silo, to feed them cows.  I remember trying to eat some of it when it fell to the ground.  It tasted like cereal I thought.  Only little specks stuck on the concrete floor are still there, but it still smells sweet.
      I seen your Momma with another baby, the farm gone, look, he says.
      Right then I hear Pa-Pa's Ford driving up the road.  I run outside to wave at him.  I hear Daddy still talking inside the barn.  Pa-Pa slows down, and lets me in the cab, and takes me back to the house.
      What your Daddy doing, Pa-Pa says.
      Looking in that silo again.
      Pa-Pa looks a lot like Daddy, except he's got bushy grey hair, and little hairs that come out of his nose.
      Again? he says, but then he stops, and I look at him.  He starts looking all funny, like he did when we went to the cemetery to bury Uncle Johnny, his other son.  That was the only time I ever worn a tie.  He died trying to catch fish in the river not five miles from here.  Out alone, he drowned in the current, when his boat tipped.  Daddy said his foot got stuck in some rocks.  Daddy blames himself for it because he said no to going fishing that day, but I don't think it's his fault.
      Daddy's fine, I says.
      You're a good boy you know that?  Look at you! he says, messing up my hair.
      I look at myself in the side mirror.  I don't look like nothing special, regular I suppose, maybe kind of like pictures of Daddy and Uncle Johnny when they was young.  Daddy always said I had a big nose like Momma, so I try to press it down.  I can see the silo behind me in the mirror getting smaller as we get closer to the house, and then it disappears and it's just tree branches.
      Pa-Pa drops me off at the house, and says he's going back home.  He moved into a little trailer down a holler about half a mile away when Granny died.  That's how Daddy got the land.  Pa-Pa said he couldn't bear to stay on it.  Pa-Pa says he just came to check on Daddy, make sure he was feeding me, taking care of me, he don't want to meddle too much.  I tell Pa-Pa Daddy's been taking care of me, and then we go to the kitchen so I can show Pa-Pa my kills from last week.  He sees a raccoon I skinned in the refrigerator and pats me on the back.
      Jer-miah, I been meaning to ask you something, Pa-Pa says.
      What's that? I says.
      How'd you like to go live with your Momma?  She's supposed to have a nice new place in town, Jer-miah.
      I figure not, Momma left Daddy all alone.  And Daddy said he seen Momma's future, said she got another baby in the future, don't care about us for nothing, I says.
      Jer-miah, Daddy's sick, he ain't right, he don't know what he saying, Pa-Pa says.  You really believe him?  Pa-Pa looks at me.
      I stare at the dirty dishes in the sink.
      Now that's foolish!  He ain't seeing no future in that damn silo, and I know you don't believe him, Pa-Pa says, getting red in the face.
      Well, he said you gone be gone in the future, gone away like them cows, I says.
      Pa-Pa stares at me, kind of surprised like for a long time.  He walks out the kitchen, and I hear his truck tires down the road not much later.  I leave the kitchen, and go into the room with the TV.  Beat on it a couple times, get some show between static.  Daddy put the TV upside down, so I watch upside down TV.

When day turns, Daddy comes inside the house with no pants on.  I says, Daddy you ain't got no pants on, but he don't listen.  He's got hay stuck in his hairy chest, too.  I go to the kitchen to fix him some meat, but he don't say nothing.  Just stands in the doorway with no pants on empty bottle in hand.  I pile a plate full of cold coon meat I cooked up last week for Daddy to eat.
      Pa-Pa don't believe me, ain't nobody believe me, but I seen it, Daddy says, when I come back to the room with the TV.
      I walk in that silo and I see what no one else wants to, Jer-miah, he says.
      I go to him and hold out the plate.
      You want bread, I ask.
      He looks at the cooked pieces of coon on the plate.  Standing next to him I can smell the whiskey on his breath, so strong it makes my throat close up, and I swallow.  He takes the plate from me.
      I ain't crazy, Daddy says, chewing on a piece of coon.
      I know, Daddy, I says.
      I'll prove it, Daddy says, putting the plate of meat on the floor.
      Daddy, what about your pants? I ask.
      Give me that pair laying across the sofa, he says.
      I throw him the pants and he comes over and sits next to me while he puts them on.  I notice that his feet are dirty, and he ain't got no shoes.
      When Daddy has his pants on he grabs me off the sofa.  He ain't even buttoned them up and he's leading me out the house.  He goes back in really quick to get a flashlight I think, but he comes back with a bottle of drink.  We walk down the gravel road to the barn and the silo.  He's got me by the arm, and he's buckling his belt with his other hand.  The fields smell like old cow shit mixed with rainwater at night.
      Ain't no lights in them fields.  There's moonlight from above, but that don't count.  Only lights I see is when I turn around and see the upside down TV light bouncing off the back wall of the room.  The door to the house is still open, and I think coons or foxes gone come in the house and eat that meat Daddy left on the floor.
      Daddy's bare feet hardly make a sound against the gravel as we walk.  I hear them stray dogs in the woods barking, probably at the deer running around.
      Don't your feet hurt, I ask, but Daddy don't say nothing.
      Then we're in front of the barn.  I think about running back to the house.  Never seen Daddy like this before.  He opens them two big barn doors, and I hear the hinges hiss, breaking cricket cries.
      I ain't no goddamn liar, Daddy says.
      Daddy pulls the bottle of whiskey out of his pocket and takes a deep drink.  In the moonlight I can see the ends of the drink resting against his lips.  The stubble on his chin still holds some long after he pulls the bottle away.
      Straw crunches under my feet.  I seen one of them blackbirds I missed earlier fly into the rafters and rest on one of them pieces of wood.  Daddy takes my hand and leads me to the silo opening.
      The barn is cut away and the wood around the entrance of the silo looks like a mouth with jagged teeth.  Some of the wood is colored red while other boards look rotten.
      Come on, Daddy says.
      I try not to go in, but he grabs the arm of my shirt and pulls me close to him.  He feels warm.  I can smell the whiskey coming from the bottle in his pocket, and I see the cap off, laying on the floor next to him.  I reach down to pick up the cap, and then over to Daddy's pants pocket.
      Hell you doing, Daddy says.
      Bottle's open, I says.
      Daddy looks down at his pants, takes the lid from my palm, and caps the bottle.  He looks at my open hand, and then looks me in the eyes, same blue ones as I got, I remember Momma saying.
      You'll believe me when you go in there, Daddy says.
      Okay.
      I swear to Jesus of Nazareth I seen it with my own two eyes, I seen you as a man, and Pa-Pa dead in the ground, I seen it all, he says.
      Okay, I'll look.
      Daddy moves me in front of him but doesn't let go of my hand.  Straw cracks as I walk.  The blackbirds in the rafters flutter.  I look over my shoulder at Daddy and the barn looks kind of like the wavy black lines you get when you close your eyes really tight.  When I am close enough, I run my hands against the smooth pieces of painted wood at the opening.  The smell of leftover grain reminds me of when Daddy was alright.
      Just look, Daddy says.
      I walk into the opening of the silo.  When I get in I cock my head up to the ceiling.  It's all black.  Everything.  I don't see no future.  Just black.  Black at the edges where just a little moonlight creeps into the silo from the barn, black at the tip-top of it, black in the shadows of the specks of leftover grain.  I don't see no future.
      I can't see nothing, I says.
      Daddy comes into the silo, and I move out of it, back into the barn.  I start to back away from him in the silo slowly.  I stop, and the straw don't crunch.  I just listen.
      There it is, Daddy says, Momma holding a new baby, Pa-Pa dead in the dirt, I'm gone too, just a pile of dirt and rocks.
      My muscles start to hurt from standing still.
      I can see my body, and I look like charcoal.  Black as night.  There you are.  Look like a man to me.  You hear me boy?  Daddy says this and turns to look at me.  He looks all funny, his face kind of twisted like, maybe from strong whiskey, but I think not.  I take off through the open barn doors and up the road.  I can feel the rocks shifting under my feet.
      When I get back to the house, I look at the meat on the floor.  It don't look so good no more.  It ain't rotten, but I can't imagine eating it.  Not now.  Tonight I'll sleep under the porch with the dogs.

Next morning Pa-Pa finds me curled up in the dirt.  Face looks like I been taking a shower in shit, he says.  Pa-Pa takes me into the bathroom and scrubs my arms, neck, face with one of them metal pads you clean dishes with.
      Where's Daddy, I says.
      When I finish cleaning you off, you go pack a bag full of clothes, Pa-Pa says.
      Why?
      I called your Momma this morning, you going to live with her.
      But where's Daddy?
      Sherriff found him in the middle of the access road last night cursing the skies.  Said they was taking him to the hospital when they called me this morn.  Said they came looking for you but they couldn't find you, Pa-Pa says.
      I push Pa-Pa's arm away from me knocking the metal pad onto the floor.  Half my body clean, half kind of brown.
      Now Jer-miah, listen to me.  Your Daddy ain't right, he's sick, and he ain't seeing no future.  They taken him to the hospital and letting him rest for awhile, Pa-Pa says.
      But I don't want to go with Momma.  She ain't nothing but a snake like Daddy says.
      You don't talk about your Momma like that, Jer-miah, Pa-Pa says.  You been in that silo?  You seen the future?  You understand what's going on?  Your Daddy is sick, God bless him.
      No!
      I run out of the bathroom almost stark naked.  Nothing but a pair of stained underwear on.  Pa-Pa comes running out of the bathroom after me best he can.
      Boy, you better get dressed now, your Momma's waiting in town, Pa-Pa says.
      He ain't crazy! I says, as Pa-Pa grabs me, trying to keep me still.
      I start to cry, sitting on the floor in my underwear.  I don't like Pa-Pa to see me cry, but I can't control it.  Tears fall onto my dirty arm.
      Pa-Pa packs a bag with my things while I cry on the floorboards.  He says Momma's gone be upset 'cause we kept her waiting.  I try not to think about Momma, and instead try thinking about snakes in the brush.  I swear I'd seen them out there before.  Pa-Pa stands over me with the bag full of clothes and picks me off the floorboards.
      Get some clothes on, we gotta go, Pa-Pa says.
      What about Daddy? I says.
      Get your toothbrush from the bathroom, he says.
      We leave the house and I see empty bottles on the kitchen counter, the upside down TV still on.  Then I see the plate of coon meat on the floor and start crying again.  Pa-Pa drags me out to his truck and put me in the passenger's seat.  He starts the truck and drives down the gravel road.  Passing the silo, I think about Daddy in a hospital somewhere far away.  Driving down the road I think about the darkness I'd seen in that silo.  Black everywhere.  And it makes me believe him; it makes me think Daddy was right.  
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