I’ve never been to a funeral. I don’t like them. I know, most people don’t like them but most people do not refuse to go. When my father died a few years ago, Mom had him cremated like he wanted to be and there was no funeral. That was fine with me.
My father and I had a real love/hate relationship. Early in his marriage he was a wife beater. He would get drunk and beat up my mother. By the time I was a teenager the beatings had stopped but as soon as I became 18 I dropped out of college and joined the army because I didn’t want to be around him. That’s how I ended up in Vietnam.
To this day I can’t help but to cringe at the beatings and the fact that I was the oldest son and could do nothing to protect my mother.
Of course, I know now that I was too young to do anything about the beatings, but the guilt of not protecting my mother will be with me for the rest of my life.
Of such things are flash fiction stories made from.
Hills Beyond The Bridge
He was too weak to get out of bed and slept on his back under a white sheet in the white room, only his head uncovered by the sheet. I sat in a chair beside the bed. Another skeletal old man slept under a white sheet in the other bed. Through the screen of the open window I could see a railway bridge with green hills beyond the bridge, the bright blue sky full of swiftly moving white clouds. On the white pillow, my father’s dark brown thin face began to turn toward me. He was cleanly shaved. What hair he had was cut close to the scalp. The room smelled of urine.
“Hugo?” the face said. “Is that you?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “It’s me, Dad.”
“Is your mother here?”
“Tammy’s bringing Mom.”
He was trying to make me out. I was fifty-six and he was ninety-two and his sight was nearly gone.
“Are you doing okay?” he asked.
“I’m doing okay, Dad.”
“School okay?” he asked.
“School’s fine. I might even have a talent for teaching. Better late than never.”
“That’s right, champ.”
In his youth he’d been a pretty good light heavyweight. He’d fought under the lights of Madison Square Garden. The face seemed to be smiling at me. I couldn’t tell.
“I’m going to be published,” I said.
“Good, good,” my father said. “That’s what you always wanted.”
“It’s just a local weekly, but they want to showcase my stories.”
“Maybe someone will want to publish the entire collection, but at least it’ll help me get a job after my fellowship runs out.”
“You staying in Pittsburgh?”
“I’ll never leave Pittsburgh.”
“It’s a good town,” he said.
“It’s a good town.”
“It’s been a good town for me and your mother. I wasn’t always good in it but it’s a good town.”
“It’s a good town.”
“Well,” he said, “you kept at it all these years.”
“All these years.”
I had just turned twenty when I got back from Vietnam and told him I was going to be a writer. He told me writing was a hobby for rich white boys. During the year I was in Vietnam I sent home to Mom most of my pay. It was this that he had used to get my two brothers and two sisters, all younger than I was, and Mom out of the ghetto and into the suburbs. It wasn’t that he hadn’t been trying to get them out. He was a truly fine electric welder at J&L and then US Steel and he drove a jitney out of the Hill District, too. It was just that he could never get them out until I sent home those nice, fat checks every month for a year.
“Maybe,” he said, “maybe things would have happened for you sooner if you didn’t have to help me.”
My throat tightened up. “I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready in my twenties or my thirties or even in my forties.” For years I drank too much, slept around and had contempt for regular employment. It’s probably why now I don’t have a woman and family of my own. I’ve always been a bad bet. The reason I joined the army at eighteen was to get away from him coming home drunk and beating up my mother. I wanted to kill him.
“No, Dad, I wasn’t ready.”
“Well,” he said, “I want to thank you for what you did.”
My throat tightened up.
He said, “Now you got your shot.”
“I got my shot.”
Footsteps were coming down the hall. I looked around. Mom and my sister Tammy came quietly into the room.
The Writing Of “Hills Beyond The Bridge”
My father was a wife beater but then he was the only father I had. He’d stopped beating my mother around the time I was thirteen years old but the memory of the beatings is why I left home as soon as I turned eighteen and could sign myself into the army.
My father had many good qualities. He was a proud, dark-skin black man who had grown up in the South and suffered all the humiliations of segregation. He came North and became a good professional boxer and after his boxing days were over and he gave up his hand-to-mouth small time mob activities (because of my mother) he took a steady job as a welder in the steel mills of Pittsburgh earning a very good living for a working class man (black or white) for his growing family. My mother was the reason for his transformation to respectable, hard-working middle class husband and father. She was the best thing that ever happened to him. But he did like his liquor.
Whenever he and my mother went out and he drank he’d come home and beat her up. She was a beautiful, fair-skinned black woman, a natural brunette, and I think in some ways she must have been threatening to him. He got jealous if other men looked at her. When she stopped going out with him the beatings stopped.
Although he instilled in me the ideas of mental toughness, pride in learning and being good at a skill (writing for me) and pride in my manhood, the memories of the beatings filled me with shame and anger. I loved and feared him and at times probably hated him. I know after he died my dreams were full of the two of us angrily shouting at each other and a couple of times coming to blows.
“Hills Beyond The Bridge” is my fictional record of the last time I saw my father. There was no funeral. He was cremated. As with much of my fiction the story is 90% true.
Guy Hogan (Editor/Publisher)
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