The young boy opened the barn door, curious to see where Daddy went so early in the morning. Randy had heard the front door open and close so many times, thinking it must be a dream. One morning, however, he shuffled to his bedroom window sill, which sat at the top triangle of the old, white farm house.
Randy saw his daddy light up a cigarette, take a few puffs, then proceed to the pale yellow barn, barely opening the door, then shutting it behind him. The sun barely shone in the Oklahoma sky, but Randy definitely saw his father go into the barn. He quietly wondered why. But, went back to his warm bed and fell back to sleep.
By the time Randy awoke each day, Mom would call Randy and his twin sisters to the breakfast table. Some time between the first bite of scrambled eggs and toast, Dad would appear at the table, looking as if he had just woken up. Randy couldn’t put it all together in his mind. But, he was sure, just moments ago, his father had gone to the barn.
Randy waited for the next morning, and then the next. Each morning Randy heard the sound of the front door open, he jumped up to check to see if his dad did the same exact thing—lit a cigarette, took three or four puffs, then disappeared into the barn, just before sun up.
After a week of watching carefully, Randy woke up early enough to sneak out of the house before his daddy. Randy tucked his small body under the porch steps with his best buddy, Oscar, his dog. He held his dog tightly and actually fell asleep on Oscar’s rust-colored warm coat. When the front door opened and closed, Randy’s eyelids popped open. He must have nodded off. In that moment, though, as he had expected, the smell of smoke hovered around him, a red cigarette butt fell to the rock sidewalk, and then a large, weathered brown boot stomped the last bit of light out of the half-used cigarette. The boot moved away, but Randy heard a few footsteps and leaves crunching before the creaking sound of the barn door. When the crackling of leaves stopped, Randy knew it would be safe to follow his father.
Randy slithered from under the porch steps to the front walk. The kitchen light snapped on, which scared him—almost right out of his pajamas. He thought he had been caught red-handed. His jig was up. But, it was just Momma waking up to fix breakfast. Randy didn’t want his momma to see that he had snuck out of bed so early. She’d probably be mad, but not as mad as Daddy would be, who sometimes lost his temper even at the breakfast table, when no one could possibly have done anything bad.
This morning, earlier than when Oscar would normally sneak on to his bed to have the last dream of the morning cradled next to him, Randy saw in the barn, on a stack of hay, in the middle of the chickens roosting, and Bella the cow barely awake, what startled Randy and left him completely dumbfounded. His dad sat with his legs crossed, his hands together at his heart, and his eyes closed. Nothing moved around his father. Nothing moved at all. It felt as if Randy’s own breath had been stilled by the moment.
This is it? Randy thought. Daddy goes to sleep with the animals every morning?
Then Randy saw something from within the barn, before the roosters crowed and earlier than the smell of Momma’s breakfast. He saw a man sit down next to Daddy, dressed in old farmer’s clothes. The man wrapped his arms around Daddy, hugged him real tight, and whispered something in his ear. Must’ve been something sad. His father bowed his head and cried.
Before Randy could blink again, the older man that hugged daddy took Randy by the hand and led him gently toward the front door of the house. Randy felt surely he was caught, and Daddy would soon come out of the barn with a stern look on his face.
It was just before sunrise. Randy could swear it was just one minute before this moment, that he had been watching Daddy and the old farmer… maybe even a few seconds had passed… He closed his eyes for just one more moment.
* * *
What seemed to him to be a day later, Randy woke up in his bed, tucked under the covers. The sun was coming up in the orange colored sky. The roosters crowed. The breakfast bell rang for the farm hands. Randy reached for Oscar, but there was no rusty warm fur there next to him.
He got out of his bed and went to the window sill. He saw his daddy come out from the barn and bend down to give Oscar a gentle pat on the head.
Randy heard his momma come to the base of the steps. Usually she’d call for the twins and him to get up for breakfast, but this time she began to walk up the noisy stairs.
Randy jumped back into bed to avoid any suspicion. When his mother reached Randy’s bedroom door, she gently opened it and sat down next to him on the bed. He felt her breath next to his cheek before she kissed it. “Honey,” she said, “It’s time to get up.”
Randy kept his eyes closed for one last moment, smelling his momma’s rose lotion. When he opened his eyes, she had already gotten up from the bed to wake his sisters.
It was then that Randy noticed the picture frame by his bed behind his two toy truck and a couple of school books. In the silver frame and beneath the cracked, tinted glass was a picture of his granddaddy and his own dad when he was a young man. Momma told Randy that Granddad Jim had passed away before Randy was ever born.
That morning, halfway between his first bite of scrambled eggs and toast, Randy’s dad sat down directly in front of him, a little spot of toilet paper covering a drop of blood on his gruff cheek and a towel over one shoulder.
His daddy did something he had never done before, at least, not before his first cup of coffee—he looked around seeming to take time to look at each of them, even Momma. Then he smiled.
Randy never looked at his dad the same.