Why Do the Willows Weep?
by Thomas R. Willits
Charlie Goodman sat on his porch in the morning pretty much as he had every morning for the past fourteen or fifteen years since his retirement at the age of sixty-five. He had been a farmer. Most young kids hardly knew what that meant anymore when he told them stories at the downtown diner. He shook his head and laughed realizing the kids of this new age were different and listened to loud music and watched television.
He leaned back in his rocking chair with a toothpick the size of a pencil sticking out of his mouth and bobbing up and down as he chewed on its remains. The morning was the coolest part of day now that July was midway into its fury and this was Charlie’s time to get out of the house.
Small beads of sweat were already welling up and his face and forehead as the morning heat rose steadily and as the sun crept slowly higher and higher. Eventually they trickled down and fell into his eyes stinging them like one of those large bumble bees in the middle of a hay field.
He looked out beyond the porch across the front of his lawn, the old tire swing was there for his children to swing on, but they were long grown now and had children of their own. They were too busy in the city making money hand over fist to bother with an old worn-out tire. Besides, with its age it left black marks across everyone’s hands every time the tire was touched and pushed. The rope didn’t appear to be much long for this earth, either. It wouldn’t hold the weight of a horseshoe.
The pond was there, too, where their children had played and swam and fished. Charlie couldn’t remember the last time he had been down to the water’s edge. The pond was full now after the huge spring rain and was quite a marvel considering he had built it himself some fifty-odd years ago.
There was a small stream already there to begin with to make the process a little easier. But the base had to be constructed with limestone bedding to keep the water from sinking into the earth and a dam on the low end for keeping the water from running out. Charlie built it all in one hot summer. Sometimes on dry years the pond nearly emptied but never completely.
Around the low spots in the pond were where the willows grew. He’d never planted them, they just appeared one day as if they’d always been there. Charlie admitted without them the pond would look rather lonely and empty so he let them be. With that small cluster of willows it made a nice oasis to look out upon from his porch each morning, sipping his coffee and thinking about his life. They were with him.
He was the only one left at the farm. His kids had moved on, and grandchildren, his wife dead now for ten years. Once he retired from farming he let things go. He sold most of his farm equipment. The old International tractor for plowing was gone and so was his hay bailer and mower. The brome fields no longer grew tall and they turned brown and went to thistle and weeds. The sheds out back for farm animals where empty, no horses, cows, pigs. All taken to the auction and sold for whatever price they could fetch that year.
A few of the sheds he’d built the first year on the farm were beginning to rot and fall inward. The tin roof was beginning to come loose and fall off and nails were turning up all over his driveway and yard.
One time when Charlie was walking into an old shed one of the tins came loose above. It came skirting down the steep slope of the roof about thirty miles an hour and nearly took off Charlie’s head. He’d ducked just in time as it flew over and crashed loudly behind him.
But Charlie was a worker. He was one of those boys that worked from early morning till dawn every day even on Saturday and Sunday. Rain, shine, snow or no. It didn’t matter to Charlie. When the rain or snow came there was always work to do in the shed or barn and when the weather was fine there was always a fence to repair or a field to plant or cut. When he wasn’t getting anything done, he’d say “C’mon, we’re burning daylight.”
By eleven Charlie was inside and out of the heat. He pulled himself up a chair at the table and read the morning’s newspaper. Most of the stuff in there he didn’t care about except for the inside section on the auctions. He liked to keep up on what prices tractors and such were going for these days even though he knew he had no need for one. It was just fun.
Through the curtain in the window he saw a car pulling up. He pulled it back seeing one of those fancy cars called a BMW. His son. He’d been out a week ago to check on him and see if there was anything he could do to help around the farm. He had a life of his own and Charlie knew it. He kept telling him not to bother coming out because he was still strong as an ox and smart as a whip and so on.
“I just want you to be surrounded by people that can care for you, Dad,” his son told him.
Charlie folded the paper in two and looked at him as if he were a politician.
“I can take care of myself, boy. I don’t need some young lass taking me to the bathroom. I was out in those fields when you were in diapers. I think I can handle taking care of myself. Show your father some respect.”
His son didn’t know how to respond. His father was rigid and bullheaded and never changed his mind about something once he had made it up. His son put an arm around him and hugged him. There were tears in his eyes when he spoke, “Dad, the doctor says you need to be cared for.”
Charlie sat listening, mostly wondering why his son was crying. Why was he crying? He was strong just like him. Always had been since he was a baby and always would be.
“Because of your Alzheimers.”
Charlie didn’t say anything and his son let him go. Charlie listened to his son how he was having someone look at the farm next week and in a few days he’d be back to pick him up to live at a place called Rest Haven or some bullshit place like that. He told him it wasn’t right. If he was his son he’d let him live his life and stop trying to interfere. His son left in his fancy car after kissing him goodbye and returned to the city where his big white house was. They had the typical white picket fence and dog in the backyard. A yellow Lab, or Collie, Charlie couldn’t remember which. It’d been a long time since he was there.
Later that night he sat on the porch amidst a cool breeze. The moon was out and it was full. By its light he could see its long silver reflection shimmering across the pond. The willows were there, too, wading in the shallow water.
He sat thinking about his son and what he had said to him. He was angry or had been, he wasn’t sure anymore. He had said some things he’d wished he hadn’t and knew it was too late. He watched a strange thing closely, off in the yard. The black tire swing his kids had spent countless hours on slowly faded into darkness, followed by the rope. He watched it, fascinated, from his rocking chair as the darkness continued up the rope and into the tree. It was like watching one of those old science fiction movies from the fifties. The entire tree in the middle of the yard vanished into thin air.
He saw two of his barns do the same thing and then his tool shed beside them. Not a trace remained. The trees in the distance disappeared, the county road, the mailbox, all his fence posts and fields. The sky was shrinking up too and he could no longer see the stars. He rocked his chair back amazed and wondered. He heard voices all around him.
He turned seeing his house gone and his porch went too just like the rest. He saw them waving in the distance, calling him on. He wasn’t sure what was happening. Charlie watched them unafraid and wondered what the heck his chair was sitting on.
“It is time to come with us,” they told him.
“Where are we going?” Charlie asked. “I’ve got my farm to tend to.”
He looked around but there wasn’t much left. The watchers spoke softly again. “There is no farm, Charlie. You’re very old now, eighty years. It’s time for you to put it away. Come with us. We will show you now. It’s time to leave.”
“But my son.”
“They’re gone, Charlie,” they whispered like a weeping willow.
Charlie stood up on the black underside of nothing and walked to them. They were nice enough folks he reckoned and they held him close and started walking into the distance. Charlie followed them and never looked back. He saw the willow grove on his way and they seemed to call, softly and sweetly as if weeping,
God, what a good man
Never a rest in his entire life span
Except for a tear of joy
in the man I am
Rain, shine, snow or no
to that place I know
Down by the water
where the willows grow.
Copyright © 2005 by Thomas R. Willits