by: Roger A Wilbanks
“Scrambled eggs again, fellas. I don’t feel much like making anything else.” Kyle shoveled heaping portions of spongy, yellow food onto everyone’s plate.
“That’s two days in a row, Kyle.” Eddie pointed out.
“Yeah, man. Only reason you even come out here is for the cooking. Hell. You still ain’t even killed a deer in 20 years of coming here.”
“I still don’t want to kill one, Chris. I just come out here with you guys to get away for a weekend. As long as I’m with you guys, Doris doesn’t worry about me…” he paused to look at Marcus, “…much.”
“Hey now, Vegas was YOUR idea, Kyle. It was your bachelor party, after all.”
All four friends stopped what they were doing and raised a coffee cup into the air, chanting in unison, “To the Moose.”
“May God have mercy on his soul…” Chris added.
“So what’s up buddy? You haven’t said hardly a word since we got down here.” Eddie and the others waited for an answer.
“It’s Frank. He’s dying.”
The three friends looked at Kyle as he went on. “Cancer. Doctor gives him two weeks.” He added, “Maybe.”
“Holy shit man. That sucks. I love Uncle Frank. That bastard taught me just about all we know in regards to the fairer sex.” Chris put down his coffee and said, “How’s your pops taking it?”
“Not so good. As brothers go, those two are inseparable. Not like me and Alan at all. The two of us can’t wait till we part company. And you guys know he just got over that Cancer thing himself last year.” Kyle stirred his eggs with a distracted fork. “It isn’t fair, man”
“Nothing about life is fair, Kyle.” Marcus said. “Ask my old man…when you see his ass in the afterlife, that is.”
“We all hated your dad, Marcus. But we were still sad to see him go. He was the first….” Chris coughed.
“Sorry Chris.” Kyle said. “But you were a kid when your folks died. We hadn’t even met you yet.”
Chris nodded and took a sip of coffee before going on. “Look guys. I was five when my parents died and trust me, I got off easy from the look of things in here. Sure, there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t wonder how different my life would have been if they’d have lived, but I accepted that they were gone a long time ago and even though it took a while, I moved on with my life.”
“What do you mean, ‘You got off easy?’” Eddie asked.
“Marcus is right. Life isn’t fair. The one thing you know that will never change is the fact that you are going to die. God’s big joke on us is just the timing.” He reached for the Tabasco sauce. “These eggs are good, Kyle.”
“I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Mainly since dad got Cancer last year. We get older and older every day. We’re like milk left out on the counter. Sure we get richer in one respect or the other. We enjoy successful jobs, loving families, good friends…but this is a long slow climb up to the top of this hill. It seems that just as we get close to the top of the mountain…the dying starts.”
He took a sip of coffee and stared at the ground.
“It starts out slow. An old uncle you never met dies when you’re a teenager. You go a few years without incident and then your dad’s favorite cousin dies. Then it’s your Uncle Tim, the guy that taught you how to shoot free throws. Then it’s your dad. Once the grim reaper gets started he just picks up speed. He mows down Aunt Clara, the one who always baked your birthday cake at Thanksgiving dinner. He cuts and swings through your roots and he doesn’t give a shit how it makes you feel. The second you begin to complain he lifts a bony-ass finger to shush you and says “It’s God’s Will.” Like that’s supposed to make you feel better as he reaches back for another big swing.”
Kyle shattered his coffee cup against the wall and collapsed onto the sofa with his head in his hands, weeping.
Eddie was the first to speak. “Look man. I know I’m the youngest out of all of us. You guys are like the Big Brothers I never had. I never understood why you even allowed me to hang out with you in the first place.”
“You had a car.” Chris answered. Even Kyle forced a laugh.
“Whatever. Alls I know is I look at you three as a time machine. I tell myself, ‘That’s what it’ll look like when I graduate.’ or ‘That’s the kind of job I want after college.’ Or ‘That’s the family I want to settle down with. Even this…” he gestured around the room.
“I know my folks are healthy and strong. I know they have a lot of time left in them. But I also know they’re going to die someday. Life isn’t permanent. Nothing is. The point is…I get it.”
The others turned their full attention to the youngest in their bunch.
“It’s like you said. Just when things get going right in our lives, on this hill we climb, we get to that point where shit starts falling off. Only it isn’t a gradual slope waiting on the other end of that hill. It’s a cliff. You reach a certain point and everyone begins to die. “
“I’ve noticed that myself,” Marcus added. “You guys been watching TV lately. You’ve seen it too. All those actors and athletes we grew up watching are dropping like flies. Not a day goes by I don’t have someone reminding me about that ‘In Threes’ bullshit. Like God’s trying to fill out half a six pack with just famous people. “
The others nodded in silence.
“So. What are we gonna do about it?” Chris asked.
“What do you mean ‘Do about it’?”
“I’m not suggesting we can cheat death. I’m asking what we’re going to do. There’s gonna come a day when everyone we hold dear is going to die. Even the four of us are going to die. What are we going to do about that?”
“I have a theory on that.” Eddie said.
“Something you guys said struck a tune in my head. That ‘Just when we get settled’ part. You guys have it all wrong, I figure. It’s not that we spend our whole lives doing well to have the rug pulled out from under us. It’s to prepare us.”
Kyle looked up at Eddie. “Explain, please.”
“I have always seen live as analogous to a roller coaster. It follows the same pattern. In our youth, we are waiting in line. We anticipate, and learn from the ones that are ON the rollercoaster how to act. In our good years, we get ON the rollercoaster. We go up, we go down. We have fun. But then it ends and we get off. We die the second we leave that car. It’s only in the amusement park where we get a do-over and get on again.”
“So your answer is ‘Sit down in the car and take it’?” Kyle asked.
“Hell no.” Eddie stamped. “My answer is get on that Goddamn car and enjoy every fucking dip, twist and loop there. Ride this thing with our hands in the air and our eyes wide open. We’re dead the moment we’re born. Nothing is going to alter that fact. When faced with the choice of taking that lying down or actually living life well, we’re all basically cowards. That’s why we loved frank so much. That guy knew how to live. If his life can teach us anything it’s that this time we have here is too short for mourning. I say ‘Cheers Frank!’ Thank you for the lesson.”
Kyle stared at Eddie as if seeing him for the first time. The other two glanced at each other cautiously, afraid to interrupt this moment. Finally Kyle spoke.
“You’re right. I know we have good lives guys. But We sleepwalk. We spend too much time worrying about the bullshit, that we forget the important stuff. Like you guys. I don’t come here to cook…I come here to spend time with my best friends. We might not be here tomorrow and there’s so much I want to say to you all.”
“Let me stop you right there, Kyle.” Chris interrupted. “We know you don’t like killing deer. You don’t have to explain that to us. But you don’t have to say anything melodramatic. We understand. That’s the beauty of being a guy. Just know these things.”
“Marcus said, “So…what do you want to do, Kyle?”
Kyle looked at the rifle he spent $600 on three seasons ago. “You know…I never killed another animal in my life. It always seemed wrong. It doesn’t seem any more right now than it did this morning, but for some reason, it feels necessary. Like I have to see death up close and personal.”
He looked at his three friends. “I’m going to do it today. I’m going to kill a deer. Not because I want to, but because I need to.”
The three friends looked at each other. They had made sport of their friend’s aversion to killing things over the course of their entire friendship. Now, when faced with a suddenly willing participant, something about the sudden conversion felt off. To allow their friend to do this one thing on a whim, with what amounted to revenge on death made the act itself seem dirty and less enjoyable.
Eddie was the first to voice this.
“No.” he said.
“Excuse me?” Kyle asked.
“Not going to let you do it. Not like this.”
“Five minutes ago, you had your head in your hands bemoaning death. Five minutes ago, death was the enemy. Now you want to go kill a deer just because you have this sudden epiphany about the natural order?”
“That’s cold, man.” Chris said.
“But necessary.” He looked at a confused Kyle. “One of the things I have always respected about you is the value you place on life. All life, Kyle. Just because you see death all around you doesn’t mean you have to change, man. You’re better than that.”
Marcus agreed. “He’s right man. You do this and there’s no going back. Right now, you still have that slate inside…and it’s clean. Aside from killing the odd insect here and there and fragging the noobs on Call of Duty, your conscience is clean. Killing a deer isn’t going to change the fact that Frank’s dying. It’s not going to help you come to grips with it. And it’s sure as hell not going to bring you any closer to understanding death in the first place.”
Kyle paused in thought as these words sunk in. Seconds ago, he wanted to kill something. Anything. He felt something bubble deep inside him. He thought it was bloodlust, but now realized it was anger. Anger at Death. Anger at his impotence in the face of it. Anger that he was ill equipped to deal with something that had been with Humanity as long as body odor.
He looked at his friends and smiled.
“How about some more eggs?”
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