The Good Ones
My daddy always said that I could be a good one. My brother, he didn’t have much hope for. “Too much Crystal in that one,” Daddy’d say and shake his head. I knew what that really meant was that he saw himself in Solomon and not in me, though I’m the one with his blue eyes, his dark hair.
I wondered about other daddies and if they made decisions about their boys like this, and if maybe telling one to be good and one to be bad is really what makes them that way.
My friend Carmine is a thief. He will take anything from anybody. The normal stuff like money and cigarettes, but he’ll also shove weird junk into his pockets, like loose screws and old receipts. From my own house, I once saw him take a half used tube of toothpaste and a tiny souvenir thimble my mom had brought back from her one vacation trip to Niagara Falls when her and Daddy got married. I didn’t say nothing because I wanted to see what he’d do with them, and I looked for that thimble every time I went to his house after that, but never did see it.
Besides, Daddy was already real sick by then and Mom wasn’t hardly around, so Carmine could have stole everything in that trailer and I wouldn’t have much cared.
I think maybe that’s why Carmine came over that day—to see my daddy dying. When I wouldn’t let him in Daddy’s bedroom, he stuck the thimble in his pocket and left.
My daddy is a twin, or was. I don’t know what’s right to say when one half is gone and one is still there. Am I a son, or was I a son? I don’t know.
Anyhow, my daddy is a twin and sometimes I wonder if somebody told him and my uncle, Sam, when they were little which was going to be the good one and which was going to be the bad. Maybe when they were babies, even, and nobody thought they could hear, but they could, so when they grew big, Uncle Sam went to the Army, and Daddy went out drinking.
'Course, we’re all Crystals, so no one much expected us to be anything anyhow.
It seemed like it happened all at once, like one day Daddy was fine and full of spit, and the next he was down, shrinking up into himself. I know it couldn’t have been like that. There were days, maybe even a couple weeks in between, but time doesn’t seem to matter anymore, and I can’t remember everything.
Sometimes Granny would walk over some food and offered to wash our clothes, but couldn’t much go back into the cave of Daddy’s bedroom.
When he came home to die, it was only me who took care of him. Sometimes Granny would walk over some food and offered to wash our clothes, but couldn’t much go back into the cave of Daddy’s bedroom. She’d start getting choked and teary just stepping up on the porch, and she was a tough old lady. I’d hate to see her that way, so I’d tell her it was okay, and just to go back on home. Sometimes she’d put her hand on me, shake her head, mumble something about a boy seeing his daddy this way, start to say, “Andy, I wish—”, but would never finish.
One day a guidance counselor called me into her office. She had a stack of pamphlets, but never gave them to me. “There’s help, for people in your situation,” she said. “You don’t have to go through this alone.”
“I ain’t alone,” I said. This wasn’t the first time me or my brother Solomon had been called into guidance counselors’ offices. Once in grade school, they’d tried to give me and my brother Christmas gifts. Underprivileged. And once or twice someone had worried about a bruise or a black eye. Every time we’d told them to mind their own business. Leave us be. Finally, they mostly did.
“I’ve got my mom,” I said, even though it was a lie and most of the county knew it. She’d stay home sleeping on the couch maybe one or two nights a week. Solomon still wanted to curl up next to her, ask her to rub his back in circles like when he was a baby. Maybe she had her reasons, but I couldn’t even speak to her anymore. After Daddy died, she came back more often, looking worse and worse from her hard living all the time. I swore, though, that I wasn’t going to take care of her too.
“Andy,” the counselor had said. She had a soft face, like something you could put your hands in and squish around. “What about Hospice Care? Has anyone talked to your daddy about them coming in to help?”
“We don’t want no charity,” I’d said, getting madder and madder. I couldn’t picture some nurse in her nice white clothes, driving down into Crystal Holler, coming into our dark, dirty trailer. The sour, sick smell of Daddy’s bedroom filled my nose and I gagged.
“It’s not charity, honey, it’s-- ”
“Look,” I’d finally said, and stood up. “This ain’t none of your business. I take care of my daddy.” I’d pushed the chair over as I left, just cause I liked the sound of it clinking to the floor. Just cause I knew I could.
For a while, Solomon tried to help me with Daddy, but I started seeing this look in his face, this changing, and I remembered what Granny had said about how a boy shouldn’t have to see his father that way, so I told Solomon to stay out. I reckoned I was already ruined by it, but he didn’t have to be. He could wash up the few dishes, and maybe cut the grass sometimes, but I would take care of Daddy. I’d help him into a chair and strip off the wet, smelly sheets. It’d be my wrist that his skinny, long fingers would grab when he was half out of his head, when he’d call me Sam and ask if the blackberries were ripe yet, or if they were still too green to eat. I watched him die the most so Solomon wouldn’t have to.
When he finally did go ahead and die, he was by himself. Me and Solomon were in school and when we got home and I went in to check on him; he was still. I didn’t know at first, because sometimes when he slept, he breathed so shallow that it could be hard to tell, so I had to touch him, get in bed with him and shake him and holler his name, before I knew for sure. His eyes were shut, but his mouth was open, and when I tried to shut it, it wouldn’t go. Then I went to Pap’s, and Pap called the ambulance.
My daddy hadn’t been in trouble for a long time; when those cops came into our trailer, they barely looked at him in his bed, but made sure to open drawers and poke around in the closets, pick up old mail and throw it back down on our coffee table so that it scattered and fell all over the floor.
“You boys can’t stay here by yourselves,” one said, so tall that with his Smokey the Bear hat on, he nearly scraped the ceiling in our living room. This was a cop named Royce and somebody told me later that he knew my daddy in high school and that they were friends. “Where’s your mama?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Yeah,” Cop Royce said. “I bet I do.” I figured he was probably right. She was probably at the Stumble Inn or one of the other dark little bars in town. “Go stay with your Pap tonight. I’ll take care of her.”
Some of the cops were looking around outside too, but when one got close to the wood line, and made to go in, Pap stopped him and said, “There ain’t nothing in those woods that has to do with the cancer that killed my boy, so there ain’t no cause for you to be back in there.” They had a stare down, but the cop knew Pap was right, so eventually turned around and went back to his car. Royce told them it was time to go. They all left but him. He waited outside with me while the ambulance people wrapped up Daddy’s body in a blanket, carried it down the narrow hall and out the front door. Solomon was standing by me too, and I could hear him sniffling. I wanted to tell him to stop, that Daddy wouldn’t want to see him crying like a baby, but I didn’t, and when he grabbed hold of my hand, I didn’t shake him off.
The next day, me and Solomon went into Daddy’s bedroom and cleared most everything out. We made a big pile out back and I used the lawnmower gas from the little red jug to douse it. Sheets and clothes and pill bottles and bedpans and that chair I’d set him in while I stripped the bed. We burned it all, and it burned for a long, long time.
Natalie Sypolt lives and writes in West Virginia. She received an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University and currently teaches creative writing, literature, and composition. Her works has appeared in Glimmer Train, Switchback, r.kv.r.y Quarterly Literary Journal, Ardor Literary Magazine, Superstition Review, Paste, Willow Springs Review, and The Kenyon Review Online, among others. Natalie is the winner of the Glimmer Train New Writers Contest and the Betty Gabehart Prize. She also serves as a literary editor for the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, the High School Workshop Coordinator for the West Virginia Writers Workshop at WVU, and is co-host of SummerBooks: A literary podcast.