Conrad had arrived at dawn, ready to do what needed to be done, but his father had been up for an hour already. The gutters were well underway, and Dad’s pride was palpable.
“I’m not a cripple, you know. I can just use an extra pair of hands.”
“Well, just point me where you need me.”
He gave his father a chuckle, an amused roll of the eyes, just as his mother had done for decades. But brave words aside, the man’s steps were uncertain as he inched down the ladder. Hands shaking as he reached the ground and stopped to catch his breath.
“Here, dad. I’ll finish this side. You check the back while I clean up.”
After another hour, Conrad could read exhaustion in his face; when Dad announced it was time to trim the old willow, Conrad feigned a cramp and suggested a break for coffee.
“We just started,” his father muttered, shaking his head. He made his way inside without protest, though, and within minutes of sitting he’d fallen asleep in the old living room chair.
Conrad sat watching him in silence, warming his hands around the mug of Folgers he’d poured. Hardly a year since she left, and it was already hard to remember how she’d animated his father’s face, filled it with her presence.
“Fuck.” He sighed, setting the mug down as quietly as he could, and slipped his phone out. One message from Meg.
?? doing ok, looks like shit but no accidents. be home at 4.
He sent the reply and turned to his father again.
“Hey. Dad.” A nudge, and the man stirred. “Leg’s fine now, I’m going to finish up the willow.”
The man blinked, confused for a moment, then huffed his agreement. He shifted half-heartedly in his seat, making a show of rising before Conrad stopped him.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got it. I think I need some time out there, too.” He met his father’s eyes: a nod, and a faint smile before he relaxed in the seat again. Eyes fluttering closed.