It didn't take long to find him that night. He was out on the back porch, in the rain, staring up toward the fence at the far end of the yard. His jacket was soaked through and the brim of his old sunhat dripped dark water. I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my head and stood beside him. “Come on, Dad. Inside. You need to get to bed.”
He didn't look at me. His face was grim, shadowed in the dusky glare of the porchlight, watching the darkness. I could hear raindrops ticking on the eave above us. How long had he been out here? How long had he been doing this? “Dad, come on.” I grabbed his arm, annoyed. I wasn't in the mood to get wet just because my old man was losing his mind and refused to come inside.
Thunder guttered somewhere in the sky, far off but closer than before, and it seemed to wake Dad up. He squinted toward the far fence. “Got to trim back that vine,” he said, and stepped away from me, out into the yard.
“No you don't,” I said, stomping after him and grabbing his arm again. “You can trim it when the rain stops. Now come inside.”
He didn't answer, just looked out at the fence. I looked with him. Under the shadows at the end of the lot, a wayward vine had crept between the posts and boards, snaking in from the gulch out back. Its leaves were slick and black with rainwater, and it covered most of the fence, writhing and whipping in the wind. I shook my head. Big deal. It was a vine. Give me a machete and I could have it gone in ten minutes. “Let’s go, Dad, before you catch a cold.”
He turned toward me, his face haggard and dripping. “Can't wait. Got to trim it back. It'll get into the yard. Into Coral’s garden.”
I rolled my eyes, trying not to get angry. My mom had been dead for six years. Her garden had been dead longer. “We'll worry about that later, all right?”
He ignored me. I don't think he heard me. “A man tends his yard, son, tends his garden. You keep what you grow. Sometimes you got to cut the weeds.”
Yeah, Dad, you're losing it. I felt like I was talking to a character from a Stephen King novel. I gripped his arm harder and gave a pull. He stood fast. I cussed at the unfairness of it all.
He was obsessed with that plant, like it was his righteous mission to keep it in check. It had been there all through my childhood, threatening at the edge of the yard, and he’d always worked hard to hold off its invasion. After a while, it had become my chore. But I had slacked off. Too bad, Dad. It got in years ago.
I started to tug his arm again. “Dad—”
He spun toward me and wrenched his arm away, pulling me off balance, his face livid and harsh. The grass was wet and I felt my feet slip out from under me. I landed on my back in the yard, my head slamming against the porch steps.
I lay there, too stunned to get up, my head throbbing. He’d gotten me on the ground. Knocked me down. Rain pounded in my ears, and I could hear my dad tramping away, muttering to himself. Strong as ever.
I got to my feet, soaked with rainwater and mud, dejected and tired and frustrated. Dad had disappeared. Fine. If he wanted to trim the ivy, he could. I wasn't going to stop him. I looked up through the rain toward the top of the yard, and there he was, deep in the shadows, shears in hand, clipping at the vine. The thing had gotten big, I saw. Big and black. Like a snake. I cussed again, this time for a different reason.
Mom’s garden was up there somewhere, a place that should have held beautiful fruit. But that vine, that huge, dark serpent, had taken it over. Wind ripped at its leaves, and for a moment I saw it how Dad saw it. I saw it for what it was—a skeletal, blind thing pulling itself toward the house. Devouring.
Even now, Dad was determined. Got to trim back that vine.
Thunder rumbled above us. I stepped into the rain and went to help him.
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