In the presence of myself and Little Brother, both in our sixteenth year, Mother shot our father point-blank through the heart on the steps of our humble home. The redness crept across his Sunday shirt as she cradled his paling life in her lap. She stroked his hair while pressing his sagging head against her bosom, grieving as if he’d been laid low by some crazed stranger. Passersby on an otherwise peaceful Sabbath gathered to view the tragedy. She lifted the pistol and pointed it at anyone sporting a notion of helping her dying husband. Little Brother and I stood transfixed, watching the unimaginable scene play out as if performed by a ghostly troupe of actors on a stage of disordered reality. With our father’s last breath, a gold nugget fell from his hand. Mother tossed it as if it were the agent of such turmoil. It rolled on the hard dirt and came to rest beside Brother’s boot. He picked up our misbegotten inheritance and studied it before handing it to me. I pushed it into my pants pocket, wincing as its jagged edge pierced my thumb.
“I pity you boys,” said our mother, then turned the gun on herself.
* * *
Father lapsed into spells of fancy in which he claimed to have come out of the west, insisting he’d found the fabled gold at the end of a rainbow that arced across a glittering sea. He sacrificed great wealth by leaving it behind, barely surviving the savagery of inhospitable lands as he traveled east to woo and marry the beautiful woman who became our mother. During father’s fugues, he wondered aloud if forsaking love might have proven the wiser choice. Mother would leave the room, in tears. Father didn’t notice.
“That all there is to the story?” I’d ask.
“What story you referrin’ to, son?”
“You only have one, Pa. You never tell us the details of your peculiar journey.”
He stared at me with a quizzical expression.
“I reckon whatever details you’re expectin’ already exist in your imagination.”
Then he’d stand and smile and walk away, leaving us to wonder if his tale held a bit of truth. ’Tis little surprise the nugget that fell from our father’s hand came to define Brother’s destiny, and mine.