Part 8 of 30 -- Speaking Ill of The Dead
Old Pa Murphy was in the field on a sunny hot spring day, closely attended by his dog (not pictured), working the horse up and down the rows. And just so no one has a heart attack from suspense, Pa died that day.
Pa was very used to the heat and work, so one day was like any other. He was used to the exercise, the field and everything to avoid, a little ledge at the edge, a big rock, etc. The horse was also used to every nuance of land and of man, Pa’s whoas and giddyups. You might say man and horse were pretty much equal, with the dog also in the mix, also knowing the ins and outs of the house, giving him a leg up.
You really get used to tilling the land when it’s always the same old field. You know exactly how long it’s going to take, where you’ll be when it strikes noon, and where the shadows will be. Some things you just know. Pa thought, “At 3:30 I’ll be pulling off my boots, stretching out.” He had it down to precise seconds.
I like to plan my day, too. But as a friend of the Murphy’s I can say my life hasn’t been as tough. Whatever field plowing there is to do, someone else does it. You go up and down the road and each of those squares of land is some other guy’s. Mrs. Clary has a hired hand to plow her place since Butch died. Because what can you do? Fields don’t stop for anyone. They’re either going to sprout up with weeds or crop, whichever takes hold first.
So it was just another day for Pa Murphy — he was thankful for it, that wasn’t a problem — one in a sequence of days and a span of life that would likely go on the same till Judgment Day. And if not, there’s always a place in the church cemetery for residents of the area. The country's nice. I should move there. I have a place in the Big City, but the neighbors aren’t quite like the Murphys or Clarys. My neighbor confronted me here one day, telling me in strangely harsh tones, “You stay over there and I’ll stay over here!” indicating the property line. We haven’t spoken since.
Well, I’m no fan of the neighbor guy, but the country's not heaven on earth either. So let’s just get to it, the suspense is killing me. But it ain’t killing me as much as it did Pa Murphy. Sweet, tender, Pa Murphy. People said, What’s going to become of Ma? It’ll be just like the Clarys, she’d have a few more expenses getting a handyman, but it was still easier than me having Big City neighbors.
The horse was tired and halting. The sun beat down. Pa brought his sleeve up to wipe the sweat off his brow. “It’s a hot one,” he called to the horse, which rared back its head like it understood. It wasn’t a full minute later but Pa looked up toward the big blue sky and thought he saw a parting, an indescribable vision of something astir. When, amazingly, of all the things in all the world -- the Earth is fairly big -- a random piece of space junk arced across the sky and zipping down hit Pa Murphy right in the head, killing him! Pa's last thought was, "Could've been a fender from Skylab or maybe the dashboard of a Russian craft, headed this way at a good clip..." CLUNK! It was a big deal. The ambulance was there, stretching him out, boots, etc., and waiting for the slightest twitch. The horse and dog were fine, just singed tails.
A few years later the church went out for a christening service when the new folks moved in. Who named the field — they had an actual field-naming service — “Pa Murphy Memorial Space Junk Landing Site.” The authorities said that sucker came in at over 17,000 mph!
If there’s anything I can speak ill of Pa about, it’s this: 1) If it was hot out, he should've taken a break before that thing fell; 2) In the end, he had maybe five seconds, six at most. Instead of looking up at the sky like an idiot, he should've run for the hills.