Today I wrote for Mid-Week Blues-Buster. I skipped this one last week, because I just had so much going on. But I love Johnny Cash, and I couldn’t pass up a chance to let his music inspire me. Today’s MWBB was inspired by the song, “Ain’t No Grave,” by Johnny Cash.
The worms of cancer had spread through Dad’s body, wriggling their way through his intestines and then up to his brain before he even knew they existed. Simon said Mom fainted when the doctor gave him three weeks.
“Hell, three weeks and I’ll be up dancing a jig,” Dad said.
But, of course, he wasn’t. Hospice came with a hospital bed, and they set it up in the guest room. And a week later I took leave from work, and traveled the five hours to the town that held remnants of my childhood. I fell into my twin bed at midnight and turned out the lamp still adorned with a pink shade. I dreamt about the bullies who used to live next door. I woke up with tears in my eyes, after dreaming about how Dad used to take Simon and me to get ice cream every Sunday after church.
As the colors of dawn were spreading through the sky, I tiptoed to my father’s room like a child just woken from a nightmare. Simon was sitting on the edge of Dad’s bed, and he turned and looked at me with a grimace on his face.
“The nurse had to go to the bathroom.”
“What’s the song?”
“Ain’t No Grave by Johnny Cash. Dad’s playing it on repeat. I guess he wants to be a zombie or something.”
I laughed at my little brother, and came up to sit next to him on my Dad’s bed. I glanced over at Dad’s sallow cheeks, and listened to his raspy breathing, noticing how his chest was still rising and falling like the waves of the ocean just outside our front door. He was asleep and soon he’d be asleep forever.
“The song’s about salvation. Dad wants Jesus to meet him in heaven.”
“The song’s about someone wanting to live forever. Big headed and all that,” Simon said.
Tears sprang to his eyes, and I wrapped my arms around him. We sat huddled together on the side of the bed as Dad’s breathing rattled on, listening to make sure it didn’t stop. The nurse came back in, and she nodded at us then parked herself in the corner chair with her knitting needles.
“How’s Mom taking it?”
“Best she can. She thought there would be more time.”
“Don’t we always?”
“The nurse,” Simon said, nodding toward the woman in the corner, “said it would be soon. He’s not doing well.”
“So no jig dancing for him?”
Simon laughed and we hugged each other harder. Silence descended on the room, as we sat there listening to the clock tick through the early morning. The birds came out and began singing their songs of spring. Dad opened his eyes.
“My little girl.”
I scooted toward him. He wrapped his bone thin arms around me, and I let him hold me. I stopped crying and pulled away.
“Remember that time you took Simon and I down to Cheaha to spend the night. Mom refused to come. It rained all weekend, and we were miserable, but you were intent on staying. You wanted to show her all the fun memories we were making?”
We talked all morning about memories from our youth. “Ain’t No Grave” played in the background of our words. Dad asked Mom to read John 3:16 from the Bible.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
“That’s what the song means,” Dad said to Simon and me. “No need to fight about it.”
Then he turned his face away from us, looked at the white wall, and the rise and fall of his chest ceased.