“An Old Man The Night Before His Death” by Colby Swift

“For one reason or another it comes to me: an old feller’s face, with no name. The feller used to be a friend of my daddy’s when they were alive, and when I was a kid my daddy would sometimes take me with him to see this friend. We didn’t go too often, usually in the summer when my daddy was feeling alright and when he was up to it. Me and him would climb into his truck and drive on over to Oneida, where the feller lived. It was a drive ’cause it was way out in the backwoods, but to me it never seemed to take that long. Whenever we’d pull into the drive, daddy’s friend would be leaning in the doorway of his place like he had been standing there all day waiting for us. He was a sad-looking feller, and skinny too, like he hadn’t never eaten a day in his life. And he was a smart man, with a room in his house with all these books that he’d read.

“I remember this man used to keep a lot of pets, some dogs and a few cats and a couple horses, and I’d play with them all for a while while he and my daddy talked. My favorite of his animals was this little green snake he kept in this wooden box. I liked it ’cause sometimes I would look down into the box and there would be this old husk from where the snake had shed his skin, and it fascinated me at how you could still see all the scales on it, how it just looked like a coat the snake had taken off for a little while, a memory you could touch. One time, I even watched the snake shed it with my own two little eyes. Imagine how great that was to me.

“Come to think, that was the last time I was ever there. Watching that thing shed itself clean, then I come out into the living room where my daddy and his friend was. Usually the friend’s wife was around the house when we’d visit, making coffee or sweet tea for the men, or sneaking me off to the bookroom where she’d slide me some candy and say, ‘Now, don’t tell your pa.’ But she wasn’t there on that last day. It was just my daddy and his friend out there in the living room, them leaning out the window together with my daddy’s arm around the man’s shoulders. Daddy wasn’t saying nothing and his friend was only crying. Then we left and never went back. Daddy never talked about that man again and I just sort of forgot about him, I reckon.”