"Out There in the Sunlight"
A slighted son confronts his father.
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“Out There in the Sunlight”
Copyright © William Auten
In the fields rippling under an ocean breeze, Junior shoots up among the strawberries. “I know why you’re laughing,” he yells in Spanish. “I’m not deaf.”
The other workers roll their eyes; grunt; tighten into a ball kneeling between rows; snicker like before—when Junior requested a longer break as he does on Saturdays—but quieter. Someone farther back yells at Junior to get back to work. “Bebé grande!” echoes between leaves, mountains, and the sun sinking for the water. Someone adds crying gets no money. Men and women near Junior giggle; one of the men adds Junior has always been a big baby; no, a woman corrects, his hands are. They all agree Junior is not his father.
“Assholes,” Junior mutters first in English and then louder in Spanish. He lowers his ball cap and reties his hoodie pulled up. As he drops strawberries into his clamshell container, he glares at his father checking each row; clapping; laughing and smiling; patting backs and shoulders; motioning to the truck to stop, water sloshing in the dome attached on its bed, and filling workers’ canteens and cups. The conveyor belt pulling up strawberries like hearts buzzes as loud as the rumor in Junior’s head. He does not hear talk about knee or back pain; a slipped disc from last season or ten seasons ago; carpal tunnel; diabetes or heart disease; the Dodgers opening day; Easter weather; nor does he hear gossip—except about his father’s will.
When Senior shuffles alone to the Porta John, Junior rips off his gloves and marches over.
“Otra vez?” someone asks behind a bandana.
“¡Renunció!” someone teases.
The rows chortle when a teenage boy exaggerates fainting. Carts dragging over dirt and the conveyor belt muffle the chuckling, but Junior spits on the ground at Again? and He quit!, smears sweat and soil across his lips, and posts himself outside the Porta John. He straddles the ground, but before he kicks the door, it opens. Senior steps out, one boot at a time, coughing and swatting; lowers his cowboy hat over his eyebrows a tractor-engine fire singed into stubble; and lights a cigar pulled from his shirt pocket.
“Mi’jo,” the old man says, “are you sick again?”
“I’m your son by blood but not on paper.”
It’s OK Senior motions to workers standing up. “Why don’t we talk after work?”
“So it’s true.” Junior creeps closer. “You cut me out from the will.”
Senior puffs his cigar while humming a slow yes.
“Cammy and me help you after Mom’s gone, and this is what you do? I get nothing?”
“You still get something. You’re my oldest son.”
“I hear from them it’s nothing.” Junior jabs his delicate fingernail behind him. “They said Manny’s getting all of it.”
“You still get something.”
“I go from half to something?”
“Manny does not get it all because you get some.”
Junior rummages through tools, supplies, and packing materials alongside the Porta Jon and, and when he snatches a sickle-shaped fruit knife, wielding it like a talon, men in the fields rush over, waving their arms and shouting, “¡Cuchillo, cuchillo!” Screams scare off birds. Workers huddle behind the water truck, shake their heads, or run for their cars while Knife, knife! resounds. Arms splayed, Junior pounces around his father who slouches against the Porta Jon; he pokes and slices the day’s breeze and brightness; he lunges forward, backward, side to side like a young animal learning to walk while fencing a ghost.
Senior waves off the men closing in behind him and Junior. His boots kick dirt over cigar ashes. “And this is why, mi’jo. Just like at the hospital.”
Junior’s eyes soften but pulse red as he cringes. He loops the knife onto his belt and hikes up his jeans. “Next time I see you,” his voice quivers, “I’m gonna put you down you for real.”
“Come to Alex and Jo’s tonight. You can do that then.” Senior puffs his cigar before snuffing it in one of the Porta John’s dents and returning it into his shirt pocket. “They have a new horse.”
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