Whisper and his father had been at odds for many years. Whisper had cried at the hospital when his father died, but for the most part Whisper hated his father. Most of it stemmed from his dad’s inadequacies as a man. As Wendell was a very weak and insecure man, his behavior often lended itself to varied inconsistencies. As a man who remained lost in a sea of alcohol; it was like being in a row boat with a gorilla, and only one oar.
As such, discipline was generally dispensed when Wendell was intoxicated. Wendell would often tell Whisper that he was the bad penny that always turned up. As a kid he had no idea what that meant. However, Whisper understood what his father meant when he told him he was stupid, and was never going to amount to anything. Over the years Whisper began to believe that, and acted accordingly. But he suffered for that belief as he evolved into an emotionally crippled boy; trapped in a man’s body. Like all of Wendell’s children, he too was the poster child for low self esteem.
It was a few years prior to Sonny Ray moving up to Las Vegas, that Whisper had begun his downward spiral. It was on a Christmas Day, when Sonny Ray received a frantic call from Whisper’s sobbing girlfriend, Gabriella. She had begged Sonny Ray for help. It was a cold rainy overcast day in Tucson. His brother had a pistol to his temple, and was contemplating ending the year in dramatic fashion. Whisper had been up all night, drinking beer, and snorting cocaine. ‘A lovely combination this fine Christmas morning,’ Sonny Ray thought as he drove to his brothers apartment alone. Nikko had protested, but he went anyway. After a short fifteen minute drive; he turned into Whisper’s apartment complex.
Sonny Ray parked, and walked to his brothers apartment. After knocking, Gabriella opened the door and let him in. She was understandably upset. Sonny Ray instructed Gabriella to take his niece into the bedroom. She was fearful for Sonny Ray, but after urging her several times she closed the bedroom door and waited. Sonny Ray turned his attention toward his younger brother, who sat on the couch in a drunken stupor. Without a word he picked up the .357 magnum, and unloaded it. Putting the shells in his pocket he placed the pistol on the coffee table, and sat down next to Whisper. On that table were half filled syringes of blood. Small puddles of fresh blood covered the table; strewn about were cigarette butts, empty beer cans, and a half eaten carne asada burrito. Whisper had been drawing blood from his arms. He had a nice sized welt on his forehead from smashing beer cans. There was a bottle of Jack, and remnants of cocaine on a small vanity mirror.
Beer cans were strewn on the floor around the coffee table. Whisper had held onto several syringes from his body building days. Dried blood streaked down the inside of his forearms. He had large purple welts on his inner arms where he had been sticking himself. Sonny Ray had sat there for some time without speaking. His quiet demeanor had arrested Whisper’s attention. Whisper occasionally looked up at his brother through glossy, and bloodshot eyes. “What; in the hell are you doing?” Sonny Ray finally asked.
“I don’t want to deal with this shit anymore Sonny.” Sonny Ray was respected by his younger brother, and often he would listen. But as they had gotten older, that respect had waned. Undeterred, Sonny Ray offered to take his brother to get some help. They ended up talking for several hours. Sonny Ray cleaned up the blood, and gathered up all the trash. After going to the dumpster, he encouraged Gabriella and the baby to come out of the bedroom. They retreated to a large chair. Gabriella was terrified, and sat quietly as Sonny Ray talked a couple of more hours to his brother. Whisper began to sober up some. He apologized to his family, and promised to get help. After leaving he headed down the rainy slick roads of Tucson. Sonny Ray knew Whisper wasn’t ready to make a change in his life. That was years ago, and Whisper was still doing Whisper. Of course he rode solo these days. Gabriella and their daughter Johnnie D, disappeared shortly after the near suicide on Christmas day.
Whisper never saw his family again.
Sonny Ray looked up as Stewart turned into the parking lot of the small funeral home. The two brothers sat with a sense of dread as they waited for their two siblings. Stewart was a little pissed at Whisper for not being as helpful as he could have. Sonny Ray couldn’t be bothered with that aspect of his younger brother. That was who his brother was. You could count on not counting on him. But hell, at least he was consistent. The four siblings finally merged to face death together. Stewart held the door as the trio filed in quietly. After speaking to the funeral director they were lead to a small room to view their father one last time. Wendell lay in an inexpensive coffin, per his request. The four approached their father in painful reverence. After fifteen minutes or so the commentary began.
“Man, I cannot believe we forgot dad’s dentures,” Stewart said, as he stood next to his father’s casket. They all nodded, staring at their father’s down turned mouth like they were judges in a undertaker competition. “Well, it’s not like he needs them; Whisper offered, getting his penny’s worth in. The other three siblings all turned and looked at their cracked out brother. Michelle just stared at her dad saying nothing. Whisper on the other hand was a little more touchy-feely as he began to touch his father’s chest, and finally his face. “Dad feels hard as rock,” Whisper said in childlike wonder.
“Uh, that’s because he’s dead bro,” Sonny Ray said, unable to resist.
“I know that smart ass, it just feels weird Sonny Ray, okay?” Sonny Ray checked himself, not wanting to wind up the volatile Whisper. “Sorry bro, you walked into that one,” Sonny Ray said, with the hint of a repressed smile. “Whatever asshole,” Whisper said. “Okay you two, enough already,” Stewart interjected. Sonny Ray smiled but said nothing. Their old man would have laughed at Sonny Ray. Wendell after all was where they had gotten their sense of humor. Michelle suddenly broke down, and sort of cried. “You okay Michelle?” Stewart asked. She nodded in the affirmative and said, “I don’t like the way they did dad’s hair.”
They all finally turned their attention to their father and his hair. After a moment they all began to nod in unison.
“Yeah, your right Dad always combed to the side not straight back,” Stewart offered. They all fell quiet; looking into their dead father’s face. His unmoving face resembled a map, a map that once lead into their lives; and now that map, that face, was leading them out, to who knows where. They were on their own now, really on their own. They lingered for a time, and said their goodbyes. Tomorrow, they would lay their father to rest.