Sonny Ray was living in
Las Vegas, Nevada when his father died.
Sonny Ray and his family had arrived at the pow wow on the Paiute reservation on saturday evening.
It was the annual event for the memorial day weekend.
Sonny Ray was standing in line for some frybread when his phone rang.
It was his older brother Stewart, calling from Tucson with some really bad news.
“Sonny Ray,” she called out softly, momentarily interrupting his thoughts. “Are you going to be all right?” Nikko, had taken their daughter, little Raye for a walk, and was not there when he had first taken the call. She was clearly shaken herself, but her concern now was for her husband. After leaving the pow wow early, they headed home, exchanging glances, and holding hands. Sonny Ray stared straight ahead, hot stinging tears rolled slowly from his eyes. Nikko caressed his neck, gently rubbing the nape of his hair.
In truth they were both afraid.
This was the very first direct hit either of their families had taken thus far. Death had struck close to home for sure; as close as a kiss on the lips. Little Raye lay fast asleep in the back seat of the car, as they continued south on the 95.
Sonny Ray was numb. He just wanted to get home to make some calls, and check on a flight to Tucson. They remained southbound on 95, headed for the Boulder highway exit.
The following morning,
Sonny Ray sat on the edge of his bed, thinking about the last conversation he had had with his father. He was packed and ready, waiting on the girls.
Sonny Ray sat on an emotional precipice; teetering on the edge, but outwardly behaving like his life was; as it always had been.
“Sonny Ray can I get you something, are you ok?” Nikko asked again, pleading now more present in her voice. “Yeah I’m
fine,” Sonny Ray responded, trying to sound casual like he had been in a fender bender.
But like most people who find out unexpectedly, that someone that they love has died, there is a sudden queasy pain; like how it felt when you got sucker punched in the stomach by the neighborhood bully.
A dull uneasy feeling coursed through his body.
A feeling that literally wanted to make him curl up in a ball, and pretend he never heard the words. For Sonny Ray, guilt spread slowly over his body. Just two months prior, Sonny Ray’s father had called. He sat on his bed staring at the floor, his fathers question reverberating over and over
again in his mind.
‘Son, when are you going to come down and visit your old man?’
His dad had retired from the military, and had decided Davis Monthan Air Force base would be his last duty station when he first arrived to Arizona in 1970.
“Nikko I’m ready, can we go?”
Sonny Ray sat quietly, because he realized not even his dad dying could alter his wife’s perception about time. She always seem preoccupied; searching for something, forgetting nothing.
Sonny Ray knew he had to keep his composure. “Nikko,” Sonny Ray said without expression, but with the hint of impatience. After so many years of the hurry up and wait routine, Sonny Ray grabbed his bag, and decided to go sit in the truck.
“I love you more little girl,”
Sonny Ray said, as he held his five year old daughter Raye, in his arms. Nikko kissed Sonny Ray on the lips, and squeezed his hand gently.
“Don’t forget to feed my horse,” Sonny Ray said trying to give his wife the stink eye. “Whatever
Son,” Nikko said, feigning offense. Nikko had forgotten to feed his horse, one Saturday when he went to Casa Grande to ride a few bulls in a small jackpot.
Over the years it had become their banter. Sonny Ray gave her a quick kiss trying to prevent her from pulling away. Nikko arched her head back laughing.
“Come here baby,” Sonny Ray said in his best Barry White.
“Would you go?” Nikko pretended like she was going to put her truck in gear.
“Okay, okay, don’t get your panties in a bunch.” Nikko pulled away from the curb. She winked and gave him a little tongue wave and a smile. Sonny Ray smiled, and stood waving at his family until the truck was assimilated into the warm Las Vegas night.
‘I can only give him a five and a half on that one,’ Sonny Ray thought to himself, as the jet touched down at Tucson international. Sonny Ray had flown on many an airplane, and as a kid he and his two brothers had made up the game of rating the pilots. If they landed smoothly they would be given high marks. Most pilots sucked anyway, but it had been fun to play as children. As an adult they still hadn’t improved that much, but the truth was Sonny Ray was always happy and relieved when the lights came on, and he heard the simultaneous sound of seat belts clicking. He grabbed his bag out of the overhead compartment, and stood quietly impatient like everyone else; desperate to get out of the confined space. His older brother Stewart greeted him at the gate. They bear hugged and left the cool confines of the airport, venturing out into the warm Arizona night. Although it was ten thirty at night it was a crisp 102° as the two men walked to the parking lot. Sonny Ray looked out to the north, seeing the outline of the Catalina mountains. They were like a close friend that had not judged him harshly for leaving. Sonny Ray, and his family had migrated to Las Vegas two years previous. The two men had barely spoken. After a few miles Stewart asked, “You feel like stopping at Johnny’s for something to eat?”
It was their old man’s favorite spot. “Sure, let’s go,” Sonny Ray replied.
“Mommy, when is my daddy coming home, huh when mommy?” Nikko smiled as she tucked her baby in for the night. “I don’t know baby your daddy has to help uncle Stewart with the funeral arrangements…” Nikko suddenly realized she was speaking to a five year old. “Daddy has to help uncle with grandpa’s things.” “What’s a funernull? What did you call it mommy?” “I called it goodnight little lady, mommy will talk to you more about in the morning. Sleep tight. I love you.” Nikko kissed her baby on her cheeks, as was their custom. “Okay mommy, love you.” Nikko double checked the window. Nikko finished the dishes, and made herself a cup of carob tea. She sat curled up on her couch, wrapped in a hand knitted afghan. She looked at the picture of her husband, and her brother in law Stewart, in happier times. “I hope those two can keep it together,” Nikko thought out loud. For two brothers who were really close at one time, they could be equally stubborn about a lot of shit. Typical petty shit. Nikko changed the channel, and enjoyed her tea before heading off to a hot relaxing soak in the bath.
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