Once again, this is coming late in the day. I had thought about doing a story about Buffalo Bull, but before I could get into that much, I had the idea that became this story. So no research was done in the making of this short story 🙂 (652 words)
The painting hung in my father’s study for as long as I can remember. It was just a reproduction, but my dad loved it enough to put it in a fancy frame. The Indian chief’s regal face looked out over Dad’s shoulders all those years. When I was in trouble, it seemed to glare down at me, echoing my father’s reprimands. I could no more meet his burning gaze than I could my father’s. Other times, when I was in Dad’s office for something besides a scolding, I loved looking at the painting. From his ornate headdress, past his stern eyes and scarlet facepaint, down to the decorated stick grasped in his hand, I lost hours admiring the fascinating piece.
Dad had told me his name once, and I never forgot it: Buffalo Bull’s Back Fat. I always thought it was such a strange name. I’d meant to do some research into why he was called that, what the significance was. But as the years passed by I somehow never got around to it. Now the chief presides over a dust-covered room. What seemed like such a large space in my childhood now just looks cramped and cluttered. Dad spent hours in here, and as I look around, I see the relics of his life. Louis L’Amour novels litter the shelves. There’s a picture of him in Vietnam. I’ll have to find his stories from the war. He never talked about it much, but I know he wrote some down. There’s a picture of him with one of his many old cars. He loved the old shoebox Chevrolets, and over the years had a number of ’55-’57 Chevys. He’s standing in front of a black ’57 that he sold in order to go to college. Years later he would have a nearly identical model, and he’d take us for rides.
The final framed picture is of him and Mom. She hated that Buffalo Bull painting as much as Dad loved it. But she knew how fond of it he was, so she didn’t complain. As long as it never made it past the threshold into her part of the house, she and the chief could peacefully coexist. Now Mom’s living with my sister in California. Mom and Dad both grew up there, but moved away once my sister was born. They missed the ocean, but not the crowds. Now that she doesn’t go out much, Mom doesn’t mind it.
The funeral was last week. It was a nice affair. Old and new friends gathered together to pay their last respects. Dad didn’t want a funeral. He always said to just bury him in a box in the pasture. But Mom wanted the chance to get the family together to say goodbye. There was no viewing though. Dad hated the idea of it, and when Mom got to heaven she didn’t want him to be grumpy over that. But he’d have to deal with the funeral.
We kids were all able to take some time away from our lives in order to go through the old house. It’s been good seeing my brother and sisters, even if the reason we’re here isn’t the happiest. I volunteered to tackle Dad’s office. I had no idea what I’d find in here, and maybe that was part of the appeal. But now I don’t know where to begin. The cabinets and shelves are full to overflowing, the desk covered with a mountain of papers. More than that it’s like there’s something holding me back. Maybe this place shouldn’t be disturbed. Maybe it needs to remain how it is, a lasting reminder of Dad’s life. I glance up at Buffalo Bull, and he almost seems to be smiling at me. It’s as if…as if he’s saying it’s all right, it’s okay to do what needs to be done. I grab an empty box and get to work.