A few months ago he had taken to spending his usual long hours out there watching, often neglecting the ever-present book in his lap entirely. Rocked and rocked, sipped his bourbon, I assumed he was simply deep in meditation and left him to it.
This day was no different, save that he remained outside longer than usual.
"What are you waiting for, Pop? Dinner's ready!" I shouted from the kitchen while setting the table.
"Waiting? I reckon I am waiting, at that. S'pose I'll wait just a little while longer." His reply was odd, but so was he and I thought little of it. I began to grow concerned when the sun went down and his reaction was to come inside to retrieve his pipe and a candle and before I could say a word he was already back out the door. I followed close behind.
"Everything alright, Pop?"
"Oh…I reckon as alright as it will ever be junior, I've just become rather struck with this book." Here he held up a well-worn paperback, the cover depicting a curious, nearly faded symbol - three balls chasing each other in a circular pattern. "Old Jim came 'round Thursday to have a chat and a pipe and before he left he impressed upon me to read this dusty thing. Jim passed Sunday night and now I can't shake the feeling I owe it to him to read it."
I squeezed his shoulder softly. "Sorry to hear that dad."
"Bah. That damned hippie…he was alright. He was alright."
I could sense the tension in him and thought better of pressing further. "Just don't forget to lock up when you come in. G'nite Pop"
Sleep was fitful that night. Dreams of emptiness and the river. Dreams of watching dad swimming - going into the water as the elderly gentleman he was, emerging as a the young man I only half-remembered from childhood and old photos. Even in the dream he watched the hills, watched the dark places between the trees, stared expectantly up and down stream at the places where the water met the sky.
Around midnight I awoke to the sound of murmuring voices. I slid out of bed and padded silently to the balcony door, pulling it open and straining to hear what was apparently a conversation between my father and a late visitor. It seemed the harder I listened, the harder the wind blew, rustling leaves drowning out both voices. The sound of wind and leaves and the nearby rapids gurgling combined to soothing effect and I sat down on my own perch. Occasionally I'd hear laughter or an outburst wafting up with the fragrant pipe smoke.
"Your turn old man."
"Who are YOU calling old?!"
I concluded that a friend must have come by and they were playing chess on the ancient board that made its home on the porch, and I relaxed deeper into my seat. I had nearly drifted off when it became eerily silent, the wind died and stillness permeated the farm. In the silence I heard the speaking clearly below.
"Been waiting a while."
"I know. Nothing to be done."
"Tell me your name?"
"Nothing to be done."
Silence. Exhaustion overtook me and I fell asleep.
Sunlight streaming over the bluff woke me. I walked downstairs to get the coffee on when I noticed the front door standing open, so I stepped over to have a look outside.
There he sat, on his perch as every other day, that strange book in lap, facing out over the field. He was blue as the river - empty eyes wide open, staring at nothing.
A scrap of paper and a pen lay atop the chess board.
Son, as an old friend once told me,
"It's just a ride."
Tell the girls not to worry.
If ever they miss me, I'll be in the river.
All my love, Pop