Happy Jack

“Well, whaddya figure?” the old man asks. His eyes shift quickly sideways, examining me nervously from under the wide brim of his hat, but the lazy rhythmic chewing of the cigar dangling from the corner of his mouth continues without missing a beat. It gives the disquieting impression that the old man is both at ease and unease at once. 

We stand side-by-side, arms draped lazily over the top board of the fence, watching half a dozen of his horses graze in the gentle heat of the afternoon. If a couple out for a Sunday drive were to pass by at this very moment, the wife might very well turn to her husband and comment on the pastoral scene of country comfort: two men, one young, one old, standing shoulder to shoulder. But I know that neither of us are comfortable, and that my presence is to blame. My silence only intensifies the discomfort, but I don’t know what to say just yet, so I focus my attention on the scene in front of us; the field is green, still spongy from the spring thaw, and large sections are full of mud and downtrodden with hoof prints. Dealing with the mess of four-legged creatures is surely much simpler for the old man than the mess brought by me, a two-legged one.

I try to look relaxed, assured, poised, but the void in my stomach opens each time he speaks, and despite the breeze, the skin on the back of my neck prickles with sweat. He shrugs apologetically.

 “Appaloosas,” he says, jerking his chin towards the animals, offering up another topic for conversation. “That one on the right’s named Happy Jack. Nice little gelding. Sired by Buckeye Joe. And then there’s ol’ Wilbur . .”

The old man rambles on, obviously thankful to speak of something familiar.  I take the opportunity to size him up, stealing quick glances so he doesn’t notice my interest: his ancient boots are caked in mud and his jeans could use a good wash. Upon closer examination, his physical features strike me as familiar, and the void in my stomach opens again, but I ignore it and keep looking, examining, searching – taking stock. His cheeks are round and ruddy. His jaw, strong and slightly pointed at the chin. Lines crinkle around the corners of his mouth and eyes. As he speaks, his eyes, the same colour as the new grass blanketing the pasture, light up.

It’s him – it has to be him. I take a deep breath, and, for the first time since my arrival, speak with conviction. The words come tumbling out, interrupting his monologue on the temperament of Appaloosas.

 “I think you’re my father.”

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