Fiction — From the March 2007 issue

The Requirement

Well, you get older and you begin to lose people, kinfolks and friends. Or it seems to start when you’re getting older. You wonder who was looking after such things when you were young. The people who died when I was young were about all old. Their deaths didn’t interrupt me much, even when I missed them. Then it got to be people younger than me and people my own age that were leaving this world, and then it was different. I began to feel it changing me.

When people who mattered to me died I began to feel that something was required of me. Sometimes something would be required that I could do, and I did it. Sometimes when I didn’t know what was required, I still felt the requirement. Whatever I did never felt like enough. Something I knew was large and great would have happened. I would be aware of the great world that is always nearby, ever at hand, even within you, as the good book says. It’s something you would maybe just as soon not know about, but finally you learn about it because you have to.

That was the way it was when Big Ellis took sick in the fall of 1970. He was getting old and dwindling as everybody does, as I was myself. But then all of a sudden he wasn’t dwindling anymore but going down. First thing you know, he was staying mostly in bed. And then he had to have help to get out of bed.

Heart, the doctor said, and I suppose it was. But it wasn’t just that, in my opinion. I think pretty well all of Big’s working parts were giving out. He was seventy-six years old.

I’d walk over there through the fields every day, early or late, depending on the weather and the work. I was feeling that requirement, you see.

I would say, “Big, is there anything you need? Is there anything you want me to do?” hoping there would be something.

And he would say, “Burley, there ain’t one thing I need in this world. But thank you.”

But he didn’t mean yet that he was giving up on this world. I would sit by the bed, and he would bring up things we would do when he got well, and we would talk about them and make plans. And in fact he really didn’t need anything. Annie May, who loved him better than some people thought he deserved, was still healthy then. As far as could tell, she was taking perfect care of him.

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