Towards the top of the mountain the tangled road widens and I park my truck. Each trip I tell grandpa the same thing.
“You just sit here and I’ll fill them up real quick.”
Each trip he spits back, “I reckon surely I got one more in me.”
Grandpa shuffles from the bed of my truck to a spring coming off the mountain. He has a gallon jug in each hand. The plastic is stained from the hundreds of trips they’ve made to the spring.
The old man insists he can fill the jugs on his own so I smoke a cigarette and stare at the usual paper bags and dope needles clogging the ditch.
The spring water trickles down a small face of slate rock. The first jug fills slowly. So slow I wonder if there’s even enough water rolling off the mountain or if it’s aiming to run dry on us here and now.
I could buy enough water to last the old man a year for what it costs me in gas to drive up here, but he won’t hear of it. Guess it don’t matter much anyways. We won’t be making the trip up here much longer. He has never looked so weak. He makes his way back to the truck with a gallon of fresh spring water straining each of his wrists, taunt from the weight of the water that’s flowed. His joints crackle beneath his flesh.
One morning a car full of drunks whizzed by. They were in a little souped up Pontiac. They cackled gladly, their lungs full of the laughter. Laughter that comes with surviving another night of Hell on Earth. They came by so fast I wondered if grandpa’s knees would buckle.
Today the winding road is silent. The parties haven’t stopped, but they’ve changed in ways I wish I didn’t know. Grandpa heaves the jugs of water into the truck bed and whispers a curse. He favors one knee for a moment then eases his shrunken frame onto the bumper to rest. He breathes in the shy morning air and speaks without looking at me.
“I need some new jugs.”
“What you need is some new knees.”
He’s a man of few words. He snatches two more plastic jugs and heads back to the spring. His slow shuffle and the end of my cigarette make my legs tickle and my guts wrench tight. You couldn’t slide a playing card between his loafers and the ground as he steps. His knees shiver and there’s a quiver in his hands. Just about his entire body trembles. You’d think the Earth was shaking. Some kind of a rumbling rising up from the needle and pop bottle littered dirt.
My cigarette butt joins the trash in the ditch. I don’t see where it lands. My eyes are locked on grandpa at the spring. The old man’s shuffle comes to a stop as he makes his way up to where the stream dribbles down. He searches for footing that ain’t there. His left leg straightens out as his loafer loses traction in the mud. He plops down on his ass-end with a squish.
He doesn’t try to get up right away and I don’t move to help him. We both stand rooted. The spring water patters at his feet. My chest swells with a foolish anger towards the stream. His bald head slumps between his shoulders. It’s the closest I’ve come to crying since grandma died.
I finally make my way towards the old man. He’s still planted on his bottom. The front of his overalls are a deeper blue. His wrinkled white knuckles squeeze the gallon jugs tight.We hook arms. I say nothing and lift him with ease. Grandpa is shaken from the fall, but finds his footing. He’s still too stubborn to drop the empty jugs.
“Give me that.” I say and take one of the jugs. He grabs onto my shoulder to steady himself. He gives me a pinch, but I don’t know the meaning of it.
“Might as well get these last two.” He says.
He plunges one of his loafers into the murky puddle beneath the stream then holds a jug up to the trickle. He struggles to hold it steady. As it fills his hands tremor. The water laps at the mouth of the plastic container and spills out over his wrists. I expect him to drop it, but he jerks it back to his chest and screws the cap on.
“Maybe we ought to head over to the store for water next month.” He says. I can hear a weariness in his voice.
Grandpa turns back to the truck. I fill the last jug on my own.