Hempel’s Promise

Posted on June 9, 2013 by


Jeff Newman

Hempel watched the scrawny girl fish off the skiff in the late afternoon sun. The thought of leaving her cut into his heart.
“Grampa, can we work on the table later on?” she asked.
“Sure, if you want. Then homework. It’s important.”
“I know. Mom said it’s important but I like workin’ in the shop better.”
“School is more important,” he said.
“Will I always be with you grampa?”
“Not always. You’ll be grown up one day.”
“But that’s not for a long time, right grampa?”
“Right. Not for a long time.”
They caught two big catfish and cooked them for dinner. The man stood by the girl at the stove, she standing on a green stool holding the large fork. He showed her how to turn the fish so they wouldn’t burn.

“You are a good cook grandpa,” Sarah said.
“You’re the one doin’ all the cookin.”
“But you taught me.”
“Yes, I taught you.”
They ate together with candles and music from an old radio and the food was good. After, he told her stories about her mother before the accident. She had stopped asking about her father and where he went.
The next day, Hempel rose at 5 am and met his friend Jackson at the diner for breakfast, long before the girl woke up.
“What are you going to do?” Jackson said. “You’ve got to do something. The girl has no one. They’ll stick her in the state home.”
“I know, but if I don’t report on my end date, if I run, they’ll come and Sarah will be a fugitive. That’s no life for her,” Hempel said.
“You’ve got to do something.”
“It’s not fair. Time was, not long ago when being 65 wasn’t even old,” said Hempel. “Now, they put us down to make room for the new ones. They put us down worse than animals.”
“Not everyone,” Jackson said. “The rich ones buy their way out.”
“I’m not rich.”
Jackson sat back and waited and when Hempel looked up he said, “what if someone took your place and they didn’t know. Someone who knows you better than anyone?”
“You can’t”
“Why not. I only got another year anyway. We look plenty alike. Hell I’m tired of you anyway and the girl needs you. In a way, she needs me.”
Hempel looked down.
“I can’t”
“You got to. Listen, you’d be givin’ me somethin. A gift. I’d be caring for Sarah just like you. I don’t have no one to care for Hemp.”
The men sat quietly, finished their coffee and walked out into the cool morning air.
“We’ll need to plan this real good,” said Hempel.
“Real good.”
“To the T.”
“You’ll have to go far and take on new names. Become new people,” said Jackson. “You’ll have to tell her. She’ll need to keep the secret.”
“We’ll both tell her.
“Want to come give her a ride to school?”
“And pick her up too?”
“And pick her up too,” Hempel said.

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