Sins of Omission
Sins of Omission
By S. J. Hinton
It was called a helluva day in East Texas. That could mean almost
anything, of course, but today it meant that it was ninety-one degrees
at East Lake Tyler and the sweat was evaporating off your skin as fast
as it beaded there.
Mike was trying to untangle the rods he'd brought out from the shed,
and not getting very far fast. He'd gotten them off their pegs on the
wall, but he disturbed some paper wasps who'd been buzzing around
inside and they'd proceeded to dive-bomb him. He'd twisted the fishing
lines into a hopeless snarl when he'd run out of the shed. Now he was
standing in the shade of an old pecan tree trying to decipher the mess
Why bother? he thought to himself. It's too hot, and grandpa won't go
fishing with me anyway.
There were sounds from the house and a muffled curse, and Mike looked
up to see his grandfather tinkering with the charcoal grill. Mike
shrugged, spat out a tongueful of grit from the murky air and began
walking toward the back porch. He was mindful not to drop the rods,
remembering that his grandfather would undoubtedly make him go back to
pick them up.
"Oh, there you are," muttered his grandfather as Mike approached. "I
wondered where you'd gone."
"We were supposed to go fishing," said Mike, only a hint of accusation
leaking into his voice. He suppressed the urge to add: Like you
"We were?" Grandpa glanced up with a puzzled expression. "Well, I
suppose we said so. But it's pretty hot, Mikey. I thought we'd wait
until it cools off."
Which means we won't go, Mike thought silently. He leaned the rods
against the corner of the porch and sat on the plastic chair nearest to
the grill. "Why can't we just get pizza?"
Grandpa flicked his eyes briefly toward his grandson and back again.
"It's an hour round trip to town," he said. "We do that and we can't
"If we cook at all we can't fish," grumped Mike.
Grandpa squatted, wincing a little at the needles in his left knee. "I
can have burgers and dogs ready in less than an hour, and then we'll
take the boat out. If we have to, I can just pull the food off the
grill and finish it later." He cocked his head. "We're roughing it,
Mikey. We've got to make some sacrifices."
Mike glanced at the four-bedroom brick house and thought of the
televisions, Jacuzzi, and all-electric kitchen. "Yeah. We're roughing
Surprisingly, Grandpa laughed. "Well, it depends on your point of
Laura Sanger had been surprised when her father had offered to let
them stay at the Tyler house. Dad had never really shown her much
affection, and it was a lot more than just the normal teenage rebellion
that had made her move out of her parents' house at sixteen. Oh, sure,
they'd argued about hair and clothes, but most parents didn't make a
fourteen-year old move all the furniture out of her room because she'd
stayed out past curfew. And the small scar on her forehead was proof
that she hadn't imagined her Dad throwing her into a wall at
"You're not the one who's messed up," had said the psychiatrist she'd
seen after her suicide attempt. "You're reacting to the situation your
parents are causing. My advice is get out as soon as you're
She had, and had found some peace. She'd gone to college, although she
never finished her psychology degree. She'd gone to work at a bookstore
and loved it. She'd met Matt and gotten married and had a child.
Her mother died of a heart attack three years ago. Maybe it was a
wakeup call, because Laura had always struggled with her own weight.
She decided to change, and Matt would have to change with her or get
left behind. One of her greatest regrets was that he couldn't keep
They were divorced a year and a half later.
The months following were bitter. Mike's grades began to falter, then
drop, and he became moody. Laura fought bouts of depression, and had to
quit her job at the bookstore -- dealing with the customer demands just
took too much out of her. Her weight began to blossom again.
Sixteen months later, she was trying to fight her way through a
recovery. They'd moved into a smaller apartment they could afford on
unemployment. They'd traded their car for a smaller and cheaper one.
And she was desperately trying to find steady work.
"I applied to the Postal Service," she told her father on one of their
infrequent calls. "I'm supposed to go to Dallas next week for a
"You need a break," replied her father. "School's out for the summer.
Why not let Mike spend a week here?"
"She just wanted to get rid of me," said Mike. He was watching his
grandfather burn hotdogs on the smoking grill. "She never lets
"Hmm?" grunted Grandpa. He saved a dog from a flaming death and put it
on the warming shelf. "Why do you say that?"
Mike shrugged eloquently. "As soon as I walk into the room, she starts
yelling. She's always picking on me "
"Poor snookums," replied the old man.
Grandpa smiled. "That's some temper you got there."
"I don't like it when people make fun of me." Mike sat back with his
"Or pick on you," Grandpa nodded. "People do that often?" he asked.
"Pick on you?"
Mike considered. "No, I guess not."
"Not even your friends?"
Mike frowned. "We goof around some."
Grandpa nodded again. "Like how?"
Mike smiled. "When I bleached my hair, Tim started calling me Blondie.
He'd yell that whenever he saw me. Everyone started calling me
"So your friends sort of pick on you for fun," finished Grandpa.
"Yeah, my friends did, too." They continued in a companionable silence
for a while, then: "Your mother let you bleach your hair."
Mike nodded. "Yeah. When I wanted a change, she suggested it."
"That was pretty cool of her."
Mike frowned at his grandfather's choice of words, then frowned even
more at the thought he'd presented. "I suppose so."
"You can't afford to help us out, Dad," objected Laura. "You're
retired now, and -- "
"Stop trying to tell me what I can't do," sighed her father. "You
never liked it when I did it to you, so don't do it to me."
"Well," sniffed Laura. She'd never heard her father sound like this
before. "Anyway, you live so far away from town."
He nodded, although the gesture was lost over the phone. "Okay, it was
just a thought." He took a deep breath. "Let me know if there's
anything I can do to help out."
When they were finally ready to go Mike helped direct the boat out of
the garage, then climbed gratefully into the air-conditioned interior
of the truck.
East Lake Tyler was sometimes called Muddy Bottom by the locals, and
for good reason. The water always looked muddy, but today it looked
like chocolate milk. While they put the boat in the water, an
overweight man was throwing a half-full plastic soda bottle into the
lake for his Labrador to fetch. When he finally moved out of the way,
he gave the two in the truck a nasty look. They slid the boat into the
cool waters as smoothly as possible, so not to disturb the fishermen on
the pier running next to the boat ramp.
Then the motor wouldn't start, and the wind picked up. The boat began
to drift away from shore, Grandpa flailing away with an oar. He finally
got the boat under control, the engine idling smokily as the boat
bobbed against the pier, and off they went.
It had been late the night before Laura was going to Dallas, and her
father called. "I'm sorry to call when you're getting ready," he said.
"But we need to talk before Mike's hanging around."
Laura felt a strange flutter deep in her stomach, but she sat on the
edge of the bed, her underwear forgotten in her hand. "What's up,
They didn't catch anything, but that was okay. Even the dying sun
managed to cook them to a fine salmon pink, and Grandpa rubber vinegar
and water gently onto all the sunburned skin. Then they sat and watched
rented movies late into the night.
Around the time the hour began to catch up to them, Grandpa spoke
tiredly: "I think your Mom only wants what's best for you, Mikey. She
seems to treat you pretty well, except for goofing around with
"Yeah," agreed Mike from the couch. "Maybe she isn't so bad."
Grandpa yawned. "She's supposed to pick you up in the morning. You
figure the two of you could sit down and work things out?"
"I've got cancer," he said carefully. "I've known for about six
months, but there wasn't any good time to tell you. You've got problems
"Oh, Dad," Laura said. She tried to say more, but it wouldn't come
out. All she managed was: "Oh, Dad."
"It's not operable, and the doctor says I got just a little while
left. Maybe any day now." He sighed. "I take pills for the pain, but it
doesn't hurt much. Imagine that: Even though he says it should."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Bring Mikey," he said. "And go on and knock 'em dead for that job.
Don't worry about me."
"But, I should --"
"No," he said it gently, but with force. "You never wanted to listen
to me before, but you will now. I was wrong about a lot of things,
Laura. I screwed up a lot. But this is my chance to make some of it
better. You go on and get that job. I'll see if I can fix things
between you and your son." He paused for a heartbeat. "I owe you that
Laura drove into Tyler about nine in the morning, stopped to get some
coffee and donuts, and drove on the twenty minutes to East Lake Tyler.
It was a pleasant drive, especially for someone used to the dry brown
of Dallas: Tyler seemed strangely cool and green.
She let herself in with a key and disabled the alarm, then peered
around the living room. "Dad? Mike? Anybody home?"
Mike came out of the bedroom to the right, rubbing his eyes sleepily.
"Hi, Mom." He leaned to kiss her on the cheek, then walked past toward
the kitchen. Laura looked at him with pleasant surprise.
"Where's you granddad?"
Mike poured a bowl of cereal, then saw the donuts and began to shovel
the flakes back into the box. "I guess he's still asleep. We were up
late last night."
When Laura entered the bedroom, she knew immediately something was
wrong. There were none of the normal sleep sounds: The soft cycling of
breath, the gentle hissing of limbs moving against sheets. She walked
up to her father's form, and found him still and peaceful.
She'd managed never to cry in front of him as a child when he caused
her sadness or pain. She was unable to prevent shedding a tear
George Hartman was cremated, and his ashes spread across the lake he'd
grown so to love. Laura only managed to remain for three days at Lake
Tyler, just long enough to make proper arrangements for the small
estate, but she had to go back to Dallas to start her new job with the
She finished packing up a few keepsakes and loaded them in the car.
Mike hadn't been in sight for an hour now, and she went off to find
him. She did, in the garage sitting in the boat.
"How're you holding up, Sport?"
Mike turned and smiled a little. "Okay. Grandpa didn't suffer, and I
guess he went as peaceful as he could."
"Yeah, I guess he did." She tilted her head to look at his face. "It's
better that way. It's what he wanted."
Mike nodded, biting his lip. "There's something else he wanted, too.
Something he wanted me to do."
"What was that?" she asked.
Mike leaned over and put his arms awkwardly around her neck. She
looked surprised for a moment, then hugged him back.
"He wanted us to talk," came Mike's muffled voice, his face buried in