Welcome to The Writer's Corner
The Only Parent
The clatter of tin dishes in
the sink was starting to annoy Lucas McCain. He placed his cigar
in the ashtray, closed his late wife’s Bible and glanced over
his shoulder at his nine-year-old son. Mark’s short stature
necessitated the use of a wooden stool to reach the homemade
kitchen sink. He had taken after his petite mother a great deal,
but Lucas held onto the hope that a growth spurt would bring him
closer to his father’s height, given time.
One of Mark’s regular chores was washing the dishes after every
meal; usually only a twice-a-day routine since he and his father
packed portable lunches for their ranch work. Mark had
faithfully attended this chore for the last two years, yet today
he was scrubbing the plates, cups and his mother’s silver rather
resentfully, swishing them in the rinse water hard enough to
splatter water everywhere, and slamming them down on the drain
cloth-covered counter Lucas had built.
‘Something the matter, son?’ Lucas asked, mildly.
‘No,’ came the sullen answer, which belied the statement.
‘Then you think you could do a little better job?’
‘I’m doin’ the best I can, Pa. I don’t know how to do it any
‘Well, for example, you could stop splattering the floor with
water. You’re just making work for yourself because I want you
to mop it all up when you’re done.
We don’t need rotten flooring.’
Mark took a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh in an attempt
to calm himself. ‘I’m just so tired of all these chores, Pa.’
‘Not a soul on earth doesn’t have chores to do, son,’ his father
replied in a firm voice. ‘Men, women, children once they’re old
enough – even animals have to earn their ---‘
Finished with the dishes, Mark cut his father’s sentence short
by flinging the dishtowel onto the counter, scowling at his
father, and storming out of the room. He’d purposefully ignored
the request to mop the floor.
Lucas half-rose from his chair as if to follow the boy but
thought better of it. Best to let him stew a while. Lucas shook
his head regretfully. Margaret, his beloved wife, crept into his
thoughts. How much easier it might have been to handle a growing
boy with two parents instead of just one! He settled back,
replaced his cigar between his teeth and opened his Bible at the
bookmark to finish his favorite passage. He’d mop the floor,
It was deep in the night when Lucas heard the floorboards creak
in the next room. Immediately alert, he arose and cracked his
bedroom door open. The house was dark. He cautiously opened
Mark’s door. Just enough moonlight filtered in through the
window to reveal an empty bed.
Lucas struck a match to the oil lamp and stepped quietly into
the front room. The wavering yellow light illuminated his son,
fully dressed, holding a roped bundle, heading out the front
door. Startled, Mark stopped and slowly turned to face his
They regarded each other for a moment, each trying to read the
other; gauge each other’ reactions. Lucas advanced slowly and
put the lamp on the table. Mark put his bundle down and closed
‘I - I didn’t mean to wake you, Pa.’
‘Mind telling me what you’re doin’, Mark?’
‘I – well, I - I figured on leavin’.’
‘Just takin’ off? Runnin’ away?’
‘Not runnin,’ Pa – jus’ goin’ off on my own.’
Lucas nodded sagely. ‘Oh. I see.’
‘Nothin’ against you, Pa. But I – I sorta hanker to see more of
‘And get away from all these chores – the dishes, the barn, the
fetchin,’ the choppin,’ the hoein’ – is that it?’
‘Well - sorta.’ Mark waited on tenterhooks, wondering what his
father would do or say.
‘So you’ve made up your mind. I was a tad older than you when I
left home, but -’ Lucas shrugged, placed his hands on the table
as a gesture of finality and pushed himself to his feet. ‘All
‘You – you understand, don’t you, Pa?’
‘Mark, when a man makes up his mind, no sense arguin’ with ‘im.’
He glanced around the room and let his gaze fall on Mark. ‘Sure
am gonna miss you around here, though.’
‘I’ll be all right,’ Mark said, trying to sound confident.
‘Yes, I’m sure you will. Okay. Let’s get you ready.’
‘I got everythin’ I need, Pa.’
‘That all you takin’?’ Lucas indicated the bundle, which looked
like it would fit nicely into just one saddlebag.
‘Well, not to contradict you, son, but -' Lucas held up his
hand. 'Wait - just wait here a minute.’
Lucas returned to his bedroom. Mark could hear him rummaging
around in the closet. He nervously shifted his weight from one
boot to the other. What was Pa up to?
Lucas returned presently with his arms full. He dumped
everything onto the table.
‘I got a good price on this .22 caliber bolt action rifle at an
auction some time back – planned to give it to you for your
twelfth birthday. You might as well take it now. Got plenty of
cartridges. Now, I’ll admit it’s small, but when you get bigger
you can get one that suits you better.’
Mark’s eyes were saucers. ‘Gosh, Pa, I – you told me I ain't
allowed to use a gun yet!‘
‘Grown man needs a good gun,’ Lucas affirmed. ‘You go off on
your own, that means you’re a grown man, and you have to be
ready for anything. If nothing else, you need to be able to hunt
to feed yourself. And here,’ he said, handing Mark his Bowie
knife in its scabbard. ‘This’ll come in mighty handy.’
‘Pa, I don’t want your knife! You need it!’
‘I can make do till Hattie can order me another one. Do you have
a bedroll? Extra clothes?’
Mark looked down at his feet. ‘Got a blanket and a shirt in
here, Pa,’ he said, sheepishly. ‘Some socks and a handkerchief.’
‘Good. How about a rope? Wire cutters? Screwdriver, tools to fix
your saddle, hoof pick, medicine pouch?’
‘I –,‘ Mark stuttered.
‘You know, when you leave home you’ll need a man’s tools –
you’re gonna be takin’ on a man’s responsibilities. Take what
you need out of the barn. Call it a goin’ away present.’
Mark stood silently, looking at the floor.
Lucas went on, conversationally. ‘If you don’t mind my askin,’
son, how were you plannin’ on makin’ a livin’? I reckon that
depends on where you decide to settle. If you’re goin’ to North
Fork, I could put in a good word for you – maybe you can find
work at the post office or the bank like Mr. Hamilton – maybe
you could run a store like Hattie.’ Lucas shook his head. ‘No, I
forgot. Can’t do that without you finish your schoolin.’ Can’t
keep up your schoolin’ if you have to work to have money to live
on. What you do have is a little ranchin’ experience - you don't
need schoolin' for that. Only thing is, I don’t know anybody
hirin’ on hereabouts – maybe you could try Las Cruces -‘
‘I don’t know how to get there!’
‘You’ll have to learn, son,’ Lucas said quietly as he held out
the small rifle for Mark to take.
‘You’re tellin’ me I’m not ready, aren’t you?’
‘I’m tryin, to,’ son. I’m proud you’re wise enough to see that.’
Mark dragged a hand across his eyes. Father and son regarded
each other. After a few minutes, Mark said, ‘Is it okay if I
leave this stuff on the chair for the night?
I’ll put it all away in the mornin’. I need to fill the wood box and clean
out the stalls before breakfast.’ He placed the bundle on the
chair and laid his hat on top of it. Respectfully, he laid the
Bowie knife on the table.
‘Sure. Thanks, son. Glad you decided to stay.’
Mark looked sadly at his father. 'G'night, Pa.'
After Mark had gone to bed Lucas sat on at the table,
contemplating the small rifle in his hands. Maybe raising a boy
can be done with me the only parent, Margaret, he was thinking.
Might not have turned out so well if we’d had a daughter.
Lucas chuckled softly, got up and went to bed.
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch