The Rifleman
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The Only Parent
Written by Soquilii

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 better.’

‘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, himself. Later.

~oOo~

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 father.

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 the door.

‘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 the world.’

‘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 right, son.’

‘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.
‘Yes, sir.’

‘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.

‘Pa –‘

‘Yes, Mark?’

‘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.'

'G'night, Mark.'

~oOo~

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.

THE END

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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