Harold Shaw sat in the passenger's seat of his son's new BMW, watching a heat mirage smoke on the distant asphalt.
"It's a nice place, Dad. Really. You'll have your own room, nobody to bother you. They'll fix your meals, even clean your room."
The car stopped, then accelerated past a stop sign, growling through the gears. Harold didn't move or blink. He wore a brown, floppy hat he'd purchased when Raymond was still a toddler. With a frayed brim and torn crown-seam, the hat looked as if it might have come out second best in a scrap with a lawnmower. Back when the hat was new, Harold had only worn it to go fishing with Jake and Red. But they were both dead, so now he wore it everywhere except to bed. Perhaps as a sign of rebellion against the inevitable march of time, or just a way to bring back the days when his thoughts mattered.
"You'll never have to cut grass again. Or cook either," said Raymond.
Harold frowned. Wiry gray hairs hung down from the brim. "I like to cut grass. Cook too."
"Making baloney sandwiches isn't cooking, Dad."
"It ain't my fault you don't like baloney."
"Baloney's not even food."
"You don't like baloney because you're already so full of it."
Raymond shifted in his seat. "You know, I'd like to move in there myself sometimes. Just to get away from Susan and the kids for a while. What's wrong with somebody fussing over you? Waiting on you. You won't have to lift a finger. Sounds great to me."
"Then you move in there and I'll drive around in your fancy car."
Raymond slowed for a left turn. "You lost your license the last time they picked you up for DUI, remember?"
"Lost it the first time too," said Harold. "But that don't mean I forgot how to drive."
"You could have killed somebody, you know that? You're lucky you're not in jail."
"Just not being in jail's lucky."
"Well, you should know about that. How many times did you lose your license?"
"Hell, I dunno. They was only moving violations." Harold eased up his right hip to pull a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.
"Come on, Dad. You know you can't smoke in here."
"I need permission to breathe, too?" said Harold, staring at the crumpled pack of Camels in his hand. He sat slumped back and sighed.
Outside, the sun was high and hot, the sky abscess-white. A fine spring afternoon, throbbing with heat. Inside the car, cold air pumped through the vents, making Harold's joints ache. Especially his knee. "I got news for you," said Harold. "I ain't moving into no goddamn old folks home so they can track you around all day just to see if you done number one or number two."
"It's not an old folks home. It's an assisted living center."
"I got a place already. Case you don't remember where you growed up," said Harold. He'd been living in the same drafty, loose-boarded house for the last 50 years, a house outside Bradenton, once on the edge of wild scrub, but now the bane of an upscale subdivision less than a mile down the road.
"I told you. I sold the house. That's how you can afford the assisted living center. It's expensive, you know."
"You can't sell my house when you don't own it," said Harold.
"I have the Power of Attorney you signed when you went into the hospital last month. I can sell anything I want. Anyway, it's for your own good."
Harold felt himself flush. "Is that what I paid for, putting you through college, so you can cheat me?"
"I'm not cheating you, Dad. I'm not taking a nickel."
Harold pulled himself upright and snorted.
"You've fallen too much lately. You can't stay by yourself any longer."
Harold let that sink in, frowning. "Bullshit," he said.
"Bullshit's not an answer. Only profanity."
A white van swung past them, roaring out a cloud of unburned smoke. Raymond glanced at the side window, distracted by the van. "It's the best thing for you," he mumbled.
Harold tilted his head. Only catching the gruff murmur of Raymond's voice, he waited, hoping Raymond wouldn't figure out how much hearing he'd lost the last few years. "Well you can turn off that damn cold air and put the windows down any time now," he said. Heat felt good. He could handle heat. But he'd never lived with air conditioning and he didn't want to start now.
Raymond scowled. "I told you. Too much dust gets in open windows. Ruins the equipment. Everything's computerized now." He slowed to turn down 9th Avenue, where the traffic brought them to a halt. "Damn, they must have a ball game this afternoon."
Harold was a small man, no more than 5'7", thin but wiry. A hodgepodge of pale scars covered his sunbrown knuckles, scars he'd earned in countless fights, as a young man and older. Fights he'd sometimes started, but usually finished, however they happened. "Let's go to the game," he said, craning his neck to see beyond the cars to the stadium up ahead.
"We've got an appointment at the center in 20 minutes," said Raymond, looking at his watch, then slamming his hand against the steering wheel. "All this traffic, for a stupid game..."
"You ain't never liked baseball. Hell, what do you like?"
"I..." said Raymond, as if he started to answer, then thought better of it, clamping his lips together.
"You ain't nothing like David, that's for sure."
Raymond glared at his father, then looked back at the road and hit the brakes to avoid rear-ending a red pick-up. They both lurched forward. "David?" said Raymond. "Why do you always have to bring up David?"
"He liked baseball," said Harold, enjoying Raymond's discomfort.
The line of cars began moving again, and Raymond started forward, slowly. "I know you wish it would have been me, instead of him."
"Well," said Harold, as if he were thinking about his answer. "At least he went and done his duty."
"Is that all you can say, he did his duty?"
Just ahead, the red pick-up pulled into a parking lot past a man in a Pittsburgh Pirates cap, wheeling his arm like a one-bladed windmill. "Finally," said Raymond, stepping on the gas.
Harold was still holding the pack of Camels and he looked at them intently. "Be nice to see a ball game again," he said. "Too bad David ain't here to see it with me."
"I'm glad Momma didn't have to see his funeral," said Raymond.
"David liked baseball," said Harold again. "He'd a-gone to the game with me."
"Is that what you think?" said Raymond, his voice rising. "That David wanted to be with you?"
"He wasn't a stick-in-the-mud like you. We liked the same things."
Without a word, Raymond jerked the steering wheel to the right and pulled the BMW into a service station. He slipped the gear into park and turned in his seat, the motor still running. "You think David loved you that much?" he said, his voice coming out harsh and clipped.
Harold waited, thinking, then said: "I caught a ball once, got Hank Aaron to sign it. Give it to David. You should of seen him." He hesitated. "Say, whatever happened to that old ball?" He shook his head. "Hell, you don't even know who Hank Aaron is."
"I know who he is."
"David and me used to go to games, sit in the bleachers over by first base."
Raymond squinted. "Yeah, you want to know what happened to that ball?"
"Took it with him to Vietnam, I reckon."
"Is that what you think?"
"I ain't seen it since... well, since he left for the army." Harold adjusted his floppy hat. "He'd never of left it behind."
Raymond's eyes blazed. "David threw it into Ware's Creek, the day after you went to jail for beating up Momma."
"He... Hell, you're dreaming. He'd of never." Harold squirmed, twisting the crumpled pack of Camels in his palm. "Him and me, we were this close." He held up a thumb and forefinger.
"Yeah. You were close all right," said Raymond. "Think about it. He wasn't drafted. He was still in college. He joined up before you got out of jail so he wouldn't have to kill you."
The old man was silent, his eyes straight ahead. Shadows from overhead power lines sliced across the hood of the BMW. "If we go now, we can get in by the end of the first inning," he said.
BIO: Thirty-eight of Bob's stories have been accepted by magazines such as Potpourri, Underground Voices, Edgepiece, Writes For All, The Stone Hobo, Eunoia Review, Alfie Dog, Solecisms, and eFiction. Two of his stories were nominated for Pushcart Prizes. One story was awarded the Herman Swafford Prize from Potpourri Magazine.