Finally, Carmichael relented to his children's schemes and agreed to enter the facility. His resistance was broken. He stood up from the table, shook off the hand of his eldest daughter, balled a fist to his thin lips and coughed. "Fifty years you live in a house and then you can't mow the grass anymore. The neighbors don't like it, so it's time to go. Fine."
At 4:30 the next morning he padded over the threadbare carpet. "Dee," he called to the simple crucifix adorned urn on the upright, "They're going to get rid of your piano, you know. They don't remember."
Carmichael threw open the front hallway, pushed the jackets aside. A baseball cap fell from the upper shelf. He widened his stance, planted his Velcro strapped sneakers. He could still move. With his thick hands he swatted at boxes and dug through debris. There it was, in the corner, behind the old golf bag. He lowered himself to one knee and stretched for it. A basketball. Years ago he'd gotten it for his grandkids. Half flat, but to hell with it, he was going to shoot free-throws.
After instant coffee and dry toast he was out on the driveway. He bounced the ball with two hands. It thudded into the cracked blacktop, barely making it back to his hands. He palmed its dry skin. Bounced it twice more, harder, then eyed the rim. Lifting the ball was not easy, but he did it. Then he bent his knees and heaved.
The shot fell well short of the rim, clanked off the garage door, and bounded back. The blood still ran through the veins.
"Sir, it's five in the morning," came an exasperated voice from next door. Carmichael squinted at the neighbor's window. He remembered when that house didn't exist at all. He remembered when next door was a field of tall grass leading to the edge of the woods. Deer used to bound through. Dee never tired of the deer. A thrill every time.
"Sir," the voice called again.
Carmichael turned the ball in his trembling hands. He tried to see the field as it had been when they had first moved in, when they were making a family. He used to cut the whole area with a push mower so the kids could play. He had been first in the neighborhood to hang a backboard on the garage.
For a moment he saw it. The cut grass, the kids, Dee pinning clothes to the line. The ball slipped from his hands and plopped to a standstill. The moment was over, the vision was gone, but it was enough. The pictures had given Carmichael a sensation of lightness in the soles of his feet. He opened his hands and stretched the stiff fingers.
BIO: Robert Oakes works and writes in Boston, where he lives with his family. His work has appeared at Flywheel and Sleet Magazine.